A lot has changed since 1944. From wars to recessions and the technological revolution, the world hardly looks the same as it did 75 years ago. While economic conditions and trends may come and go, some things remain unchanged—and good design is one of them.
For High Point, NC-based Davis Furniture, its product offerings have certainly evolved over its 75-year history, but its commitment to design and quality remains constant. Through the years, the Davis philosophy has remained strong: to be a producer of high-quality furniture. Founder John T. Davis Sr. left his job as a foreman at a local furniture company to open his own family business, Davis Upholstery Co., and in the 1950s the company shifted to manufacturing occasional chairs and living room furniture.
The 1970s ushered a new direction for Davis when current president Danny Davis joined his father in the family business. That decade, the company’s product design and development took a new direction: licensing European designs as a means to find contemporary designs that combined both quality and function. The shift in approach proved to be a success, as Davis launched a series of iconic pieces, including the Motion chair by Burkard Vogtherr, throughout the 80s and 90s that solidified the company’s position in the industry.
“Evolution-wise, we went from the 1970s where we had these huge, traditional desk lines, and then in the ‘80s we brought out the Motion chair, which started forming us to become this contemporary European design company,” recalls Ashley Davis Williams, director of Customer Service and Fabric Programs. “Since then we’ve been using European designers to design our products,” she says, which brought more success for the company with award-winning releases like the Aero bench in 2003.
By the end of the decade when the U.S. economy was at a record low point, Davis continued to prioritize introducing new, innovative designs to the industry each year and continues in that tradition by responding to the changing nature of workplace design.
“We’ve adapted to the changes in the office world now to where you have these open workspaces,” Williams says. “Our furniture is going into the breakout areas that [designers are] creating—the lounge areas and little cafe areas they’re creating in these open workspace spaces.”
Design Is a Choice
Today, Davis is known for design and overall quality. The company’s corporate slogan clearly signifies its marketing and product strategy: “Design is a choice.” Company president Danny Davis puts it this way: “We have a saying here at Davis, ‘It’s all about the product, and the product is about design.’”
Continuing its partnership with European designers such as current collaborators Jehs + Laub, Davis has maintained a rather aggressive schedule of product introductions even during the economic downturn of 2008/2009. Williams says the company has averaged eight to 10 new product launches at NeoCon each year in the past decade, many of which have been received very positively by the market based on sales.
“The products that we’ve introduced in the last five years make up about 50 percent of our largest selling products right now,” Williams explains. “Usually, it takes a little while for some of these products to take off, but the designers have really gravitated toward them and are utilizing them.”
The reason being, Williams suggests, goes back to the company’s slogan about choice. Of course, quality and aesthetics are a major factor, but “there are a lot of options to these designs. They choose their fabrics, they choose the multiple powder coat options, and we choose different product designers, so it’s a lot of choices that we all get to make.”
Davis Furniture Remains All in the Family
As a family-owned business, the decision to support its staff and help them succeed typifies the company’s belief that its people are more than employees; they’re part of the family.
“Our 75th anniversary means a lot to us as a company, and we treat our employees as family as well, so we’re making them a part of the story.” Williams notes that many of Davis’ employees have been with the company for more than 30 years. “We don’t have a lot of turnover here. Our employees enjoy coming to work every day and being a part of what we’re doing and seeing us evolve.”
To commemorate its anniversary, Williams says the company will continue in some traditions started by her grandfather many years ago. In the early days, John Davis Sr. would drive to the beach and pick up watermelons for his employees at a fruit stand along the way, a practice the company has continued for years. Likewise, Davis hosts an annual Christmas party for its employees and their families, serving Southern classics like barbecue and fried chicken (and all the fixings, of course) prepared in old cookers Davis Sr. had built.
“We are all family here,” Williams says, “and we’re celebrating with them just as much as they’re celebrating with us.”