They are used every day by nearly everyone. For Seating Inc., chairs are not only the mission of the business, they are its history, with the skillset spanning three generations.
The firm makes some 30,000 chairs a year.
Seating Inc. was founded in 1989 by Doug and Judy Hart. Today they run the business alongside their daughters who have joined the business.
Doug Hart, vice president, is a third-generation furniture manufacturer. His grandfather had a couch factory in France.
“What’s rewarding for me is to see all the work that we have done over the last 28-29 years and knowing where we started and where we are now,” he said.
The Nunda, Livingston County, firm is priming for 15 percent growth in revenue this year and plans to add a handful of workers over the next 18 months to its current roster of 32 people.
The firm has the capacity to manufacture 60,000 chairs a year and seeks to reach that goal in the next two years.
Seating Inc. helped restore a factory at 60 N. State St. built in 1914 and now the company’s headquarters.
“It wasn’t functional, and it was a real blight on the face of our small beautiful village of Nunda, so our mission really over the years has been to bring the building back to life and put people to work,” President Judy Hart said.
Twenty-five percent of its business is based in New York. It serves municipalities, universities and colleges, hospitals and corporate clients. The firm also distributes nationally, but chiefly east of the Mississippi River.
The firm is expanding downstate. A new manufacturer’s representative was hired in February to help this effort.
“We recently expanded, got some representation in New York City, so we are excited about breaking into that market, but Western New York is the core of what we’re doing,” said Judy Hart.
Art Werksman is an independent manufacturer’s rep who has worked with Seating Inc. since 2005.
“It’s a family-run company, as compared to this big conglomerate that’s responsible to stockholders, and so they treat the people that work for them, they treat the reps that represent them, they treat their dealers that do business with them with a lot more compassion than you’ll find at other companies,” he said. “Why not support a New York State manufacturer that uses domestic parts and cares about their partners?”
The manufacturing process has remained largely the same, but new materials and changes in technology have had an impact on the art of chair-making.
“I would say our industry is not unlike most big industries,” said Doug Hart. “The big guys are getting bigger by buying the small guys up.
“Obviously, technology is moving very quickly, so for a small company to keep up with a high level of technology that’s needed is also another challenge.”
The modern workplace and the way people interact in the workplace today also affect the company.
“People are working differently, so (it is about) keeping up with products that fit their needs,” said Judy Hart. “Instead of sitting in front of a desktop, people are running around with laptops … and they’re collaboratively working. The way people go about their business has changed.
“I don’t think sitting is going to go out of style—you’ve got to sit sometimes—(but) the chairs have to keep up with what people are doing.”
The company’s chairs are ergonomic and range from work chairs in an office and guest chairs in a waiting room to heavy duty chairs in labs or conference rooms. Chairs are not one-size-fits-all, officials said.
“My very favorite thing, and I think most everybody here would agree, is when the factory is busy and the chairs are coming through,” said Judy Hart. “There’s almost a buzz. We love making chairs, we really love to be productive and busy; to see those beautiful chairs go through the factory is very satisfying.”
Being an American manufacturer today means something to customers more so than it did 20 years ago, she said.
“The fact that we are a New York State manufacturer is one of the strongest things that we offer when we talk to people who nowadays are really interested in buying locally and supporting American workers,” she said. “We find that the environment is increasingly competitive. We’ve gone through a long history and face a lot of competition from imported products, but we’ve stuck to our guns because we think it’s very important for the American economy.”
Bill Sweetland of LB’s Furniture Solutions LLC in Spencerport has been a customer of Seating Inc. for over a decade.
“As a businessperson, working with Seating Inc. is a sound business decision,” he said. “First and foremost, the quality of their product is second to none, which means I rarely have customers calling me with problems. Secondly are the people who work there. They are all committed to exceeding my expectations as a furniture dealer, which allows me to exceed the expectations of my customers.
“They are a family-owned and -operated business, employing a local workforce that competes successfully in a highly competitive market flooded with imported products.”
Craftsmanship—when it comes to chairs—is still important, Doug Hart said.
“It has changed a lot, but in a lot of ways the craftsmanship of it hasn’t,” he said. “Back many years ago, we didn’t have the foams and the textiles and all that kind of stuff that we have in today’s market. But how to make a chair and put it together properly and the craftsmanship of it is still pretty much there.”
“It’s a feel. Anyone that’s sat in a cheap car and a really (nice) car—they know the difference,” he added.
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