Grand Rapids chair maker expands into table business

7:38 AM, Mar 5, 2010   |    comments
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Grand Rapids Chair Co. Chery St. SW

GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - When a chair company starts making tables, business is good.

"I love it. I love to watch the growth," says Tom Southwell, the vice president of sales and marketing for Grand Rapids Chair Company.

The 12-year-old company is located at 625 Chestnut SE, and also owns a neighboring warehouse. In October, the company built a 28,000 square-foot property nearby to make tables.

It started, of course, with chairs -- the company's first major account was Burger King. It now has global clients.

"Everybody from McDonald's to four-star hotels, schools, hospitals, government," says Southwell.

Southwell says the company has gained clients with its efficiency. The steel maufacturing side of the business has a robot machine that welds on one side while a worker puts new parts in the fixture of the machine at the same time.

Last year, Grand Rapids Chair Company shipped 100,000 chairs, and that was considered a slow year. But it's not just speed that helps.

"Customized furniture, the way you want to see it, when you want to see it," says Southwell.

One client even sent chopped trees from its property from Wisconsin.

"We had them cut and made tables out of them," says Southwell.

The business model keeps customers from going to competitors in the Asian markets, but Southwell saw his company's designs in a Chinese brochure.

"I'm flipping through it and I notice my chairs my photography," says Southwell.

Southwell is not flattered by the imitation, but he does take it as a sign that Grand Rapids Chair Company has earned a special seat at the industry's table.

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