We speak to Landscape Forms’ vice president of design and marketing, Kirt Martin, and director of strategic initiatives Rick Utting about how this Michigan-based site furniture manufacturer stays at the top of its game.
Landscape Forms is a medium-sized American site furniture manufacturer with an international outlook. Founded in 1969 by landscape architect John Chipman, the company works with an impressive roster of design talent from across the globe – Yves Behar, BMW Group DesignworksUSA and Santa & Cole to name just a few - but still proudly produces all of its furniture in its Kalamazoo, Michigan factory, where it employs just over 400 staff. “We manufacture almost everything here,” says Landscape Forms’ vice president of design and marketing, Kirt Martin. “We can fabricate metal, finish it, we have a wood shop, we process the high performance concrete here. Its amazing for us to walk into our own plant and see people making our designs right in front of us.”
Now 45 years old and busier than ever, the company maintains that the three cornerstones of its success are design, culture and craft. “Our previous president was a landscape architect and our current president is an architect, so the company has always been design-led,’ explains Martin. ‘Design is the single most important filter for every decision, even above profit margin.’ It’s a formula that seems to be working for the southwest Michigan firm who are over three times bigger than their nearest competitors with a consistent, year-on-year growth averaging more than 10% since its inception.
The firm has been particularly astute when it comes to selecting design partners, seeking out the best possible people at home and abroad to work on each of its projects. “At times it’s expensive and it’s not always easy but we believe that it yields great results, ” says Martin, who oversees the launch of at least 12 products every year.
An exciting development in the company’s history came two years ago with its purchase of Meld USA- a high performance concrete manufacturer located in Raleigh North Carolina. The introduction came through one of Landscape Forms’ in-house designers who was familiar with the brand and its MeldStone™ material, which, originally designed to be used for bridge building, can be molded into impossibly-thin cross sections that are extremely strong and durable.
“What Landscape Forms was able to bring to the table was a new market, and enough development resources to perfect the strength of the material and the molding techniques,” says Rick Utting, Landscape Forms’ director of strategic initiatives. “And what Meld USA brought was a real appreciation and understanding of using that material to craft high quality furniture pieces.”
The ultra high performance concrete is created in a Finnish-built mixer – the first of its kind in the United States – before being injection molded into a hi-tech mold with a special abrasion-resistant coating. “We choose to inject rather than pour because we’re trying to prevent the trapped air and bubbles,” explains Utting, “and we’ve perfected the process.”
The collaboration has born two collections thus far; Strata, an elegant set of benches and tables with San Francisco-based designer Jess Sorel and the Red Dot Award-winning Olithas table and bench, which was designed in-house – a third collection is slated for launch later this year. Having enjoyed much success in the Gulf States – “the salt air is so hard on metal furniture and the sun is quite harsh on wood furniture, so they love concrete,” Utting tells us – the collections, both less than two-years-old, can already be found gracing the employee lunchroom at Facebook in California, at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport and South Florida University. “The nice thing about the collections is that they are really cost-competitive,” says Utting. “The ingredients of concrete are readily available worldwide and so they’re not only great design products but affordable ones too.”
For more infomation visit www.landscapeforms.com