InnOvation Seating Solutions finding its niche, adding employees

Like any new company getting off the ground, InnOvation Seating Solutions has had its challenges.
But even though the furniture company started production a bit later than planned, Innovation has been running 44-hour production schedules since June to make seating products for the hospitality industry and assisted living centers
“As a startup, we’ve had our starts, stops and starts,” said Chief Operating Officer Phil Hoffman. “But we have a business plan and we’re sticking to it. Things don’t always go as planned … but we’ve been doing well.”
In fact, the company said in August it planned to have 40 workers at its factory on Glasgow Lane in Tupelo. Forty-four are now on the payroll.
“We’re ahead of our plan, with a payroll of $30,000 a week,” Hoffman said.
The company should have 100 employees by the end of next year, he added.
That’s great news for an industry that’s been battered and bruised the past few years. The recession has not been kind, and the industry has shed about 1,000 jobs in Northeast Mississippi alone in the past year.
So InnOvation’s success – though small – is a welcome bright spot.
And while the economy is shaky and there are no guarantees that Innovation will stay on its current pace, Hoffman said the company “has good people” to keep it going.
The executive team includes Bill Cotter, vice president of sales; Ed Bartee, chief financial officer; and Tom Gilmer, vice president of manufacturing.
Together, the group has more than 100 years of furniture industry experience.
Then there are the workers who put the frames together, sand and stain the wood, cover the cushions and get sofa sleepers, wood chairs, lounge chairs, luggage benches, ottomans, recliners and task chairs off the assembly line.
“We have a lot of good, experienced people in this area who we’ve been fortunate to have work here,” said Gilmer. “We try to be one big family and do everything together like one. We want everyone to get involved and take ownership of what they do.”
InnOvation has landed work for major hotel chains and is building business with the hospitality industry.
“You have a lot of hotels who are not only building new hotels, but also renovating their rooms, so there’s a great opportunity for us to step in,” Hoffman said.
The company will attend a couple of trade industry shows early next year to market their products, too.
“We have to build a little differently for the hospitality industry,” Hoffman said. “It has to be more durable, much more so than residential furniture. That furniture goes through a lot more wear and tear, but hotels expect what they buy to give them a few good years.”
Hoffman said InnOvation buys from local suppliers as much as possible. Since beginning production, it has spent more than $1 million with area companies.
“The only thing that we can’t get locally is some of the fabric we use, because most of the suppliers around here supply for the residential furniture companies,” he added.
The company spent $300,000 for a new water-based finishing line, which Hoffman thinks is the only one in Mississippi being used in a furniture plant.
And InnOvation also builds its frames out of hardwood instead of plywood, making for a more durable product, he added.
With that kind of attention to detail, InnOvation hopes to generate $12 million to $15 million in sales in four years.
“I think we can eventually become a $20 million company,” Hoffman said.
There’s plenty of room to reach that goal, with 100,000 square feet available in the former Westwood Industries building where InnOvation now stands.
“This is where we want to be, where we want to grow,” Hoffman said. “But we also want to have fun. We want to run the business; we don’t want the business to run us.”

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal