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Sunday, 13 November 2016 13:27

Cento Anni bets on custom furniture, woodworking craftsmanship to grow

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Cento Anni LLC employs eight full-time workers at its woodshop in Holland. The company works with students in the West Ottawa Intermediate School District to teach the woodworking trade. Founder Ed DeNave (far left) said he hasn’t had trouble finding workers as the company mostly targets people willing to learn the trade. Cento Anni LLC employs eight full-time workers at its woodshop in Holland. The company works with students in the West Ottawa Intermediate School District to teach the woodworking trade. Founder Ed DeNave (far left) said he hasn’t had trouble finding workers as the company mostly targets people willing to learn the trade. Courtesy Photo

 

HOLLAND — Stepping into the showroom at Cento Anni LLC is a sensory experience. 

The Holland-based custom woodworking company, whose name means “100 years” in Italian, is steeped in the smells of freshly cut wood and varnish. Its shelves are brimming with multi-colored cutting boards and custom furniture pieces with deep and rustic finishes are scattered throughout the shop. 

Cento Anni formed in 2012 after founder Ed DeNave quit his job as a business development executive at an automotive supplier and struck out on his own to pursue what he saw as an opening in the culinary wood products market.

“I’ve always enjoyed creating things and really I saw a niche for this business (since) about 95 percent of culinary products that we consume in the States come from Southeast Asia,” DeNave said. “They’re using suspect glue and lacquers and finishes that we’re then cutting food on and ingesting. The other 5 percent come from these remarkably gifted craftsmen, but they do three or four a month and that’s more of a hobby. I felt there was a place to live in between there.”

At first, the company operated out of his basement, with DeNave serving as the only employee. But as the business grew, DeNave continued to purchase more space. Last year, the company settled into its current 17,000-square-foot building at 136 East 6th Street in Holland and invested roughly $225,000 in renovating the aged industrial facility. 

DeNave also brought on his long time friend and colleague, Randy Beute, as an equity partner in the business. While DeNave began to transition into more of a business development role, Beute managed production on the shop floor.

At the same time the company moved its shop, it also began producing custom furniture for homeowners and businesses. Cento Anni manufactures a variety of custom furniture including table tops and wall coverings for restaurants, along with tables, windowsills, fireplace mantels and other products for the residential market.

“If someone comes in with a sketch or a drawing or page out of a catalog, they’re only going to buy maybe one dining room table for the rest of their life so having it be exactly what they want and be part of their family is fun for us,” DeNave said. 

Recently, the company finished crafting a range of interior pieces for Holland-based Coppercraft Distillery LLC’s new Saugatuck tasting room, including a large cabinet for merchandise sales, wood shelving, tables, bar rails and other furniture.

While Cento Anni sells its cutting boards and other culinary products through a network of 40 stores, DeNave expects the majority of the company’s growth potential to come from the custom furniture side of the business. 

Already, Cento Anni has grown to eight full-time employees and expects to close the year with revenues just shy of $500,000, three times the revenue it generated in the previous year, DeNave said. 

The company also plans to offer more “contractor-ready” kits with prepared reclaimed wood that can be assembled on-site at restaurants, breweries and other establishments. Cento Anni typically dismantles barns and other structures to source a great deal of its raw materials. 

GROWING THE TALENT POOL

Cento Anni also works closely with technical training programs in the Holland area to help staff its business. 

For example, the company offers four-day rotations for students enrolled in the building trades program at Careerline Tech Center — part of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District — to teach fine woodworking skills.

Cento Anni also works with students from Hope College, West Ottawa High School’s woodshop and the Community-Based Instruction (CBI) Group. 

“We love bringing guys in who have a desire to learn; they don’t have to be journeyman woodworkers,” DeNave said. “They can come in and you can teach them 90 percent of what they need to know, but the most important thing is that they want to be here and that they want to learn.”

Cento Anni’s relationship with young woodworkers in the Holland community comes as a welcomed sign for a trade that struggles to find qualified young talent, said Tom McDonald, president of the West Michigan Woodworkers Guild. It’s also especially timely as many woodworkers reach retirement age.

Attracting young people to woodworking should help contractors and other companies in the building trades find workers in the long run, McDonald said. 

“What’s happening in Holland is one of the best scenarios: The fact that you have a relatively young owner who is opening the doors to 18 year olds to get in there and give woodworking a try,” McDonald said. 

A LARGER PRESENCE 

Currently, DeNave said Cento Anni has all the right pieces in place to grow significantly, but notes that “we are our own limiting factor.” 

To date, Cento Anni primarily has relied on marketing through word of mouth, but DeNave plans to spend more time in the field developing the business and expanding into new markets in the near future.

“Really if we’re going to do well and grow, I’m going to be spending less and less time building and more time developing the business,” DeNave said. 

Cento Anni expects to target markets in the Chicago metropolitan area, northern Ohio and Indiana, DeNave said. The company also wants to beef up its web presence, he said. 

Ultimately, DeNave believes Cento Anni’s founding principles will continue to drive the company’s business in the future. 

One of those founding principles reaches all the way to the shop floor, where “the best idea wins,” DeNave said. The idea is that no matter how new or inexperienced an employee is, DeNave welcomes and expects input from workers on projects and other issues around the shop.

“So many times with big companies, especially in the company we came from, it wasn’t the best idea wins, it was the guy with either the loudest voice or the biggest title,” DeNave said. “We think that’s a mistake. Whether someone has been here for two weeks or someone who is the longest tenured employee, it doesn’t matter. We’ll vet it and then if it’s the best one, it’s the one we start to go with.” 

Made In Michigan: Four years after opening its doors, Holland-based Cento Anni LLC plans to continue to expand its custom furniture business while targeting new markets in the Chicago metropolitan area, northern Ohio and Indiana. The custom wood shop also produces cutting boards and other products for culinary applications, which it sells through a network of approximately 40 different stores. While it started as a one-man operation, Cento Anni has grown to eight full-time employees and will close the year with approximately $500,000 in revenue — a three-fold increase over the previous year.

Read 1767 times Last modified on Tuesday, 15 November 2016 14:38
John Wiegand

Staff writer

jwiegand@mibiz.com

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