Design key to
growth for Haworth
Shop floor common sense and international design achievements
have always been an important part of this market leader.
by John Aves
John Aves is founder and managing
partner of Macatawa Bay Associates L.L.C.
The company offers design management
and offshore product development for a
range of U.S. and overseas marketing and
manufacturing companies. He has broad
experience in furniture design, marketing
and offshore resource management. He can
be reached at 616/335-2209.
Ifrequently drive by Haworth’s
sprawling headquarters campus
near our home in Holland,
Mich., and sometimes get a glimpse
of the bright new corporate jet that
dominates the parking apron at a
nearby private airport. It is obvious
that Haworth has evolved into an
enterprise that is very different
from the little company that
began quietly in the shadow of
Steelcase and Herman Miller.
I have wondered how design
played a part in the growth of
this company. So, I set out to
find the formula for success that
brought Haworth so far and so
fast from its roots as a small, local
A generously long meeting with
Dick Haworth, company chairman,
soon changed my perspective and
brought me up-to-date. We met in a
new showroom where the company
displays free-standing furniture, wall
systems and raised floor systems.
Dick explained that his father,
Gerrard Haworth, began his career
as an industrial arts teacher in the
Holland Public School system. His
Dad began this business making a few
cabinets and supermarket check-out
counters in his spare time.
When I first met Dick and his
father in the mid-1960s, the company
had recently moved into a newer
building and its sales were below $5
million. The company had recently
acquired a license to introduce a new
wall surface material named Videne,
manufactured by 3M. They hired my
father’s advertising firm to help them
market the new laminate and their
own ingenious movable wall system.
We were the Haworth company’s first
outside counsel in design.
Betting on design
The company has common sense
and good instincts in its DNA. Most of
the company’s growth has taken place
since Gerrard’s son Richard joined the
company in the late ’60s. He developed
a wall system that helped grow the
company to approximately $10 million
in sales by the early ’70s. At that time,
its wall system contributed about half of
the company’s sales. Then the company
took a risky step. In 1975 the Haworths
sold the movable system to another local
company and began concentrating on
the other half of their business.
This bold strategic decision
revealed the company’s inherent
strength in design and development.
By 1976 company sales were up to
$14 million. But, Haworth was still