Cutting a cake to mark Durham Furniture’s 120th anniversary are, from left, Larry Vollett past chairman of the board, Josh Alexander, vice president of sales and business development, Luke Simpson president and CEO, Bruce- GreyOwen Sound MPP Bill Walker and West Grey Deputy-mayor Tome Hutchinson.
(Don Crosby/For The Sun Times
The long and proud history of Durham Furniture is tied closely to the community’s economic prosperity.The company began as a community initiative in the late 1800s to provide employment for the town’s young people. More than $10,000 in capital was raised from local residents by a group of business people who secured an interest-free loan and other concessions from the council of the day.A six-acre site on Lambton Street was purchased for $500 and in 1899 a factory was erected, which remains the present site of the company today.For many years the company’s furniture was sold across Canada through the popular Eaton’s catalogue and the company flourished during this time. Now much of it is sold in the highly competitive U.S. market.According to company archives, in 1948 Eaton’s commissioned Durham Furniture to produce a gift for the newly married Princess Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh. Solid maple paneling and specially designed furniture adorned the young couple’s home at Clarence House. After Queen Elizabeth was crowned, the furniture was dispersed to Buckingham Palace and other royal residences. Prince Philip continues to use his sold Canadian maple desk at Buckingham Palace to this day.In the 1990s Durham Furniture was purchased by U.S. based Kroehler Manufacturing, the world’s largest furniture maker. In 1979 Strathearn House Group of Toronto purchased Kroehler’s Canadian division.When Strathearn went into receivership in 1992 a committed group of local citizens stepped forward once again to secure Durham’s economic future.Led by Orville Mead, they raised funds locally to purchase the company from the receiver. Durham Furniture Inc., was launched on June 22, 1992 and continues to produce solid wood furniture to this day.The company recently celebrated its 120th anniversary with a barbecue lunch for the 170 or so employees. Messages of congratulations were brought from Bruce Grey-OwenSound MPP Bill Walker and West Grey Deputy-mayor Tom HutchinsonCompany president and CEO Luke Simpson said this anniversary would be considered a significant milestone for any company especially in the highly competitive furniture industry.“There aren’t many that get to be that old. One hundred and twenty is great because we get to celebrate where we’ve been,’ he said. “But we’re using it as a kind of stepping stone looking forward to where we’re going with the next however many years.”The company has set its sights on reaching new consumers through a series of product development and marketing initiatives with more modern styling. The company even has a new 120 anniversary logo with the tag line “A New Era of Solid Style.”Simpson said the company is trying to reach millennial consumers with an evolving product line and a modern streamlined look and feel. The millennials are becoming a huge target and starting to have some purchasing power, he observed.“We’re finding that their buying habits are changing; they want customization, they want options and they want styling that is a little more current. The last four years we’ve really focused on what we’ve introduced as new furniture aimed at trying to get that new consumer. But they are very specific about what they want.”Simpson described the new product as sleek, a lot squarer and a lot cleaner.“On top of that colours and finishes are the huge thing. The product we offered in the past had one finish and now almost everything we do is in 40 or more finishes. They want those options, customize them and make them their own.”“We are targeting our looks toward the trends that we see . . . cleaner lines, not what you consider your grandmother’s furniture, not as much in terms of curves and shapes and turnings so much, but simpler more contemporary, transitional styling, mixed media. We’ve introduced metal as a component of furniture. It just gives it a whole different look if you will.”Simpson attributes the company’s survival to a number of factors.“I think we’ve got a great team here; we continue to work to make sure that the products that we’ve got is right for the market and I think today we’re more adaptable than ever to changing trends in the marketplace.”