Company expands its senior market

March 24, 2010
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The 85-year-old Hekman Furniture Co. long ago solidified its name as a manufacturer of furniture for the home. More recently, it tried its hand at office furniture. Now, the Zeeland-based manufacturer is making a name for itself in health care and senior living markets.

Hekman started to expand its market with a contract branch of the company in 2003.

“We started to develop our sales force. Some of the sales force had a background in hospitality, some of them had an office background, and some of them had an assisted living background,” said Dan Masters, president of Hekman.

One of the first affirmations the company received on expanding into new markets was securing the casegoods order for the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.

“At that point, we realized we had the capability of doing more of a hospitality focus,” he said.

In 2008, Masters said the company took a panoramic view of the furniture industry and its role in it.

“We noticed a trend toward the public rooms of assisted living facilities, nursing homes, smaller health care facilities,” he said. “And we kept getting (those jobs). At that point, we made a decision to show at the hospitality show in May. In that channel, we kept getting great response.”

Hekman was able to land a few more “strategic jobs” that pushed it further into the niche of the health care and assisted living market. The next step came from two members of Hekman’s sales force in Wisconsin and Ohio.

“These two individuals came up and said, ‘Listen, some of the domestic suppliers are moving toward an offshore model, and that has created an opening,’” he said. “At that point, we said, ‘Well, let’s go explore the market.’”

And that’s when the research began.

“We went to nursing homes. We attended conferences. We started learning about the three phases of senior living,” he said. “Demographically speaking, we did market research and saw this as a channel that has growth potential. Then we started to learn what the product requirements are.”

Providing furniture solutions for the senior living setting is much different than the traditional residential setting.

“A chair is a chair is a chair is a chair, no doubt about it. But the chair has to have arms that extend a couple of extra inches out so a senior person can use the arms to lift themselves off the chair. These are all things we’ve learned from people and attending conferences.

“These are all little things that together make you modify the design and development to be functional more so than fashionable.”

Based on feedback from the health care and senior living designers, finding that balance between a fashionable style and the necessary functionality was where Hekman took aim.

“The challenge became to provide the styling of a residential home … and yet still make sure you meet all of the requirements of their lifestyle issues,” he said.

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