GRAND RAPIDS — Chuck Saylor has the ideas. Nelson Jacobson has the ability to produce them.
To Saylor, an office furniture designer who helped to transform the industry 26 years ago, and Jacobson, a third-generation executive with the JSJ Corp. in Grand Haven, teaming up to meet a rapidly emerging market niche within the office furniture industry made perfect sense.
“Everybody comes to the table bringing value,” said Saylor, founder and president of “izzydesign,” a new office furniture company that aims to serve small and start-up companies that want highly mobile and flexible office furniture at an affordable price.
Izzydesign will debut its line of desks, tables, seating and storage units this month at NeoCon, the industry’s massive annual trade show in Chicago. The company’s goal is to supply a client with a complete workstation, seating included, for as little as $1,200 to $1,300.
“We’re going to develop a high level of functionality at a very affordable price point in the market,” Saylor said. “For me, it’s the culmination of my entire life’s work. It’s just kind of the next extension of what I want to end my career doing.”
JSJ Corp. — a diverse family-owned manufacturer with interests in the furniture, automotive and plastics, metal stamping, and machine industries — is an equity partner in izzydesign.
The partnership stems from Saylor’s long-standing desire to form his own office furniture company, and JSJ’s goal to build on the success of its seating company, Superior Furniture, based near Austin, Texas, and become even more diverse.
JSJ brings to the table capabilities in engineering, manufacturing and distribution that it will use to produce and ship an order within 72 hours. JSJ will produce the products Saylor designs at its subsidiary facilities in Grand Haven, as well as the Superior Furniture facility.
“We started talking about it and it just made sense,” said Jacobson, JSJ’s vice president of furniture products and international business development.
“We’re always looking for new business opportunities where we can leverage our competencies,” he said. “Furniture was such a logical option.”
Saylor has 30 years’ experience in office furniture design that includes stints leading the design arms of Haworth Inc. and Knoll. While at Haworth early in his career, he served on a design team with Richard Haworth, the company’s present chairman, to develop the world’s first pre-wired modular office panel in 1976, the product that makes up cubicles and changed the direction of the industry for the next 25 years.
In forming his own company, Saylor wanted to avoid having to invest heavily in leasing or developing a manufacturing base.
So, following a business model he had in his head for some time, he sought out a partner. Saylor eventually teamed up with JSJ, a company he sees as having an impressive capability to build products quickly and at a high level of quality.
“I certainly wasn’t in a situation to build brick and mortar,” Saylor said. “We’re really leveraging a fairly broad and diverse manufacturing capability.”
Saylor worked at Haworth during the 1970s before leaving in 1980 to become vice president of design management at Knoll. He returned to Haworth in 1996 and eventually moved on to form his own consulting and design firm, JumpStart.
As an independent designer, he was involved in designing Haworth’s “Jump Stuff” line of desk accessories in 1999. He was the lead designer for Haworth’s new “if” office system that debuted last year at NeoCon and won a “Gold” award in the show’s annual Best of NeoCon design competition.
In izzydesign, Saylor envisions producing a line of office furnishings that appeal to small and start-up companies, as well as people with home offices.
That market niche is growing rapidly and in recent years has drawn an increasing amount of attention from industry giants, Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth. Each of the industry’s “Big Three” has formed new subsidiaries and tweaked its business model of late to produce, market and sell new product lines at a lower price. Each seeks to make large use of the Internet to market and sell its wares, which are designed to meet a growing trend in the offices of today toward more workplace collaboration and better aesthetics.
“Change is definitely occurring and the marketplace is saying, ‘You know, the old way of doing business really doesn’t work anymore,’” Saylor said. “People are not only looking for alternatives, but they’re looking for better alternatives and at a better price point.”
That market demand for something new convinced Saylor that now was the time to form his own company, despite the present weakened U.S. economic conditions that have the office furniture industry in the midst of its worst downturn in a decade.
Customers will seek out alternatives during tough economic periods, he said. The changing industry dynamics and market demands will also be around much longer than any temporary downturn.
“I believe it was absolutely the best time,” Saylor said. “The current business environment is one of the most exciting business environments that I’ve seen in my lifetime.
“We think the opportunity is an unbelievable opportunity for us.”
Izzydesign is developing a network of independent sales representatives, and plans to eventually market and sell its products online.