Today we are talking with Dani Turkovich from AT-95. AT-95 is making quality furniture and fixtures in Middle America from American resources.
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and how AT-95 came to be?
While working 10 years in various large architectural firms, Dennis Blankemeyer expected to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright. Unfortunately, his design skills were set to work mainly drafting toilet partitions, shuffling mass quantities of paperwork and creating drawing after drawing for $150 million dollar projects in a large architectural firm. After long days hammering out drawing after drawing in an impersonal cubicle farm, Dennis would spend the majority of his free time designing and concepting items for a store that he dreamed of opening with his wife, Denise.
Dennis and Denise opened American Furnishings in 1995 in a very small, 1,200 square foot space in Grandview, Ohio. Because Dennis and Denise were green in the ‘retail’ industry, business was slow to start. Out of necessity, Dennis maintained the full time architectural job to cover the expense of living for his family while Denise worked the store during the day.
By 1999 American Furnishings decided to move to a new and larger location. Dennis left the architectural profession as the business relocated to a two-story building that was five times the size of their original location.
Through various partnerships designer furniture companies and the continual replenishment and innovation of his own designs, the business continued to flourish. In 2004 it was time to expand again, and this time to a 12,000 square foot store.
It was not long thereafter that Dennis realized to change the furniture industry entirely, he would need to provide accessibility to his designs to an untapped audience online. Restaurants, branding firms and merchandise display companies fell in love with the aesthetic and soon were asking to collaborate on tables and fixtures. This notion revolutionized the company, and by 2010 American Furnishings refreshed it’s brand and its name to be formally known as American Tribute which is where the ‘AT’ was derived from in AT-95. Today, AT-95 is an exclusively web-based store with product that can be mixed and matched for a variety of uses and spaces.
AT-95 headquarters are located in Killbuck, OH. Our current facility is 50,000 square foot. An additional 20,000 square foot facility is currently under construction and is located not far from our Killbuck headquarters. This additional space is set to be complete February 2013.
Can you tell us a little about the vendors and partners you work with?
AT-95 works exclusively with partners all within a 20 mile radius of our Killbuck headquarters. This allows for extremely efficient operations, streamlined work processes, and it also enables us to create very positive and long-lasting relationships with our partners. We’ve established a strong rapport with them, and vice versa. These relationships have been critical to innovating manufacturing methods. All of our raw materials come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. The elements used to create our products like Salvaged Oak and Steel have been purposefully selected because they are easily accessible within the United States and they are synonymous with American design and manufacturing.
AT-95 currently offers a core set of in-stock product including tables, bases and seating. In addition to AT-95’s in-stock offering, we accommodate custom ordering of our product on larger quantities. AT-95 also works with many commercial partners to concept and prototype custom designs for larger scale projects within relatively short turn around times. As we look ahead, we are very excited to share that we are innovating our website and diversifying our product lines (we’d love to give you more details, but you’ll have to wait!). We’re on track to launch our website refresh as well as the new product additions at the beginning of 2013.
The furniture industry has been gutted over the last couple decades, losing many jobs to overseas threats. How has AT-95 made it possible to compete and do your customers understand the difference between buying your goods vs cheap knock-offs?
A vital component of what makes AT-95 a preferred alternative to a lot of our competitors in low cost countries (LCC) is our effort to continually innovate on all fronts relevant to our industry. One critical area of innovation is in respect to manufacturing. By discovering and perfecting newer, more efficient methods of manufacturing, AT-95 has been able to keep pace and even surpass our LCC competitors on quality, price and turn around time. We’re also finding that many of our clients are purchasing for retail and restaurant locations within the U.S. and are thrilled to save on the price of freight from oversees shipping. While many see the incentive to purchase at a lower price point from LCC competitors, they aren’t saving very much (and many times actually spending more) because of freight and tax costs.
Another critical element that aids our ability to help our customers understand the value they are receiving is our conviction and commitment to quality everything. AT-95 has committed to delivering an experience that far exceeds the bounds of the product alone. We’ve woven the quality standard into every part of our business. In addition, our ability to appreciate, understand and innovate well-designed product certainly differentiates us from many of our competitors. This is what enables us to provide our clients with in-stock options that are equally as beautiful (and many times a much better price point) as many of the custom and ‘found’ alternatives in the market today.
How has the reception been from the public and industry vets, in an industry where the new status quo is made overseas?
We’re finding a very warm reception at almost every turn as we gain reach in various segments of the market that we’ve previously not touched. We’re discovering that many of our residential customers truly appreciate the quality (our products are well made and you can feel the difference) but almost as important (and for some, even more importantly) our products provide meaning and a sense of place. Really, these are not just tables, bases and chairs. There is a rich heritage behind our products that almost anyone can identify with.
For many of our commercial clients, the reception is one of relief and excitement. We’ve removed many of the challenges that are commonplace with LCC companies (like brutal time zone lapses, communication and language barriers, lead times, and freight charges). Additionally, many of our commercial clients find immense value in taking a trip or two to our headquarters to see and test their prototype or product in person before producing thousands of them. Our product development team has a unique lens on design and manufacturing that helps find solutions to meet commercial budget and rigorous standards without compromising the design. We are hearing from our commercial clients that this is a huge value add for them.
Have control of the manufacturing process and knowing the craftsmen that make your products has to be a priceless advantage. Is there a sense of pride having skilled craftsmen produce and manufacture your pieces instead of outsourcing that work to unknown workers in factories a half way around the world?
Absolutely. Many of our partners have shared with us how excited they are to be a part of what we’re accomplishing through AT-95. The drive for constant innovation and the desire to make an impact on the way our world operates today and for the future is proving to be contagious. Our partners have followed suit and have matched our efforts to bring the very best possible value in newer, smarter, more efficient ways specific to their expertise.
As AT-95 has grown and expanded into new territories, there is one element that has been a mainstay from the beginning: a commitment to restoring the sense of pride that our grandparents created by working hard and producing great work. The way we see it, AT-95 is catapulting the resurgence of the Middle American sense of pride and ingenuity in our own very unique way.
What challenges have arose from staying loyal to being American made?
The challenges or ‘constraints’ of staying local have been a catalyst for most decisions we make. Actually, committing to making our products here in the United States makes what would be tough decisions much easier. For example, we don’t use imported woods. We cut out language barriers for ourselves, remove risks of having our materials being ‘on the water’ and most importantly, we are intentionally spending our dollars in the US.
How important is the Made in America process to your brand image? Do you market your products as Made in USA?
It’s critical – but to be more specific our value is produced not just by being made in the USA but rather, by being created by Middle Americans. For us, specifically, these individuals live in the MidWest because this is where we have laid our foundation. However, the Middle American resides in every corner of United States. These are the work-hard, work-smart, ‘get it done’ kind of people that our country’s previous successes have been built on. This notion is something we believe that almost any American identifies with on a very personal level.
Do you feel your fulfilling some sense of duty by finding ways to produce your goods in the USA, and a sense of purpose to prove it can be done?
It is this sense of purpose the drives everything that we do. Literally. AT-95 was founded on the principals of this very notion and this is what serves as a catalyst to every single thing we do.
What have you found to be the greatest attribute of AT-95’s goods?
The greatest attribute of our goods is the immense return on investment for our clients. For the price of our product, our clients receive incredible quality product that embodies good design, hard work and a deep sense of meaning.
If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like AT-95 to succeed, what would it be?
The biggest threat to the growth and profitability of our business in the United States is the regulatory uncertainty that results in many challenges in planning and executing in a cost efficient and fair manner. That, and the black helicopters. OK, just kidding about the black helicopters!
Thank you so much for the time and insight!