Fine furniture a booming business for Ferdinand manJanuary 17, 2018
By ALLEN LAMAN
FERDINAND — Local luxury furniture craftsman Keith Fritz was raised to be self-sufficient. His father, Bob, built the family’s home in Siberia. Fritz and his mother, Theresa Cox, sewed the family’s clothing and curtains.
“Growing up, if we wanted something, we made it,” said Fritz, 41, of Ferdinand.
And the Ferdinand-based business he built from the ground up — Keith Fritz Fine Furniture, located on Main Street near Forest Park Junior-Senior High School — is in the midst of an expansion that will net the staff more operating space to reach more clients in more showrooms throughout the United States.
In a move that will add room for the finishing of the company’s products, Fritz’s furniture business will soon occupy the space where the Ferdinand Antique Emporium formerly operated. Keith Fritz Fine Furniture has operated in the back and upstairs of that building since 2008.
Though Fritz’s company creates and sells mostly dining tables, it also produces desks, chests, mirrors and other items.
But the 20-person team doesn’t operate like other furniture manufacturers in the county.
Their catalog prices range from $5,000 to $75,000 per piece, with products filling designer showrooms in places like West Hollywood, New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The company’s custom, one-of-a-kind works are continually sold to some of the biggest A-list celebrities and most influential politicians in the country. Past sales include a table for the Clinton family home in New York, a table for George W. Bush in Texas and a bed for Oprah Winfrey.
The company sold 240 pieces of furniture in 2017, bringing in more than $1.5 million in revenue. Business has tripled in recent years and Fritz said the company needs a state-of-the-art finishing room.
“That’s the real reason,” Fritz said of why the expansion is necessary. “Our new finishing room is going to be so much more healthy.”
The room will consist of two spray booths, a woodworking oven, an air makeup unit to provide proper airflow and a sanding station. The company will also add a loading dock. The wood for the products the company sells is cut, assembled and finished at the Main Street shop.
The hope is that after the group expands into the space, the total revenue number will rise to $1.8 million, and eventually break the $2 million mark. Fritz also plans to utilize the extra space as a way to add new items to his offerings, including chairs.
Much of his staff is approaching or past retirement age, but Fritz is not worried about the effects time could have on his shop. He said he will likely never retire and is counting on another 15-plus years of work from some of his employees. Still, one day he’d like to be part of a movement that passes on high-level skills to others.
“Long term, I would love for there to be a school in Dubois County that teaches this level of craftsmanship,” Fritz said. “We have a successful company. I think the next vision is lets find a way to pass this on to a younger generation.”
His love for woodworking started as a teenager, and after completing two years of studies at St. Meinrad College and earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1999 from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Fritz carved out a different path and built a company that he said embodies exactly where he needs to be.
He said that building beautiful things and helping people make a living doing something they love has since become his religion. He finds the divine in creation of both art and a community of artists at work.
Before he started the company, even his parents warned him that while woodcutting was a good hobby, he needed to find a job that paid. He didn’t come from money, and he didn’t have money, so they thought it was doomed to fail.
Now, more than a decade later, his business is still growing.
“I always knew that this was what I was supposed to do,” Fritz said. “There’s so many little miracles that have happened along the way, and it’s like providence.”
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