New Furniture Venture Finds Opportunity As Industry Struggles

May 15, 2002
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In a year when the industry was experiencing its worst downturn ever, Chuck Saylor saw opportunity.

An office furniture industry veteran, Saylor formed a company to design and produce well thought out, highly adaptable and affordable office furnishings for today’s ever-changing workplace.

Ten months after debuting its new line of desks, seating and storage units at NeoCon, izzydesign is doing as well as you could expect, given the industry conditions.

“In general, we’re at a really great place right now. We’re right on track with where we want to be,” Saylor said.

Izzydesign is a joint venture between Saylor, a former designer for Haworth Inc. and Knoll Inc. who named the company after his 4-year-old granddaughter, and Grand Haven-based JSJ Corp., a diverse manufacturer that serves several industries, including office furniture and automotive. The goal was to leverage the expertise of both — Saylor’s lifetime of knowledge about office furniture design, and JSJ’s strengths in lean manufacturing, finance and administration.

Izzydesign began shipping product in recent months and both sides say they’re pleased with the company’s progress and the market acceptance earned so far for its products, although the U.S. economic recession and the steep downturn in the office furniture industry did force them to temper financial expectations for izzydesign’s first year and go through a process of self-examination to ensure they were focusing on core competencies.

“The challenge of the economy probably pushed us faster in that direction than it would have,” Saylor said.

The company is not hitting financial targets established at the onset, but it has positive cash flow and is registering “acceptable returns in the development of the business,” said Nelson Jacobson, vice president for furniture products and international business development for JSJ Corp. The economy has forced the company to watch its spending and push harder to get business at a time when companies were holding back capital spending because of the economy, Jacobson said.

“There’s no question, everybody’s had less resources to work with,” he said. “It’s just a matter of settling everything out. There’s less opportunity out there, so we just have to work harder to get those.”

Izzydesign is targeting the small- and home-office market segment of the industry. The company is built on the premise of producing and delivering a workstation to customers within two to three weeks that consists of a desk, storage unit and seating for $1,200 to $1,500. The products, manufactured at JSJ facilities in the Grand Haven area and Austin, Texas, are sold through a network of 200 dealers nationwide and Saylor hopes to soon begin tapping foreign markets.

The company’s targeted market niche of start-up and small, growing companies — who were not hit as hard by the recession as larger corporations — helps izzydesign weather the industry downturn well, Saylor said. Most of izzydesign’s orders so far have been for 20 to 100 workstations, he said.

“We happened to be at the right place at the right time for what that certain segment of the marketplace was looking for,” said Saylor, who of late has seen business beginning to pick up, especially for larger projects.           

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