Gat Creek combines handcrafted furniture-making with innovative manufacturing techniques.
Gat Caperton is a self-proclaimed “manufacturing geek.” When he purchased a small furniture manufacturing facility in Berkeley Springs in 1996, he transformed a traditional industry with innovative and lean manufacturing techniques. Since 2010, his company, Gat Creek, has grown almost 10 percent a year and it now employs 140 people. “I love the fact that I can have a business in my home state, and that I’m a manufacturer in West Virginia. We create good jobs and have an incredible work force, which produces quality products in a sustainable way,” Caperton says.
In north central West Virginia, Gat Creek is sold exclusively at Chuck’s Furniture.
The process begins with sourcing West Virginia lumber. “Frank E. Wilson Lumber Company in Elkins, a fifth-generation lumber company, provides us with the absolute best wood—beautiful Appalachian hardwoods—that is sustainable,” Caperton says. “The best furniture comes from the best wood. And this is the best wood in the world.”
Sustainability is an important hallmark of Gat Greek. He says, “After I bought the business, I woke up in the middle of the night panicked in a cold sweat thinking, ‘Am I the guy cutting down all the trees I played on as a kid?’” He did his research and found that West Virginia is regrowing trees 2.4 times faster than it is taking trees out. In fact, he says, our state has the same amount of trees as we did in 1907. After learning how well Appalachia’s forests are managed, he slept better, but he was determined to be on the forefront of sustainable furniture manufacturing.
“Thanks to our locally sourced material and production, we avoid oil-intensive shipping, deforestation, and the unmitigated pollution that’s allowed with overseas production,” Caperton explains. “We formally track 100 percent of our waste streams—everything coming into and going out of our facility, from wood to water to AA batteries, to assure all materials are used wisely and disposed of properly.”
Once the lumber is delivered to the factory, a person builds each piece of furniture on a workbench, not an assembly line. “The connection to the customer is very important. Each piece is made custom for them. Our builders send the customer a postcard with a picture of them telling the customer that they are excited to be creating this one-of-a-kind piece for them,” says Caperton. “It takes us a month to produce a piece of furniture. When it’s finished, our builders sign their names and date each piece. And our customers often write letters of appreciation back to our builders.”
Caperton has worked hard to expand his distribution network—he exports to 28 nations, but is particularly fond of his local markets. “Morgantown is really growing and is a great market for us,” he says. “And I love working with Chuck’s. It’s another multi-generational success story. I’m really impressed with James. He is sharp and is getting things done. He is going to carry on the traditions started by his grandfather and father and make his family business successful for decades.”