Complementary partners provide balance
Kristine Ellis -- Casual Living, July 1, 2008
Some partnerships fit like a glove. Such is the case with Ken Burrows and Gary Stafford, who first met nearly 50 years ago when each worked in Brown Jordan’s factory.
By the time they launched Terra Furniture in 1972, not only did they have the complementary expertise to run a global manufacturing company, they also had confidence they would work well together.
“We’ve always worked as a team,” Burrows said. “There is a lot of give and take. We don’t make any major decisions without consulting each other.”
While both started out in the factory, their individual careers at Brown Jordan took different paths. Burrows, who was 15 years old when he began working there, gravitated toward sales and marketing.
He moved into management when Hubert Jordan retired and Robert Brown asked him to be national sales manager. Burrows’ first task was to lead a national sales meeting in Chicago.
“I was still in my 20s and I’d never been to Chicago, let alone run a national meeting. I hadn’t even met all of the reps,” he said, adding the reps quickly put him at ease.
“I had a great ride as national sales manager for many years,” Burrows said. “The people there were literally like family.”
The close-knit Brown Jordan culture also drew in Stafford.
Brown was a family friend, and both Stafford’s father and brother worked at Brown Jordan. Stafford started working there during summers to put himself through college. When he entered the Navy a few years later, Brown told him there would be a job waiting for him when he returned.
Stafford eventually became Brown Jordan’s vice president and treasurer and Burrows its general manager.
To the valley and back
Terra’s launch came a few years after Brown Jordan was sold to Scott Paper Company. After purchasing a small wrought iron furniture manufacturing business, Burrows and Stafford spent about nine months working days at Brown Jordan in Pasadena and then driving to Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley, and working nights at Terra. Right after the Casual Market in 1972, the two left Brown Jordan for good.
Their company started in a Quonset hut with about five employees, grew into a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility with more than 60 employees, and now employs about 30 people in a 37,000-sq.-ft facility in the City of Industry. The current factory, which opened in 2006, has more production space than the previous factory because of its efficient design.
Terra started primarily making interior furnishings and thrived in that market for many years. Still, given their backgrounds, Burrows and Stafford didn’t forego the outdoor furniture industry and continued to grow their presence in that market as well. By 2006, as imports increased the stakes in both the interior and outdoor industries, the two decided it was time to concentrate solely on outdoor casual furniture.
“It is the fastest growing segment of the furniture industry, and with all of the changes in fabrics and finishes, there is no end to the possibilities,” Burrows said.
Their expertise has served them well over the past 36 years. With multiple design awards under its belt, Terra’s reputation as a high-quality, high-service manufacturer reflects the strengths and values of its founders.
“We take pride in the service we provide,” Burrows said. “Our size allows us to give our customers what they want and what they need.”
Stafford added, “We are always open to making changes or making special product for them, which not many in the industry will do nowadays.”
Both said the key to their success is importing frames from China and doing all of the finishing in their U.S. facility, which keeps costs down while allowing them to control quality.
Balance in work and life
As leaders, both Burrows and Stafford describe themselves as democratic. Their clear separation of duties and long-term association make their shared leadership an easy relationship.
“We complement one another very well,” said Stafford.
They also share a positive outlook even as they acknowledge the challenges facing the industry. As Stafford points out, the fabrics have made it a fashion industry while technological advancements have shortened the development process, increasing the pressure on manufactures to get new product to market.
“We are all more creative and doing things that we could have only dreamt about before,” he said. “As a result, there are more people in the industry and they are becoming pretty darn innovative.”
The pressure on manufacturers to be innovative in turn exerts pressure on the specialty retailers to be thoroughly knowledgeable about their product, especially in a soft economy.
“There needs to be better education of salespeople … so when the customer comes in, they can explain the product and what sets it apart from that in the big box stores,” Stafford said.
The two stay connected by participating in industry organizations. Burrows served as a board member of the Summer Casual Furniture Manufacturers Association, was its vice president last year, and is a current board member of the International Casual Furnishings Association.
For his part, Stafford is past president and long-time board member of the California Furniture Manufacturers Association.
They both balance their work with big avocations. A graduate of a Bangkok-based Thai cooking school, Stafford combines his passions for cooking, UCLA football and basketball with mouth-watering tailgating.
Burrows’ passion is the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, an organization he has been involved in for more than 30 years. As president overseeing preparation for the 2000 parade and bowl game, Burrows traveled more than 100,000 miles in 1999.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself as one of the leaders of that organization,” Burrows said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without a partner.”
In fact, it remains a standing joke between Burrows and Stafford just how much time off Burrows owes Stafford for covering for him as he traveled the world on behalf of the Tournament of Roses. They figure it’s about 110 days and counting.
Tiny Girl, Big Dream