On the move
Chris Gigley -- Casual Living, 4/16/2011 3:06:05 AM
IN EARLY MARCH, CASUAL CREATIONS PRESIDENT ARTHUR JAMES JR., SANK INTO A DEEP-SEATING CHAIR IN THE AIRY SHOWROOM of his company's new 200,000-sq.-ft. facility in Sarasota, Fla. he took stock of his surroundings, probably for the first time since moving in barely a month earlier.
What pleases him most isn't how fast the transition was made or how nice the facility now looks with everything in place.
"We didn't lose one production day during the move," said James, whose old facility was less than a mile down the road. "we were working both factories for three weeks as we made the transition."
Because the company was staying in Sarasota, the staff and management team didn't change, either, which helped keep production and quality control steady throughout the move.
"I have to give credit to my staff for making the transition so smooth," James said. "Jerry camp, our coo, and Kenny tucker, our VP of production, along with Jeff gill and all my staff worked seven days a week for seven weeks to make the transition smooth and seamless."
Considering that the old place was just 97,000 square feet, casual creations can do a heck of a lot more in its new digs.
"Production-wise, we can quadruple our capacity in this facility overnight," said James, who added he is now in the midst of editing the product line to best suit the market. "we have some aggressive goals for both the dealer and commercial sides of our business."
James has been taking the company in that direction for the last year. he added new executives such as chad Harper, vice president of sales, and Frank Duran, vice president of business development, to help build up the casual creations' customer base by expanding its diverse range of dealers, from design houses to furniture stores.
"We're taking steps to control our own destiny," James said.
In the meantime, the casual creations team gathered feedback from existing customers to develop a plan that includes innovative programs and products retailers aren't getting now. James said the most persistent feedback they received had to do with shipping delays from china, a complaint that plays right into his hands.
Although casual creations imports a few components that would be too expensive to make in the united states, all the furniture is assembled and finished in Sarasota. In one instance, he uses custom-made end-caps for a chair leg milled out of tubular material and welded in place by another factory in town.
In addition, two new 100% tubular collections, regatta and hemispheres, are entirely made in the USA.
As a result, James said he has the means to ship orders quickly and to be flexible enough to not force large early buys on retailers in an uncertain economy. James said there is also an undercurrent among U.S. consumers he plans to seize this year.
"I think the consumer has become more savvy and would rather buy American right now," he said. "you add that to the attention to detail we offer and a 15-year warranty on our all-tubular collection, and that makes us very attractive to consumers in this economy."
Design will continue to be another strong suit, James said.
The best example of that so far is a new innovation for strap furniture called FabStrap, created by industrial designer Jan Gross.
"It's the kind of idea that makes you mad that you didn't think of it sooner," James said.
FabStrap lounge chairs combine sling and strap to increase durability and give a fresh look to an iconic outdoor furniture design. Gross combined sling fabric interwoven between the straps of the furniture and attached it to the frame with a new innovative self-tensioning adjustment system. It gives the look of sling with the durability of strap furniture, a major selling point for commercial clients. FabStrap intellectual property rights are held by Gross and and manufactured exclusively for Casual Creations through a licensing agreement.
"You don't have issues with sagging because the straps are there," James said.
James promised more innovative products are on the way. As he showed off a few Fab- Strap samples in his factory showroom several weeks before the formal introduction, he couldn't help offering optimism.
"I think we have a great year ahead of us," he said. "I think 2011-2012 will be our greatest year ever. We're like an infant who's ready to run, with the knowledge and experience to achieve our goals."
If anyone deserves that kind of a year, it would be James and his mother, Nancy, vice president of Casual Creations, who James said is actively involved in the success and new direction of the company. They have been through a lot in the last couple of years.
Perhaps one reason for Casual Creations' quick and seamless relocation is the fact that James knew he wanted the property as soon as it went on the market. The building once belonged to Carter Grandle, the former outdoor furniture, cushion and umbrella maker that shut down and filed for Chapter 11 back in 2007.
|Casual Creations’ Paradise sectional can be configured in numerous ways, adding unique style and flexibility to an outdoor living space.|
Although its new factory allows Casual Creations to quadruple capacity overnight, the company will grow at a manageable rate, targeting new and innovative designs and programs for its retailers.
"I bought the paint line here five years ago, when Carter Grandle went out of business," he said. "We were ready. But then the economy went bad and we had to just sit and wait before we made the transition."
James' father, Arthur James Sr., died in September 2009. Until that point, James had focused on production as his father handled the financial side of the business. The elder James had launched the company in 1979, sold it and bought it back in 2002, saving it from bankruptcy in the process.
"I always respected my father for what he was able to accomplish," James said. "He didn't go to college, he was a self-made entrepreneur and he started his own business at 17. He had five roofing companies by the time he was 21, then he got involved in other businesses he would build up, which still are operating today under the management of the James family."
James is a chip off the old block. He now runs three other businesses along with Casual Creations. Progressive Screen Systems produces motorized retractable screens for large applications such as patios, porches, garage openings, balconies and sun rooms.
Unique Technology specializes in decorative security screen doors. And in January, James launched Sentry Protection Technology, which produces stainless steel screens that offer security, hurricane protection, shading and bug protection.
"The production processes we do, from the cutting, welding, painting and assembly, are all the same because they're all aluminum products," James said. "It's just shipping out the door in a different form and fashion. If we get an idea that's complementary to what we're already doing, I'll consider doing it."
Like his father, James said he enjoys the ingenuity involved in starting a business from scratch. He also likes being a diversified businessman.
"Each business has its own season, which keeps us busy year around," he said.
But right now, James is most excited about Casual Creations, which also happens to be the business that means the most to him.
"At this point, I'm focused on building the business up to carry on my father's legacy," he said. If Arthur Sr. could see how his son put the company in position for long-term growth, he would certainly be proud.