Street Talk: Kramer’s furniture showdown takedown


Earlier this month, CNBC Mad Money host Jim Kramer took a crack at comparing two of West Michigan’s most notable companies: Steelcase and Herman Miller.

The comparison of the two publicly traded office furniture companies was meant to find which would be the better one to own in today’s working climate.

Cramer noted both companies are doing well from the standpoint of adapting to changing worker habits.

"If offices want to attract talent, especially from the younger generation, they need furniture that facilitates a more collaborative work environment, which is good news for Herman Miller and Steelcase," Cramer said on his show.

The differences come swiftly when he pointed out the financials.

Steelcase sales were down 1 percent in 2016, while Herman Miller’s revenue grew 13.8 percent in 2015 and 5.7 percent last year. He did note 2017 could reverse the trends, with Steelcase expecting a 2 percent growth and Herman Miller expecting 1 percent.

Cramer did point out an expected 9 percent earnings decline for Steelcase, where Herman Miller is expected to increase 5 percent.

Steelcase is building out its manufacturing and innovation capabilities, as pointed out in a Business Journal story prior to NeoCon in June, as CEO Jim Keane discussed the differences in furniture approaches.

Herman Miller seems to be focusing on an effort to going straight to the consumer. An aspect Cramer seemed to like.

"For me, the takeaway seems clear: either it's only raining on Steelcase's side of the street, or Herman Miller's eating their lunch," he said. "In the office furniture showdown, Herman Miller is beating Steelcase hands down, and with the stocks trading at very similar valuations, Herman Miller looks way too cheap to me and should be bought. Steelcase? It's got a lot to prove, and so far, it's had an awful hard time proving it."

Give some, take some

Orion Construction began demolition of a 46,000-square-foot building in Heritage Hill, 50 College Ave. SE, last week.

The firm’s director of development, John Wheeler, is bullish on the neighborhood’s need for more residential. Ground should break on the planned 86-unit apartment complex at the site next month.

The new four-story building will include studio, one- and two-bedroom units and a 115-space parking lot on the nearly 2-acre lot.

Orion has completed multiple residential projects in downtown Grand Rapids and near-neighborhoods in the past few years, including Arena Place and Venue Tower — which opens soon.

In the near-neighborhoods, Orion has finished The Gateway at Belknap, Fulton Square and Eastown Flats and currently is working on River’s Edge, 1001 Monroe Ave. NW.

While the developer continues to add apartments to the Grand Rapids supply, it did pull back from a commitment of apartments at its recently started Warner Building, which turned to a Hyatt Place hotel.

Several sources told the Business Journal in January that market-rate development would slow, and few projects have been announced. Another major apartment project did recently begin excavation at 601 Bond Ave. NW by New York-based Time Equities Inc., which will bring a 16-story building with 202 units.


Grand Rapids Football Club is working to put another goose egg on the scoreboard.

Last spring, GRFC reached out to the West Michigan Environmental Action Council about achieving zero waste for its games, and the WMEAC helped the soccer club step up to the challenge. In early July, the WMEAC sent a West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum representative to Houseman Field, where GRFC plays its home games, and determined at least 90 percent of the waste headed for landfill could be diverted to recycling and compost, according to WMEAC community outreach contractor Hannah Mico.

A couple weeks later at GRFC’s July 14 game, WMEAC recycling intern Malory Maletic was sent out to lead four volunteers in implementing a waste management program. Mico said the group set up four sorting stations around the complex, diverting 53.3 percent of the waste to compost and recycling and collecting 108.4 pounds overall.

Mico said the purpose of the sorting stations is threefold — capturing waste, keeping the waste streams clean by ensuring they’re sorted and educating fans and promoting GRFC’s goal of eventually reaching zero waste. She added WMEAC is hoping to work with Grand Rapids Public Schools to ensure concessions materials are compostable or recyclable and recruiting more volunteers via a partnership with the club and its networks to ramp up efforts in the future.

“We were extremely happy with the results of this first round of implementation, and we're hoping to continue working with GRFC to increase diversion rates and reach more people about the (zero waste) initiative,” Mico said via email.

Little guy lauds

The mayor and Local First are shining a spotlight on little companies with big dreams.

Local First will co-host a discussion on the book “Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead of Big” (Portfolio, 2005) from 5:30-7 p.m. Aug. 1 at East Hills independent book store Books and Mortar, 955 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss is partnering with Local First and the bookstore owners, Jonathan Shotwell and Chris Roe, to host the discussion.

The book — by author Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large of Inc. Magazine — looks at 14 privately held companies in various industries that Burlingham said have redefined what it means to be successful and are beginning to change the economic landscape.

The discussion is an opportunity for community members to engage with the book’s message and meet some of West Michigan’s “small giants.”

Earlier this year, Bliss picked “Small Giants” as the 2017 Mayor’s Book of the Year.

“‘Small Giants’ is an important book for our entire community to read, even if you aren’t a business owner or an entrepreneur,” Bliss said. “West Michigan is home to many businesses that are small giants, which is what makes our region so special. Working together, we can continue to support locally owned companies by shopping local and spreading the word about our amazing small businesses.”

“We’re thrilled to see so many community members and business owners reading ‘Small Giants,’” said Elissa Hillary, president of Local First. “‘Small Giants’ resonates with West Michigan’s success story because many locally owned small businesses in our community are committed to being great instead of growing big.”

“I read ‘Small Giants’ when Brewery Vivant was just a dream,” said Kris Spaulding, co-owner of Brewery Vivant. “This book has shaped how my husband (Jason Spaulding) and I run our business today, as well as the policies we implement to ensure Brewery Vivant has a positive impact on our employees, the environment and our neighborhood.”

The Aug. 1 event is free; the book talk is a part of Good for Grand Rapids, an initiative that aims to bring together local businesses as a force for good.

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