Family-owned 9to5 Seating adopts a growth strategy, creating jobs with its contract chair business

Sep 04, 2012

In 2003, Darius, Susan and Dara Mir, the owners of 9to5 Seating, were at a critical decision point. Although the economy was soft, 9to5, a manufacturer of office furnishings, had seen strong demand for its office seating, helped by orders from office superstores and warehouse clubs like Costco and Staples. However, products manufactured in China were starting to cut into their profits as the mass-market superstores switched to ordering lower-cost goods, and they needed a strategy that would help them respond.

After careful consideration, the Mirs, who had started the company in 1983 after leaving Iran, decided to focus a portion of the business on the contract market, where buyers specified the color, fabric and specific ergonomic features of their chairs. This made them less dependent on a small number of distributors and they were able to charge a small premium for a highly customized product. They also instituted manufacturing efficiencies so orders could be shipped in as little as two days.

To manufacture more customized products, the Mirs needed a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility—as well as a bank to finance it. In an earlier business venture—a French bakery—Susan Mir had worked closely with Bank of America and had a very positive experience with the bank, even though her account at the time was a small one. Says son Dara Mir, “Early on when we launched 9to5 Seating, we were looking for a bank to partner with, to establish a relationship that would take care of our day-to-day banking needs and be able to provide a platform for our company to grow.”

After their decision to redirect more of their resources to the custom market, 9to5 started conferring with their Bank of America team on the financing of the new warehouse. Working with the bank, architects and designers, they focused on creating manufacturing efficiencies, and also on adding green elements, such as solar panels, to the building’s design to generate all the energy they needed. Today, the warehouse, which has applied for LEED certification is humming from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and, in the past 4 years, growth has been between 35% and 40% a year.  

Says Susan Mir, “We always wanted to build our dream factory. So when the idea settled in our mind, we got in touch with Bank of America. They visited us in our old factory and heard us talk about how we started the business 30 years ago and our plans for the next few years. They believed in us. If Bank of America had not been involved, we wouldn’t be here today. Our success is their success.”

Following the construction of the warehouse, the Mirs shifted more of their business into contract furnishings, actually bringing jobs back from China to the U.S., one of their goals. The impact on their local community, Hawthorne, California, has been significant. Since the construction of the new warehouse, they have been able to hire 50 new employees, bringing their total workforce to 110.

Matt Carmichael, their Client Service Manager, has worked with Darius, Susan and Dara since early in the warehouse project. In addition to the construction loan, the bank put together equipment financing to buy items like forklifts. They also use the bank’s cash management and online banking capabilities. And for overseas transactions, they found a bank with a strong international presence.

Says Carmichael, “The Mirs personify the American dream. They came to the U.S. during a turbulent time, and through hard work and focus were able to put together a very successful company.”

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