My Story of Cotton Belt DBA Edgecombe Furniture
The history of Cotton Belt, Inc. is one of fortitude, family and faith. It was said of my great-grandfather, Ellis E. Phillips, Sr. that he had “tunnel vision”. In 1929 despite the Black Tuesday stock market crash and the coming Great Depression, he cut open his mattress, laid out the materials, and determined how to begin manufacturing them. He loaded these mattresses in the back of a truck and sent my grandfather, Ellis E. Phillips, Jr. on the road around eastern North Carolina to sell. Cotton Belt Mattress Company had begun.
Ellis E Phillips Sr.
The business grew and prospered and a year later in 1930 began manufacturing upholstered seating. My grandfather told me he upholstered the first piece of upholstered furniture the company ever made using horse-hair, hand-tied springs, and tacks that he would hold in his mouth.
The company purchased an abandoned tobacco drying warehouse and some land in Pinetops, North Carolina and began to lay-out and build the factory. In November of 1935 a fire burned one brick building to the ground containing many machines and other equipment. The company rebuilt and pressed forward with founder Ellis E. Phillips, Sr. saying, “there is nothing for us to do now but to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”
After World War II, the three sons, Ellis E. Phillips, Jr. sales manager, David A. Phillips plant engineer, and Richard L. Phillips office manager worked together to take the business to the next level.
Ellis E Phillips Jr.
David A Phillips
Richard L Phillips
In 1946 the company incorporated and shortened its name to Cotton Belt, Inc. to reflect a more diverse product offering of sofabeds, recliners, and living room suites. My great-grandfather was always willing to invest in machinery and equipment that would improve the process and my grandfather’s love of flying helped the company expand the territory as he would pilot the company airplane to regularly meet with customers face to face. The company continued to grow and prosper and regularly showed its products at the High Point Furniture Market.
The day founder, Ellis E. Phillips, Sr. died, February 25th 1983, he seemed to know it and told his wife Bonner Archbell Phillips (Little Granny lived from 1898 – 2003 and relayed many stories to me) that he had to go to the plant and tell little Ellis (my father, Ellis E. Phillips, III) all that he knew about the business. At the time my dad was running the day to day operations of the bedding business. After the death of Richard L. Phillips a year later in February of 1984, Ellis E. Phillips, III became the president of Cotton Belt, Inc.
In the 1980’s products began being marketed under the trade names, Sleepworthy Bedding and Edgecombe Furniture. Edgecombe also began to focus on manufacturing products suitable for the hospitality industry, specializing in sleeper sofas. I also remember seeing the first fax machine plugged in during this time, and computers were in every office.
In 1993 I joined the company full-time focusing on upholstered furniture production. I learned to design and build upholstered products from lumber frames and sewn covers cut with lines from dusting flour over perforated patterns. In 1994 the company invested in new Accu-Mark CAD pattern software to quickly create new sewn cover patterns. This CAD/CAM software system instantly helped conserve costly fabric, improve matching quality, and reduce the time to create custom products significantly.
In 1999 a new building was purchased just outside of Pinetops, NC and in 2000 Sleepworthy moved all bedding operations there. My sister, Mary Walter joined the company in 2004 and became the Treasurer and book-keeper for Cotton Belt, Inc. Her husband, Stephen Walter joined the company in 2008 as Secretary and manages the bedding operation. During this time the bedding division became a licensee of the Therapedic International brand.
A banner year for the company in 2007 led Edgecombe to invest in new CNC Accu-Router machines and 3D Solidworks Solid Modeling CAD software as we made the switch from lumber to panel frame construction. This technology has enabled the company to become much more efficient, improve safety, improve frame quality and consistency, and reduce the time to create new or custom products significantly. The technology allows Edgecombe to utilize the approved 3D drawing throughout the production process.
The company used The Great Recession of 2008-2011 as an impetus to make significant hires and expand its territory (1st Chronicles 4:10 had been prayed and was believed). Edgecombe began showing at BDNY at the Javits Center in New York City in November of 2012 and has continued to do so meeting many new customers and friends.
After a significant personal spiritual renewal in 2005, I began to draw closer to the Lord and seek Him and understand His Word more than ever before. I love Jesus and I love work but didn’t really know how the two might merge. In 2014 a close friend urged me to attend a C12 Group meeting. This was exactly what I needed and I joined immediately. C12 Group is a Christian CEO roundtable that has a mission to equip Christian CEOs and owners to build great businesses for a greater purpose. As a C12 company I learned and professed that the business is God’s and I am merely its current steward.
In December of 2017 Edgecombe Furniture purchased a new 140,000 square foot facility in Greenville, North Carolina just 21 miles southeast of Pinetops (Isaiah 54:2). All upholstered furniture operations moved to this facility on July 4th, 2018. The move took place over 3 days and the company did not miss a single day of regular production during the move. In 2019 Edgecombe Furniture invested again in technology that would help make the process more efficient with the purchase of a new Gerber Paragon automatic Cutter. This machine has once again improved the accuracy, safety and productivity of fabric cutting. I have learned that if you expand and increase your capacity for the Lord, He will fill it (2 Kings 4: 1-7).
The Lord has blessed the company with many hard-working, bright, dedicated people over the years. These people are the heart and soul of Cotton Belt/Edgecombe Furniture/Sleepworthy Bedding and are the very best at what they do. One such person of note is George Smith. He has worked for Cotton Belt continuously for 67 years as of May 19th, 2020 and is at work today at the age of 84. George worked with my great-grandfather and has done nearly every job at the plant. (You can see an interview with George here) He is a wealth of knowledge and a big part of maintaining our culture and connection to the past.
Today Cotton Belt, Inc. is one company that operates 2 separate factories, Edgecombe Furniture and Sleepworthy Bedding, manufacturing upholstered furniture and bedding to multiple markets in the United States and abroad. The Lord has continued to bless us and prosper us and show us favor as we lean on Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). As we enter into the 5th generation of family operation, there is a very thankful heart to those who have gone before and we strive to preserve and grow the business for the Glory of God and the generations to come.
Robert H. (Bob) Phillips
4th Generation Steward
May 1st 2020