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South River chair manufacturer ready to enter U.S. market.

South River chair manufacturer ready to enter U.S. market

In the five years since founding the Bear Chair Company, Dave and Cathy Wright have seen sales at their South River operation double annually.

"In the first year we had $47,000 in sales," said Dave. "In 1990 they were $350,000, and this year we expect to double it."

The sales numbers are impressive for a company which had its beginnings in the Wright's Magnetawan basement.

"I was asked to make copies of old deck chairs for some cottagers on the lake," Wright recalled. "From there it just went by word of mouth."

After the first year of operation, the Bear Chair was picked up by Wentworth Beaver Lumber in Hamilton, Ont. Last year the chair was also available from Canadian Tire and Home Hardware outlets.

In 1990 the company's 12-member workforce produced 10,000 chairs. The number should increase dramatically this year, as the Bear Chair makes its first foray south of the border.

According to Wright, the chair will be available in almost 150 Quality and Brookstone stores in New England and the Midwest U.S.

"The stores love them," Wright said. "The chairs come unfinished, and all of the stores carry stains and things like brushes and screwdrivers, so they know if a customer buys one of the chairs they'll also spend about $50 for other items too.

"It's a good concept for them."

Perhaps the only roadblock to success in the export market is the strength of the Canadian dollar in relation to its U.S. counterpart.

"The dollar is higher than it should be," Wright said. "And the higher the dollar, the higher our price will have to be."

While the style of the chair is not new - it is similar to the Adirondack chair popular in parts of the United States - it is the way the chairs are shipped to consumers which makes them unique and relatively inexpensive.

Unlike other chairs, the Bear Chair is shipped and sold unassembled - a suggestion made by Wright's father Stuart. According to Wright, this accounts a major portion of the company's success.

"It allows us to fit more chairs on a (shipping) pallet," Wright explained. "If the chairs were assembled, the chain stores couldn't take that many because of the size problem."

The company also manufactures other pieces of patio furniture such as settees, love seats and ottomans. In addition, Wright said his company is introducing a line of cedar furniture.

In its five years of existence the company has changed quarters twice. The former Weldwood Veneer plant in South River currently houses the company's shop, office and warehouse facilities.

Wright pointed out that the location allows for growth and is only one kilometre from Highway 11, giving it easy access to customers and suppliers. Since almost the beginning of its operations, the Bear Chair Company has had its pine supplied by Odorizzi Brothers in Golden Valley.

"They've been great," Wright pointed out. "They've bent over backwards to help us whenever we've had a problem."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Report on Construction; South River-based Bear Chair Company
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:508
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