(Kindel) Sala Azabu, one of Japan’s largest retailers of high end furniture, believes the authentic furniture reproductions and historically based designs of the 18th and 19th century American furniture made by Kindel Furniture Co. will resonate strongly with Japanese consumers. Sala Azabu recently signed an exclusive contract with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Kindel to become the sole distributor in Japan.
American-Made Furniture Finds Promising Market in Japan
SEPTEMBER 26, 2007Matthew Gryczan In an interesting turn of events, an American company has found a ready market in Japan for its 100% U.S.-made furniture. The Japanese revere hand-crafted quality -- and can pay for it. The Japanese also seem to have an affinity for furniture based on designs reaching back to the days when America was still a colony of England. Sala Azabu, one of Japan’s largest retailers of high end furniture, believes the authentic furniture reproductions and historically based designs of the 18th and 19th century American furniture made by Kindel Furniture Co. will resonate strongly with Japanese consumers. Sala Azabu recently signed an exclusive contract with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Kindel to become the sole distributor in Japan of the company’s furniture for homes and businesses. About 40% of all the luxury goods sold in the world are sold in Japan, Kindel President Jonathan Smith said, making it a very promising market for his company’s products. This is the first venture that Kindel has signed to sell furniture in Japan. Kindel’s experience is bucking the trend of declining U.S. exports to Japan of residential wood and upholstered furniture. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission, exports to Japan of residential wood furniture fell from $43 million in 1998 to about $25 million last year. Masazo Hara, president of Sala Azabu, lead a delegation of six Japanese representatives to Grand Rapids recently to sign an exclusive 3-year agreement to sell Kindel furniture at the Sala Azabu store in the heart of Tokyo. Sala Azabu is devoting its entire second floor to display Kindel furniture, making it the largest display of Kindel furniture in the world outside of the United States.The largest operation of its kind in the United States, Kindel employs about 130 people including hand carvers, decorators and other skilled craftsmen at its 170,000-square-foot facility. Established in 1901, Kindel makes its furniture entirely in the United States from scratch using time honored techniques. “I wanted to market the best furniture that the United States has to offer, and that is why I came to Grand Rapids,” Hara said. Hara said he has been researching Kindel for about a year and was impressed with its reliance on hand craftsmanship which Japanese consumers will appreciate. Once know as “The Furniture Capital of America,” Grand Rapids was home to more than 60 furniture manufacturers of fine furniture, but that number has dwindled down to just Kindel as a company making its furniture entirely in Grand Rapids.Hara and other Sala Azabu executives visited the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia to learn more about the style of furniture that Kindel makes before they arrived at the Kindel factory in Grand Rapids. Smith said Kindel already has begun designing a high-end cabinet for plasma televisions just for the Japanese market, in response to the exclusive sales agreement with Sala Azabu. Hara and other executives from Sala Azabu visited the Grand Rapids company to select 78 different pieces of furniture, fabrics and finishes that will meet Japanese tastes.
Amy Wolbert, director of marketing for Kindel, said that the degree of care that Sala Azabu took in learning about Kindel shows that it is a high quality retailer that values a long-term relationship. Kindel plans to start shipping the furniture to Sala Azabu in November.Those pieces of furniture will include classic designs that Kindel has an exclusive license to manufacture. In 1980, Kindel Furniture was awarded the exclusive rights to reproduce the furniture for The Winterthur Museum, the estate of Henry Francis du Pont in Winterthur, Delaware, and the most premier museum of decorative arts in the country. Kindel makes reproductions from two other programs. Collaborating with Carleton Varney, of the Dorothy Draper firm in New York, Kindel reproduces objects for the Varney and Sons Collection, which include original designs from the legendary interior designer, Dorothy Draper. Kindel’s most recent collections include a licensed program with Mount Vernon, the ancestral home of George Washington, and a new and updated classical collection called Knowledge.Kindel also has launched a new program called ReNew, where it will bring any of the existing 250,000 pieces of Kindel furniture thought to exist in the country back to the original plant where it was manufactured and refurbish the piece using the same time-honored techniques of hand rubbed finishes. For more information on Kindel or its progams, please visit www.kindelfurniture.com.On the Net: