Stainless steel furniture line helps company grow out of recession
January 2012- It’s no surprise stainless steel is the material of choice in nearly any commercial kitchen application: It’s virtually impervious to wear, maintenance-free and lends itself to a modern appeal. For those reasons, Lambertson Industries, Sparks, Nev., has sustained its business for more than 30 years manufacturing custom stainless steel kitchen mainstays such as sinks, ventilation hoods and tubs.
When the economy plummeted in 2009, Ken Hewson, president of Lambertson, reinvigorated the company with the metal it knew best.
“Facing the economic business downturn in the commercial market, I said we had to do something, so we started trying to market stainless furniture,” says Hewson. He focused on designs for commercial furniture, such as desks, shelves, countertops and credenzas, rather than the troubled residential market. Succeeding in the residential market would’ve been “much easier during the housing boom,” he says.
The two-year-old venture, Kenrick Stainless Designs, now accounts for 7 percent to 10 percent of Lambertson’s overall business. “And sales continue to grow each month,” Hewson says.
Kenrick sources its stainless sheets from both Ryerson Inc., Chicago, and Samuel, Son & Co., Mississauga, Ontario. All of the furniture, which includes desks, shelves, bookcases and coffee tables, is made with a No. 4 finish. “Because of the workability and versatility of stainless, both the 304 and 430 in 18, 16 and 14 gauge, we find that we can fabricate about any commercial product required in the kitchen industry and also manufacture the furniture to have a distinctive, high-quality, contemporary look,” Hewson says. “Stainless is a wonderful metal to work with. [It’s] extremely malleable [and] very clean to cut, bend, weld and polish.”
Since Lambertson had perfected its combination of grinding and polishing with discs, stones, polishing belts and polishing compounds over decades, Kenrick easily applied that to new products.
“No. 4 just seems to be accepting of so many minor flaws. If you get too much of a mirror finish, it’s just too hard to work with,” Hewson says. “Experienced polishers are amazing in matching the No. 4 finish on the complete product, on every welded edge and corner, that many times our customers, or even I, can’t tell a welded or fabricated edge or corner from an edge formed with a brake.”
For minor scratches, No. 4 finish can be simply fixed with a Scotch-Brite pad, a method suggested by the Specialty Steel Industry of North America, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that includes stainless steel producers. “You can bring back a finish with just 15 strokes,” adds Hewson.
Stop, look and stare
After 25 years of working in technical service, sales and marketing for companies such as Caterpillar and Porsche North America, Hewson says he left his day job and bought Lambertson in 2008—fulfilling his goal to own a small business.
The 31,000-square-foot fabrication facility contains everything needed to finish stainless steel, including shears, brakes, dies, TIG and MIG welders, grinders and polishers. “We would like to purchase a waterjet in the next year,” adds Hewson.
Kenrick’s more customized pieces are indicative of the company’s growth within Lambertson. Along with an outdoor furniture line that integrates wood chopping blocks, Hewson says one customer ordered a stainless steel elevating desk, powered by 24-volt linear actuators, that rises 8 inches to 12 inches with the push of a button. The desk’s functionality spurred Hewson to build one for his own office, as well, for ease of viewing blueprints.
One of the difficulties of marketing stainless steel furniture is, unlike the commercial market, people have preconceived notions of what the metal looks like—that it’s cold, stoic and uninviting. “We have to break those old traditional paradigms. Stainless can stand by itself, it doesn’t need a glass top to look good,” he says. “We find most everyone that sees our furniture for the first time does the old ‘stop, look and stare.’ People want to see the furniture firsthand to make a purchase.”
Kenrick, a blend of Ken’s name and that of his sales manager, Eric Flickinger, also is looking into doctors’ offices as a potential market. “Why wouldn’t you want to walk in and see nice stainless coffee tables and end tables that were kind of denoted for cleanliness and sterile?” Hewson says. MM