It started with unique, custom-designed trapezoid tables for a conference room at Hudl.
“They wanted a conference table for an irregularly-shaped room with an oddly placed column,” said Mike Stolle, Co-Founder of Lincoln custom furniture startup WERK. “We couldn’t put a regular conference table in there and make it useful.”
Stolle and Co-Founder Jeff Scott are both licensed architects, and Scott had been doing some design work on the side for Hudl when the opportunity arose.
“We started looking at the idea of modular furniture with multiple configurations,” Stolle said. “Something that can accommodate various needs from individual to large groups.”
Scott has seen multiple configurations in action at Hudl.
“Every time I go over there it’s set up differently,” he said. “It can accommodate things like LAN parties and gamer nights.”
WERK focuses on product families that can be customized in size, color and other attributes.
“Since 2013 we’ve developed a half dozen or more products that we keep as families,” Stolle said. “They were developed over time from different projects that have become standard products. There are a handful of variations on those.”
“A lot of our pieces are pretty unique in the workplace,” Scott said. “We want to make sure the customer can express their brand.”
Stolle said there is growing evidence that design is an important aspect of productivity.
“Design plays a huge role in employee productivity, engagement and well-being,” he said. “We’re keeping those things in mind as we do what we do.”
Fabrication is contracted out to local companies in Lincoln.
“We initially started fabricating ourselves,” Stolle said. “We got a couple of projects into it and realized we couldn’t scale very easily, especially since the company started as a side project.”
Having production done by several local fabricators is viewed as a plus.
“It’s been nice working with a variety of different fabricators, finding which ones are best at some things and balancing out the workload,” Scott said. “It’s a good selling point for us, at least locally. They feel like they’re supporting the community.”
The company’s customer base is primarily local but expanding.
“Hudl hooked us up with Nelnet,” Scott said. “And we’ve made a couple of connections in California and have pushed some stuff out there.”
With a two-person shop and virtually no marketing budget, WERK relies on word of mouth and attention in trade publications. This includes having their Huddle Up table featured as an editor’s choice by interiors+sources magazine.
“Recent publicity has been a good driving force for people looking at us,” Scott said. “We have not done much marketing ourselves.”
Are there plans for growth?
“We definitely hope to grow,” Stolle said. “It’s just finding the right opportunities to do so. Getting our name out there has been our need.”
Commercial furniture is a highly-competitive market, something that is not lost on the WERK co-founders.
“We didn’t get into this market to take it over, those companies are huge,” Scott said. “There’s a niche we’re happy being in. Our value proposition is to make sure that customers can express their brand. Furniture shouldn’t be a forgotten element.”
Stolle and Scott appreciate the support they have received from Lincoln’s startup community.
“I think we both would agree it has been very welcoming,” Stolle said. “It’s great having those resources. We can put a message out there and get answers about people’s experience.”
“We got immediate responses to a question about selling in Canada,” Scott added. “It short cuts the process by learning from someone else.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.