In the 1950s, John Turner Davis, Sr. was presented with a novel test to see if his family furniture business could succeed in the educational institutional market. Conducting his own personal infomercial (without the cameras), a purchaser for Florida State University tossed a Davis chair from a second story window of his North Carolina factory. After the chair absorbed the fall without any damage, FSU ordered 800 more.
No word of how rough Florida college students actually were in those days, but Davis Furniture earned a reputation of producing strong durable products. When the founder’s son, John T. Davis, Jr., took over in the late 1960s and 1970s, the company shifted toward the customized office and executive market – eventually embracing partnerships with European designers.
Today, the fourth-generation family-owned business stands out for its own designs, licensing its furniture to manufacturers in Italy, Australia, Japan and Switzerland.
“All chairs are not the same,” says manager Brian Johnson, a 16-year company veteran who oversees all the CNC equipment and programming. “We’re in a different class. Davis is about extremely high-end executive furniture not part of the mainstream. But it’s also about comfort, usability and function.” The company still cares about their chairs being able to take a beating. In-house stress tests push and pull on parts more than 150,000 times to ensure durability. But their marketing strategy is encapsulated by their new slogan, “Design is a Choice.
“Design is what keeps our customers coming back,” Johnson says. “Our furniture has a streamlined, sleek European influence that stands out here.”
And standing out in High Point, North Carolina, the self-designated “Home Furnishings Capital of the World,” is no easy task. The local Chamber of Commerce and tourism bureau have long pushed the city as the go-to destination for American-manufactured home and office furniture. The spirit is symbolized by the “World’s Largest Chest of Drawers,” a 38-foot tall Goddard-Townsend block front bureau located downtown near the visitor’s information bureau. As a nod to the city’s other industry-influenced nickname, “The Hosiery Capital of the World,” two giant stockings are dangling from the drawers.
Davis has developed a reputation for creating stylized modular lounge seating for waiting areas in heavy-duty high traffic environments. It’s sweeping curved Radius units are a focal point in the colorful children’s areas at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The newer Kontour line of modular sofas, ottomans and end tables greet weary travelers at Piedmont Triad International (PTI) Airport in Greensboro, N.C.
The company also caters to executives seeking office furniture that expresses their personality. Carolina Panthers owner and former NFL player Jerry Richardson a few years back hired Davis to design a customized desk with laser-cut inlays of the football team’s logo.
Working with dozens of different designers and manufacturers over the years, Johnson says he relies on DraftSight, a free professional-grade 2D CAD tool from Dassault Systèmes, to access the plethora of legacy drawings he might need in an instant.
“We have at least 12 to 15 years of legacy 2D drawings and so far we haven’t had any problems using DraftSight to open everything. It’s a fantastic tool,” he says. “And it’s extremely easy to use. We’re very pleased.”
DraftSight is also used to set the cutting patterns for the CNC machines to make the plywood frame parts for Davis’ signature Radius and Kontour lounge furniture. The latter was just honored with the Gold Award for Seating at the 2011 “Best of NeoCon,” North America’s largest exhibition for commercial interior design.
Davis won three Golds and one Silver at the design conference last year and has been honored with 20 “Best of NeoCon” awards since the early 1990s. Industry accolades aside, Johnson says there’s a more compelling reason to feel company pride.
“Working for a family-owned business is a great experience,” he says. “The Davis family really cares about their employees as much as they do about the designs. That really stands out for me.”
For more information, visit DavisFurniture.com