You’ve said most of your customers fly in from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Why is your business in West Michigan?
I’m from the Detroit area. I came to Grand Rapids to study furniture design at Kendall School of Art and Design. I found a rich history of furniture-making in Grand Rapids, although I dare say we are among only a handful left. An infrastructure of craftsmen and designers endures.
How is your business changing?
When I bought the assets of Designer’s Workshop in 1997, we were a boutique company, a place to go for one unique piece. The last four years we’ve expanded our collection. We’re leading the trend toward lighter and new textured finishes. We’re even doing upholstery. We just introduced eight new pieces at West Week, a show in Los Angeles that is the NeoCon of the west, and should have eight more by the end of the year. The Internet has expanded distribution. We’re now in bid packages for projects in places where we don’t have showrooms.
How has your business been affected by the economic downturn?
It’s obvious the business climate contracted in the last four years. Because our clients are the upper 1 to 2 percent, we were perceived as being recession-proof. This recession hit the luxury goods market, too. We had a 25 percent reduction in sales in 2008, and it continued that way for two years. Fortunately, we felt the rebound first.
Did you have to downsize?
When the economy was turning down in 2008, we had just moved into a 47,000 square-foot facility that I had specially designed for building wood furnishings. We’re 32 employees now, but were 42 then. We learned to work more efficiently with less.
How important is design to economic recovery?
We have to design our way out of the recession. I don’t just mean new products. To comeback, we also have to design ways to work more effectively and economically.
Is a designer the same as an artist?
Designers like myself solve problems and create solutions. We serve the public in a different way than artists, although we are artistic in the way we approach it.
How will focusing on building your own designs help your business?
It’s a decision based in branding and economics. Designing products around my manufacturing facility feeds my factory. Great design is paramount. We’ll never dilute our brand because we need to make a profit.