Intro: Grand Rapids has long been known as Furniture City, but what is being built in the city has changed significantly over time. I talked with Grand Rapids native Todd Custer, Vice President of Sales at Custer, Inc., about how Custer has changed and adapted from primarily office furniture sales at their start 32 years ago, to incorporating a healthcare division, technology, architectural products and design. This is what he had to say:
Tell us a little bit about Custer. When was the company founded and what is/are your primary product/service offerings?
Custer was founded in 1981 when my dad, David Custer, helped to turn a failing office furniture dealership into a thriving business that now provides lifestyle interiors for countless workplaces, hospitals and educational facilities across West and Northern Michigan. Custer is the only Steelcase dealership in West Michigan and we also represent a number of other manufacturers of furniture, architectural products and technology. We have additional offices in Kalamazoo and Traverse City. Our full scope of services/products includes: design, architectural products, furnishings, technology, project management, installation, and move/asset management. We also run a 3D visualization company called Dart Frog Creative.
What are the primary markets you serve? What do you think is unique about the Grand Rapids market?
Custer serves corporate markets (from small businesses to large corporations), the healthcare industry (from small medical clinics and practices to large hospitals), and the educational market (K-12 to higher education). The Grand Rapids market is unique in that it has a wide variety of the markets we serve. Healthcare especially has been a large and expanding market in Grand Rapids. There are also a number of notable colleges and universities in Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas that are growing as well.
Have you made any major changes in your product/service offerings since starting out?
Yes! Custer started out primarily as a dealership/distributor of office furniture. Over the past few years, as office space has decreased in size and people have become more mobile through the use of technology, Custer has adapted to these changes by offering more than just furniture. We now have an architectural products division selling modular walls, raised flooring, cabinetry and other interior architectural products. We also have an established technology division offering everything from teleconferencing capabilities to projectors and scheduling systems. Custer has the capability to be an interior general contractor for all of our client’s needs.
How large is your staff? What does the background of the people you hire tend to be?
Custer currently has just over 100 employees located in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Northern Michigan and Benton Harbor. The background of our employees include experience and expertise in the office furniture industry, with specialized training for individuals hired within our technology, 3D visualization, healthcare, architectural products and design divisions. Many of our designers are graduates of Kendall College of Art & Design, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University Design Schools.
Are most of your customers of one particular type or another? What types of customer needs could best be enhanced by Custer?
Custer is especially poised to help customers who are looking to update their space with today’s technology and options for mobility. Businesses are tearing down cubicles and offering employees more options for collaboration. Technology today is also greatly changing how people work. Custer offers clients a one-stop shop to enhance their space and the productivity of their workers. Combining architectural products, furnishings and technology through inspired design is what we do best.
What trends are we likely to see with your industry in the future?
Trends will continue towards greater collaboration between employees, which means more open, shared space, touch down areas for spontaneous meetings and break out rooms for privacy. There will be less individually assigned cubicles/offices that are completely closed off. Technology will continue to change how people work, offering greater mobility and ways to communicate remotely. Compressing real-estate and making spaces more efficient and effective is also a trend.
How have you found most of your customers?
We have a New Business Development sales team which works to bring in new business opportunities. A lot of our customers are existing accounts and bring in new customers via word of mouth. Custer has been around for over 30 years and is a well-known and trusted family-owned business in Grand Rapids. We’ve also spent more efforts lately on marketing and advertising to reach a larger customer base.
What interesting things are you embarking on?
Aside from our newest architectural products and technology divisions already mentioned, Custer has capabilities to do 3D renderings and animations through our 3D visualization company, Dart Frog Creative. An entire space can be created and manipulated before any physical construction or purchasing of products has taken place. It’s really a cool service and we have top individuals from the field working for us.
What are your goals for the future?
Our goal as a company is to stay ahead of the trends and to always offer the most up-to-date products and services available within the field of furniture, architecture products and technology. We also want to continue to focus on best in class service within all these areas. Our ultimate goal is to be your sole source interior general contractor and provider, integrating your architecture, furniture and technology through seamless design.
Visit our website at custeronline.com to access our blog, project showcase, information about each of our divisions and much more!
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