By Margaret Jackson | Jan 25, 2019
Industry: Built Environment; Consumer & Lifestyle; Contract Manufacturing
After a decade of building custom furniture, Donnie decided it was time for he and his wife, Lindsey, to start a company that is more scalable and appeals to residential customers, as well as the commercial clients he had been serving.
So, about a year ago, they started Denver Modern to fill a gap in the market for a strong, local furniture company. "The point was to get specific about product designs that we could introduce to the market that elevates what is currently being displayed in the city of Denver," says Donnie. "We feel like we've done that and created design concepts that are trending."
Nearly everything found in Denver Modern's RiNo showroom is made in Denver, though there are a few items sourced from Minneapolis and the company also manufactures in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Criswells are now trying to determine the demand for their products based on the designs they've recently released.
"We want to know what people are drawn to and take those designs to suppliers in Asia to scale the company," says Donnie. "The point is to get price points to a level where most people can own and enjoy our furniture. In the past, it's always been a challenge to hit that price point."
Though it's only a year old, Denver Modern has completed some fairly large commercial projects, including designing and building the furniture for Acreage, a cider house and restaurant concept from Stem Ciders in Lafayette, and Corvus Coffee Roasters at Belleview Station in southeast Denver.
And as a testament to the quality of its work, The Wolf's Tailor restaurant in the Sunnyside neigborhood, furnished by Denver Modern, garnered the 2018 Design of the Year award from Eater Denver. "The design is a critical part of the overall experience of the restaurant," says Donnie.
Denver Modern also has a line of furniture that is customizable. For example, if a customer sees a bench or table he likes but it's not the right size, Denver Modern will make the size needed. The company also sells "live edge" tables, featuring slabs of wood that have a natural, varied edge.
"Edge tables are unique," Donnie says. "Every table that's produced is one of a kind. A lot of commercial businesses are bringing in live edge conference tables because they're so important and special and represent the character of their company."
Challenges: Establishing prices that are competitive in the marketplace is one of the biggest challenges facing Denver Modern. "We set our first batch of designs at certain prices, but the sales volume isn't exactly through the roof," Donnie says. We decided to test the market with one design and see what would happen if we offered it at 50 percent less. We sold six units in one day -- more than in the entire previous month.
Opportunities: The Criswells believe their path to success is providing a unique collection of furniture at a price people can afford and that isn't available anywhere else. "Denver is a thriving market," says Donnie. "Businesses are moving here. Commercial office space is booming as more companies employ more people. Commercial is the opportunity."
Needs: "Millions and millions of dollars," says Donnie. "We need capital just like any small startup."
And like any startup, the Criswells both wear multiple hats trying to accomplish more each day than is feasibly possible. "We need to make smart financial decisions," Lindsey says. "We're always thinking about the exciting part of design, but we're also thinking about the relationships we're building here in Denver, especially on the commercial side."