Weaver Makes Bold Move
Yet for some time he had always had the inkling to strike out on his own. Then along came a colleague with an idea for a small company that would quickly produce low-cost office furnishings and ship them to customers in a matter of days. The plan met head on with an emerging industry trend to producing highly flexible and mobile furniture designed specifically for start-up, small and medium-sized companies looking for something with a little flair they could buy at an affordable price.
With those dynamics colliding, Weaver decided the timing was right.
“At that point in my life, it was either then or never,” said Weaver, president and chief executive officer of Bold Furniture Inc. “All of these things came to together. I had to take it.
“It just all seemed to gel at the right time.”
Weaver co-founded Bold Furniture in April 2000. The company, housed in manufacturing space it leases in Spring Lake, will debut its first line of wooden desks, tables, filing and storage products at NeoCon, the office furniture industry’s annual massive three-day trade show in Chicago that begins June 18.
While Bold Furniture began producing products a year ago for selected customers, Weaver wanted to wait until this year to make a public splash in order to give the company time to mature a little.
“Our whole strategy has been to walk before you run,” Weaver said.
Bold Furniture sells workstations for between $900 and $1,000, minus seating, through a small network of independent dealerships. The company also plans to eventually sell direct to customers online.
The decision not to produce and offer a line of seating was based on a lack of expertise in that product area, Weaver said. He sees Bold Furniture possibly forming a marketing alliance with a seating manufacturer in the future.
“It’s not our core competency right now. It’s a very specialized business,” he said.
A Grand Rapids native, Weaver began his business career after graduating in 1987 from the University of Michigan with a degree in economics. He joined Bissell Inc., a Grand Rapids-based producer of floor and carpet-cleaning products, out of college as a junior sales representative.
Weaver moved up through the ranks and worked with major national retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart that carried the company’s products. The job taught him the importance of keeping up with high expectations of customers who constantly demand new products.
He decided to leave Bissell after 10 years to join Steelcase, when he became director of marketing for Details, a Steelcase subsidiary that produces office accessories.
While at Steelcase, Weaver began talking to a designer, Robert Shapton, about the potential for a office furniture maker geared toward serving a growing market taste for low-cost, well-designed office furnishings.
The idea blended with Weaver’s desire to someday go into business for himself.
“You always have the dream — do your own thing, do your own thing …” Weaver said. “You get the itch for it. ‘Well, I’ve done this, I’ve contributed here.’ I think I can do this”
When financing for the new company fell into place, Weaver decided to make the jump. He left Steelcase in late 1999 to form Bold Furniture. The name of the company, he said, “makes a little bit of a statement about who we are as a business.”
The 37-year-old Weaver, the father of two children, sees the venture as a personal and professional test of his business skills.
“The marketplace is a cruel place. You’re reminded every day how well you’re doing and how well you’re not,” Weaver said. “It’s risk and reward.”
The present times probably offer the most risk and reward of any in the past decade for the office furniture industry, which is experiencing double-digit sales declines stemming from the weakened U.S. economy.
Weaver, however, is undaunted. A tough economy plays right into the market niche that Bold Furniture seeks to tap, with potential customers who are in need new office furnishings possibly being more inclined to look at a low-cost alternative, he said.
“In our case we’re in a little better position. We’re in an expanding market,” Weaver said. “We’re at the right end of the market for an economic downturn.”
“Our whole goal is to get very simple, well-made products into people’s hands very quickly.”
Bold Furniture, with a current workforce of 15, recorded 2000 sales about $1.5 million and is on pace to triple that for 2001, he said.
“To see something come from a blank piece of paper to where we are now feels good,” he said.