Not every business can stay family owned as the years fly by, but Custer has continued to grow and flourish in its second generation of leadership.
The Grand Rapids-based integrated interiors and commercial furnishings company, which is a dealer of Steelcase furniture for the commercial, education, health care and hospitality markets, on Feb. 16 marked 40 years in business, kicking off what will be a yearlong celebration.
The company was established by Dave Custer in 1981 as Custer Office Environments, providing West Michigan’s commercial industry with contract furniture from national vendors and serving as the region’s exclusive Steelcase furniture dealer.
After four decades, the company has expanded to offer interiors solutions to education, health care, small business and corporate clients.
Founded in Grand Rapids, Custer over the years established a physical presence across the state’s west side, opening showrooms in Holland, Traverse City and Kalamazoo, with its headquarters continuing to be in Grand Rapids at two facilities — its corporate office at 217 Grandville Ave. SW and its warehouse and operations at 320 Hall St. SW.
Custer said it is proud to have maintained strong connections to the communities it serves throughout its history, partnering with architecture and design firms regionally to deliver products that fit the client’s vision. Custer’s full-service design department has allowed it to provide customers with specialized design services, such as space planning, finish selection, workplace strategy and change management services, and its portfolio of companies each offer full-service solutions for all customer renovations and new builds, from conception to project completion.
In 2016, Dave Custer began transitioning the leadership of Custer to his sons, although he still lends his wisdom and advice to his sons and holds a 1% ownership stake in Custer. Todd Custer stepped into the role of president and CEO in 2017, and majority ownership and leadership is now in the hands of Todd and his brothers, Mark Custer, who is chief revenue officer for Custer family of companies, and Scott Custer, who handles real estate and investments.
Todd Custer said his family feels fortunate the business is not only still around, but thriving, 40 years later.
“There are a lot of companies that don’t make it for a year, let alone make it to the second generation,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that successfully and we’ve gotten better through that transition. … My dad laid down a really great foundation and a great infrastructure that we’ve been able to take and grow while maintaining our same core values and our same beliefs of being part of the communities we work in and giving back to those communities.”
Although it’s too soon to say for sure, and it’s not a set-in-stone expectation, Todd Custer said he is hopeful the family business will be carried on for a third generation via the 10 children he and his brothers have between them.
“We’re trying to create something, not only with Custer, but with our sister companies Century (Professional Flooring & Cleaning) and CS Erickson, we’re trying to create an opportunity that’s larger for the third generation to come into,” he said.
Mark Custer said it has been a special experience for him, as well, to be part of Custer.
“My dad worked really hard for many years to build a solid business to pass off to my brothers and me,” he said. “To have our business as the foundation of our family has allowed us to do many things to give back to the community. We are excited to continue growing and diversifying into additional business opportunities to pass down to the Custer third generation.”
Todd Custer said he considers the company’s big milestones to be the events of 2002, when Custer spun its flooring division into Century Professional Flooring & Cleaning, which now operates as a provider of residential and commercial flooring installation and care across Michigan; and in 2017, when Custer facilitated the merger between C&S Electric Services — which it acquired in 2014 — and Erickson Electric to form CS Erickson. Combining the two companies allowed both to take on larger projects and later to integrate Custer’s technology capabilities into CS Erickson’s portfolio of services. CS Erickson currently serves clients with power, lighting and integrated technology solutions for the commercial and industrial industries.
Also in its portfolio of brands is Worklab by Custer, a co-working and meeting space at 99 Monroe Ave. NW, and Flooralytics, a new fabric analytics and flooring testing lab launched in late 2020 that became fully operational in January in a renovated facility at 719 Century Ave. SW.
Todd Custer said the company is working on more organic growth strategies through a relatively new side of the business: transformation services and change management. He sees those services as essential during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing employers to reimagine their workspaces and commercial interiors yet again. With businesses returning to work, he said the company stands ready to guide clients through new ways of working and building connections with clients and employees.
“If (companies) are reducing their real estate, it might mean (fewer) dedicated workstations or dedicated offices, but more collaborative community space and places where people can come in and they can connect and they can collaborate and they can have a really good experience,” he said.
He noted Custer is currently working to renovate and reinvent all of its showrooms to showcase the new way of working and new experience that employees are going to want in order to return to the office. This year, Custer will open the doors of its new Kalamazoo showroom on the 15th floor of the Exchange Building, as well as unveil a refreshed Grand Rapids showroom with updated technology, collaborative furniture solutions and a residential look and feel.
“People don’t want to go back to their old environment. They want to go back to a new experience,” he said.
Mark Custer added that other goals the company has include continuing to build out Custer’s family of companies through its shared service team, as well as developing its property in downtown Grand Rapids “to be a mixed-use concept that will play off the riverfront development across the street on the city land.”
More information about Custer is at custerinc.com.
Custer has made a number of moves throughout the years, expanding its portfolio of interior services:
Early 2000s: Bought downtown Grand Rapids building in which its current headquarters is located.
2002: Spun its flooring division into Century Professional Flooring & Cleaning, which currently operates as a provider of residential and commercial flooring installation and care across Michigan.
2014: Acquired C&S Electric Services.
2015: Rebranded its custom design-build capabilities into a business called Renegade, which earlier this year it sold to New York-based Uhuru Design, a New American design furniture manufacturer.
2016-17: Transitioned president and CEO role to Todd Custer and majority ownership to Todd, Mark and Scott Custer.
2017: Facilitated the merger between C&S and Erickson Electric to form CS Erickson, which serves clients with power, lighting and integrated technology solutions for the commercial and industrial industries.
2019: Established a presence out of state by expanding its service territory and opening a new location in Fort Wayne, Indiana, through the acquisition of Steelcase dealership Productive Business Interiors.
2019: Hit $60 million in sales for Custer and close to $90 million in sales for the Custer family of companies.
2020: Established a shared service entity to support the Custer family of businesses.
2021: Opened Flooralytics, a fabric and flooring testing lab, at 719 Century Ave. SW in Grand Rapids. The company hopes to be able to host a grand opening for the lab this spring.
2021: Expected reopening of renovated showrooms in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.