Amneon Comes Into Its Own

May 4, 2007
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ALLENDALE —In a market with seemingly little room for a new office furniture manufacturer, Amneon Furniture prides itself on “doing what other companies won’t,” finding success in custom fabrication, small orders, short lead times and unusual shapes and sizes.

“Those boards right there — that’s our systems inventory,” said Amneon President Doug Huesdash on a recent tour of the company’s production floor. “We really don’t have any limitations. … We pride ourselves on accepting challenges to satisfy our customers.”

Bucking industry trends favoring offshore production, the maker of systems furniture, ergonomic seating and display products is among a handful of upstart firms emerging as the next generation of the contract furniture industry. The majority of manufacturing is done in its 46,000-square-foot plant at

5285 Edgewater Drive
in Allendale.

Services such as powder coating and metal fabrication are outsourced, but for the most part those services stay local, taking advantage of the ample West Michigan furniture supply base. In fact, the company’s roots began in the supply base — for the first 10 years of its existence, it was solely a supplier to local OEMs.

From the start, the company launched by two guys in a small garage built itself around doing things other companies preferred not to do. And in 1991, that was employing Amneon founders Huesdash and Jim Bird, who were then controller and production manager, respectively, for a firm that went belly-up during that year’s short-lived industry downturn.

“We thought we’d try to make a go of it, and if one of us got a good job before the company was able to support itself, it would have been best of luck to each other,” said Huesdash.

The company they launched, JD Tackit Inc., or JDTI, landed a $40,000 contract making tack boards for a local OEM before the year was out. It soon began supplying to other OEMs and manufacturing other components.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” said Huesdash. “When we first started out, all we really knew how to do was put fabric on boards. But when someone asked us to do something, we’d just say, ‘Yep, we can do it,’ and then go figure out how to.”

JDTI later launched a proprietary line of tables and display furniture — tack boards, marker boards, easels — setting the foundation for the Amneon brand.

At the beginning of the industry’s largest downturn in history, the JDTI founders were given the opportunity to acquire a bankrupt maker of cloned systems furniture. In 2001, it acquired Grand Rapids-based Enviro Systems Furniture Inc. through a separate entity, ITDJ Holdings Inc. Only two years earlier, Enviro Systems had been featured on a CNBC segment showcasing the office of the future.

“When the systems program became available to us, we saw an opportunity to supplement it with all those additional items that are part of a contract furniture package,” said Huesdash.

“We knew that the top dealers in our market might not buy our cubicle. There are just too many people focused on that. But we might get them to buy a cafeteria table or an easel. Or maybe we could bring them other elements of value, like customization or a level of service they’re not getting from the larger manufacturers.”

For its seating line, Amneon partnered with another local startup, Grandville-based Altus Industries. Launched by a pair of entrepreneurs with primary interest in the ergonomic accessory and health care markets, Altus Industries only intended to be in the seating business until the expiration of the founders’ non-compete agreement with a local OEM.

In March, Amneon became a full-line OEM with the acquisition of the seating line. As Altus sold more seating under its own brand, the deal should have an immediate impact for Amneon.

“A company going into bankruptcy is a whole different scenario from taking on a successful business,” said Huesdash, noting that Altus Industries will continue to serve its seating customers with other products. “They made sure their customer base was taken care of and that we were capable of servicing the business.”

The combined company is forecasting sales of roughly $9 million this year, split evenly between JDTI and Amneon. Much of Amneon’s sales have come from four markets, including one surprisingly successful small market. Huesdash believes the momentum in those markets will soon spread to other territories as the company further develops its sales force.

Building on the growth and acquisition, this looks to be an eventful year for the company. Burns will retire this spring, with Huesdash assuming sole ownership.

A developing distribution partnership should bring an established European manufacturer into the U.S. market and some new products to the Amneon line. A partnership with GrandValleyStateUniversity’s engineering school will bring another product to market: FLO, a reconfigurable mobile platform that can serve as a laptop stand, podium, shelving unit, case good or media cart.

Component manufacturing will remain the majority of the JDTI business.

“That’s an important part of our business, and we need to maintain the high level of service we’ve provided for our OEM clients,” Huesdash said. “Not only does this allow us to diversify, but it also gives us a window into the larger market.”

Working on the OEM programs has given Amneon access to key suppliers and new technology, materials and practices, specifically environmentally sound products and manufacturing.

Huesdash credits the company’s continued success to a number of key employees: OEM service manager Jim Pratt, office manager Stephanie Walker, systems manager Mike Mickey and manufacturing manager Tim McDowell.    

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