by Claire Sykes
Safe, strong and beautiful. That’s been the promise of school furniture maker Wood Designs for nearly 40 years. Located in North Carolina, in the heart of America’s furniture-making region, the company is known for its innovative and solid early childhood tables, chairs, storage and more.
While Wood Designs continues to grow its presence in the school market, it has also expanded into new territory, including the agriculture, geriatric, and home markets, said company vice president Kristen Urban. Her parents bought the company 25 years ago and today, Kristen and her husband Ryan are in charge. We thought it was a good time for an update.
Ed Dealer: How did your family get started in this business?
Kristen Urban: Wood Designs was started by another family, the Prices, in the 1980s. It was small, only eight employees. My parents, Dennis and Deborah Gosney, worked in the school equipment industry and knew the Prices. When they retired in 1994, my parents purchased their business.
In 1994, we were a little fish in a big pond. Over the years, we’ve built the business on high-quality products and fast shipping. We use the world’s best plywood, coated with our exclusive UV finish, and everything is made right here in Monroe. We place a high priority on furniture innovation, but it’s second to producing children’s furniture that’s safe. Parents don’t realize how much furniture and toys play a role in their child’s overall health, but we do. That’s why our products will never off-gas harmful chemicals to negatively affect indoor air quality.
Our furniture is also meant to stand the test of time. We honor both promises with our free, lifetime warranty.
I grew up with the company, working here from age 10 on into high school. I inspected and packed products at first, and later I did clerical work. When I graduated from college, I made the business my career.
In 2011 my parents retired and my husband, who is vice president of operations, and I run the company.
How big is your operation in Monroe?
Depends on the time of year!
We have two facilities that we own in Monroe. The main building is 100,000 square feet and the shipping and receiving building is 100,000 square feet. We also rent several warehouses throughout the year to hold all of our different inventories. We are perpetually preparing for summer!
What trends are you seeing in early-childhood furniture right now? What are your bestsellers?
Having two elementary-school-age children keeps our fingers on the pulse of the trends. We see a big emphasis on mobility and flexibility inside the classroom, as well as overall aesthetics. Teachers are looking for spaces that can be easily changed up and that have a warm and calming feel to them.
The outdoor classroom has gained a lot of traction over the past few years, and we continue to get more and more requests for additions to our outdoor line.
Our bestsellers are the classics: teacher cabinets, lockers and single-storage units.
What markets outside of schools, daycares and churches does Wood Designs serve?
During the Great Recession, public-school funding dried up, so we reached into recession-proof markets – geriatric, because aging baby boomers need these products to stay mobile, and the agricultural market. We’ve also expanded into the home market. Now, given the ever-increasing internet and its instant delivery, we have about 600 SKUs that ship within 24 hours.
Wood Designs doesn’t sell direct to the consumer in any of those markets. We sell mostly through major school equipment dealers and online retailers. We go to about 12 trade shows a year.
How often do you launch new products?
We always have a big, new-product drop towards the end of the year, but new products are introduced throughout the year on a rolling basis. We usually announce them to our dealers through e-mail blasts.
How much of your business is custom furniture?
The custom department, together with our private-label department, is very much Ryan’s thing. I remember back about 10 years ago, in a planning meeting, Ryan said the company needed to purchase additional CNC machines exclusively for the custom department because his projections indicated major growth in that area.
Those additional machines were the start of something much bigger! Ryan’s vision for custom furniture and private labeling has been a huge reason for the vast growth we’ve experienced over the past several years. The custom/private labeling department accounts for a good portion of our business now.
What are your plans for Wood Designs’ future? Do you hope your kids will run it someday?
We’ll continue to expand into schools and other markets. Ryan and I are so thankful to have the opportunity to do something we love.
I don’t know about the kids! Right now, whenever their school is closed, they love coming to work and helping us out. Isaac, who’s 7, files paperwork and Ainsley, 5, likes to tidy up.