SHELBY — When Grand Haven-based JSJ Corp. decided last year to get out of the contract furniture business, Silver Street Inc. saw an opportunity to bolster its product offerings.
The Shelby-based commercial, higher education and health care furniture manufacturer acquired six products from the former Izzy + line as JSJ wound down the business. Now the lakeshore company has brought those products back to market under the MT Contract brand name, making its debut at the NeoCon trade show in Chicago earlier this month.
“These products provided us with a little bit of momentum going into the market,” Dan Driessche, marketing manager at Silver Street, told MiBiz.
One of the company’s newly purchased products, the Hannah brand swivel tilt task chair, earned a Best of NeoCon Editors’ Choice award in 2007.
“It was a market that we were looking at anyway because there’s still a fair amount of crossover between the education and contract markets,” Driessche said. “We now have products that are mainstays in the contract market which gave us a natural entry into that realm.”
The company’s goal for NeoCon was to ensure people knew they could continue to find the Izzy products they had grown to love, he said, noting people seemed to have a nostalgic reaction to the product as well.
“Having the presence of those Izzy products in our exhibit (at NeoCon) was really a big thing,” Driessche said. “It’s kind of funny to see some of the former Izzy people now working for other companies and they’ll come in and reminisce or come and see their old friends.”
Ready to rock
Silver Street, which employs about 80 people at its plant 30 miles north of Muskegon and generated $20 million in revenue last year, came into the furniture business in a roundabout way. The company, which Driessche jokes is “the largest furniture maker in Shelby, Michigan,” started in the mid 1980s by brothers Craig and Bruce Hardy as a developer and manufacturer of electric guitars.
“The guitars actually had some interest with some personalities in the music industry,” Driessche said, noting the products even “appeared in one or two music videos, actually.”
One of Silver Street’s most popular musical products, the “Taxi” guitar, was designed to be compact enough for a player to easily haul it in a taxi to their next gig, Driessche said.
“But a lot of good it’s going to do you because it’s an electric guitar and you need to have an amplifier,” he said.
Like many small businesses that “don’t always work out,” the brothers found the guitar market at the time to be too saturated to make their break, according to Driessche. Within a few years, they were testing their woodworking skills and equipment in different industries, and furniture manufacturing became a “natural fit.”
In the 1990s, Craig Hardy connected with Randy Seaver, a manufacturer of library furniture and founder of Media Technologies Group Inc.
“Randy hooked up with the fellas here at Silver Street to manufacture the product for him,” Driessche said. “Long story short, they decided that they’d make it into a permanent type of relationship.”
The guitars were “long gone” by that time, Driessche said, and as libraries changed throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Hardy and Seaver’s partnership grew to include furniture that incorporated more group spaces, modern technology and classroom furniture.
“We don’t call it a library anymore, now it’s a media center,” Driessche said. “It used to be primarily a place where you kept your collection of books. Now, a lot of educating is going on with personal media and the library has really changed. As a company that also provides furniture for that center, for that particular space, we evolved with it as well.”
Eventually, the Hardy brothers left the company, which was taken over by Seaver and his son, Jake Seaver.
Silver Street continues to manufacture and sell library furniture under the Media Technologies brand. The company has been growing in recent years with the addition of new products in adjacent categories.
“The introduction of a lot of different types of products, like lounge products, upholstered goods, media sharing furniture, and things like that really opened the door,” Driessche said. “This company, because we manufacture all of that stuff, had the opportunity for some very, very healthy growth.”
While industry-wide statistics were unavailable for this report, major contract furniture manufacturers reported they expect to see the sector continue growing in the year ahead.
Both Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Inc. (NYSE: SCS) and Muscatine, Iowa-based HNI Corp. (NYSE: HNI) forecast organic revenue growth in the 2-6 percent range in their current fiscal years, according to recent financial reports.
That expected expansion will come “despite some signs of slowing economic growth, because customers are continuing to invest in modernized, fluid work environments to support agile work processes and attract, retain and inspire their workforce,” Steelcase President and CEO Jim Keane said last week in an earnings report.
Silver Street currently is investing in an expansion of its facility in Shelby to increase capacity and improve product flow. According to Driessche, the company hopes to translate interest in the former Izzy products into continued business.
When JSJ Corp. announced in April 2018 that it was shutting down its Izzy + brand after 17 years, the firm said at the time the “consumer-facing furniture company” did not fit into its strategy to invest into portfolio companies “that provide highly engineered solutions and value-added services within highly complex, business-to-business environments.”
The move also allowed JSJ to repurpose a Spring Lake furniture plant to serve its other operations, as MiBiz reported at the time.
For Silver Street, getting the products back into the market at this year’s NeoCon trade show marked an important inflection point for the company, Driessche said.
“For a first-time exhibitor, I think the important thing to remember is that the whole idea behind it is exposure,” he said. “It’s to create awareness of your brand, awareness that you’re real — that’s really what we wanted to get out of the beginning.”
Driessche said the richness of the show and passion of its attendees even rubbed off on him, a self-proclaimed industry outsider who’s attended NeoCon in the past as a “lurker.”
“It’s obviously very, very personal to a lot of people,” he said. “It’s a testament to the power of furniture. … This land of furniture is another form of the fashion industry. There is a lot to this industry that is really, really visual and without the visual, there really isn’t any point.”
MADE IN MICHIGAN
Shelby-based MT Contract, a division of Silver Street Inc., recently acquired six former Izzy + products as parent company JSJ Corp. decided to exit the industry. MT Contract made its debut with the products at the NeoCon trade show in Chicago earlier this month. Silver Street employs about 80 people and generated $20 million in revenue last year.