Altus Is Ascending New Markets

June 18, 2004
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GRANDVILLE — Craig Vander Heiden says it’s hard to know exactly how many people are employed in manufacturing the Ascend line of furniture he and his partner were exhibiting last week at NeoCon.

But whatever the number, he said, it probably is going to grow because sales of the year-old Ascend line are beginning to take off.

Ascend, basically, is a mid-priced line of office carts with a counterbalance mechanism.

With a touch of a paddle similar to that found on an office chair, one can raise or lower the cart by eight inches.

Vander Heiden said this means that the cart can present a work surface for a person who’s either seated or standing.

Demand for the device, he said, has begun to stem from school districts for use in classrooms, from hospitals for use in patient rooms and surgical suites, and from the hospitality industry for convention greeting and registration stations.

He said the device usually is kidney shaped and can serve as anything from a lectern to a supplemental surface at a workstation.  

Ascend is manufactured by Altus Industries, a firm Vander Heiden and his partner, Eric Kahkonen, founded in 1991 after selling their first company, Idea Industries, to Knape & Vogt.

Altus is located at 2949 Remico SW, in Grandville, the site of its assembly operations.

“We outsource most of the work,” Vander Heiden told the Business Journal, “and then we do the assembly here.”

The company has a full-time staff of five and seven on-call workers.

“It would be hard to say how many other people are involved in making Ascend,” he said. “We outsource to aluminum die casting and extrusion operations — the hardware, the packaging … I don’t really know how many people are involved.

“But we’ve really found a niche with this product,” he added. “There’s nothing else on the market like Ascend.”

He said Ascend’s panels are fashioned of pressed wood coated with an environmentally friendly thermoform laminate.

Vander Heiden explained that Altus’ predecessor company, Idea — founded in 1995 — specialized in manufacturing adjustable and ergonomic keyboards.

He said many of the Idea’s customers asked the company to begin producing an adjustable-height credenzas.

“Well, K&V wasn’t interested,” Vander Heiden said, “so when we wound up the two-year transition there, we set out to do this.”

In retrospect, he said, 2001 perhaps wasn’t the best time to launch a start-up in the office furniture industry. But things look far better now.

He said Ascend comes in any color and in a number of configurations.

Vander Heiden is from Northern Michigan and Kahkonen is a native of Detroit. They both have worked in the Grand Rapids area about 20 years.

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