KALAMAZOO, MI – Landscape Forms Inc. needs more room.
The maker of furniture for outdoor spaces and public places will soon expand its operations in Comstock Township with an eye toward growing its sales in the United States and overseas.
“I think we’re at a point where we’re bursting at the seams as far as manufacturing is concerned,” said Kirt Martin, vice president of design and marketing for Landscape Forms Inc.
Referring to the company’s longtime location at 431 Lawndale Ave., he said, “If you look at the next 10 years, with the percentage of growth we’re experiencing, we’re outgrowing our building.”
Averaged out since it was founded by John Chipman in 1969, the maker of outdoor furniture has been growing at a rate of about 12 percent per year, and doubling its sales every six to seven years. The company, which has a few major owners but is otherwise owned by its employees and retirees, is on track to reach $100 million in sales this year.
“The big story to me is that we’re growing,” company president Richard Heriford said, a couple of days after hosting a June 3 symposium for industry professionals to share ideas and see the company’s first-of-a-kind, 15,000-square-foot outdoor furniture showroom.
Landscape Forms works with landscape architects and designers to make outdoor furniture and advanced lighting. It is a pioneer in developing and marketing collections of outdoor benches, tables, lamps, lighting fixtures, trash receptacles, bicycle racks and walkway lights for parks, college campuses, amusement parks, offices and other municipal settings.
Over the next six to nine months, it will re-establish a large part of its manufacturing and production from its site on Lawndale Avenue into 165,000 square feet of leased space at the Midlink Business Park, on Sprinkle Road just south of I-94. Both locations are in COmstock Township.
The company, which declines to say how much it is spending on the expansion, was already using about 90,000 square feet of space there for storage.
“We’ll have finished goods shipping. We’ll have assembly, manufacturing basically,” Martin said.
The Midlink location will have a new powder coating line, a lab for prototyping products and office space, he said.
Heriford said, “We’re reinventing the flow of how production goes.”
Products are currently fabricated at the company’s Lawndale Avenue location, including high-skilled welding and grinding. They are electrocoated by a contracted firm in Elkhart, Ind., and shipped back here for finishing, assembly and shipping. Starting with the finishing, assembly and shipping, most of that is to be done at the Midlink.
Landscape Forms hopes to make the transition by the first quarter of 2016.
Its Lawndale location presently has about 120,000 square feet of space dedicated to manufacturing and about 25,000 square feet for offices. After production is relocated, some of the space left empty will be converted into additional office space, Martin said.
“We’ll have some of our core competencies at Lawndale,” he said. “We have talked about Lawndale being the R&D (research and development) center down the road.”
About 350 of the company’s 400 workers are based at the location. They include certified welders and other skilled tradespeople, designers, electrical lighting engineers, mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers, industrial engineers and marketing professionals.
“It’s the whole gamut,” Martin said. “We have shipping and receiving, all those types of jobs, (and) sales and services, accounting.”
The balance of the company’s workers are its sales staff, located elsewhere.
Heriford said Landscape Forms had about eight sales people and did about $20 million in sales when he joined the company 15 years ago. Of the 50 it has now, 35 are full employees and the others are independent representatives. Forty-two of them are dedicated to sales in the U.S.
Heriford credits the company’s growth to its creative pursuit of designing and building furniture that people want. Although the company is known for the heavy-duty site funiture found on street corners and in parks, he said it has been successful since its inception by anticipating needs and designing products to fit those needs.
That is the case with premium products it is now crafting for “protected” public spaces such as apartment rooftops and terraces.
Landscape Forms has been working for more than 18 months to establish partnerships abroad that will allow it to ship its products overseas and have them assembled there. In doing so, it hopes to turn incidental sales into routine sales.
“Up until about a year ago, we did not have product that could be shipped internationally,” Heriford said. “With the reinvention of the product platform, we believe we can grow from 10 percent to 20 percent of our volume.”
Martin and Heriford said new methods of design allow them to flat package outdoor furniture and ship it. Martin said shipping products by ship and truck (versus plane) cuts cost.
“The bigger the product, the more difficult it is to do business worldwide,” he said of fully assembled goods.
Landscape Forms has had partnerships in some countries (such as Brazil for the FIFA World Cup) that have allowed it to fill orders sporadically. But less than 10 percent of its sales are done abroad, and it wants to change that.
The United Kingdom, South America and Australian are places it really wants to see growth. It has partnerships in London and Sydney that it hopes will bear fruit soon.
The company is also working with designers on collections of furniture that have a more international flare. While it has several long-lasting, outdoor furniture groups that have been consistently strong sellers, Heriford points to sleek new furniture the company has designed for companies like Mercedes-Benz, as well as its new MultipliCity line of furniture.
That collection, envisioned by designed Yves Behar, includes a table, a bike rack, a waste receptacle, LED pathlighting, and backed and backless bench.
Furniture you already know
Landscape Forms furniture is the mainstay of many museums, recreation centers, college campuses and other places you have probably already been.
-The company has a new contract with the Portland Transit Authority, in Oregon, to outfit transit stations with furniture and waste receptacles.
-If you have visited Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and sat down outdoors, you were probably sitting on a bench made here by Landscape Forms.
-If you sit down in New York City’s Central Park, chances are good you are sitting on a Landscape Forms bench. The company has a 4-year-old contract with the Central Park Conservancy to replace benches and waste receptacles as the wear out.
-If you sat down or used outdoor tables at Millennium Park in Chicago (location of The Bean), you were utilizing Landscape Forms products.