By Angela Rose | Mar 20, 2022
San Francisco, California and Reno, Nevada
Charne met fourth-generation furniture maker and Fyrn co-founder Ros Broughton through Broughton's brother-in-law, who went to art school with Charne's wife. While visiting Broughton's studio, Charne noticed a design schematic for a chair the artist was working on and wanted to know more.
"I was inspired by the iconic look of the chair and the vision that Ros had for designing and building high-quality furniture in America at scale," Charne says. "I think Ros has a unique perspective because he grew up with a deep understanding of the industry's operating challenges and its real impact on the planet as well as consumers prioritizing cost and convenience over quality. Fyrn was born out of that desire to create a system of beautiful, durable furniture that's built to be used every day but also designed to be maintained in use for generations."
In 2012, the pair began to work on the concepts behind Fyrn's manufacturing processes, now known as the Stemn System, focusing on R&D behind the scenes before launching their first product for sale out of their 6,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco in 2016. Charne explains that much of the design of Fyrn's catalog of chairs, stools, and tables is structured around those manufacturing concepts, including parts the company has patented.
"The external joint, which we call the Stemn Bracket, allows for a strong connection where the wood and metal are coming together," Charne continues. "There's also some internal hardware, which we call bar parts, which allow for a very strong connection where two pieces of wood come together at 90 degrees. This allows us to avoid the ugly silver washers you see in a lot of home assembled furniture."
Fyrn's furniture design also enables the production of high-quality, long-lasting pieces in a relatively small space with minimal waste. "All the frames of our furniture are square and rectangular linear rods that stack very nicely," Charne says. "We can put the materials for 1,000 chairs along a 12-by-12-foot wall, stacked neatly in cubbies. The form actually enables an efficient manufacturing process where very little material is wasted in production because it was designed that way from the start."
Charne and Broughton also thought about manufacturing efficiency when choosing equipment for their facility. "We have 20 or 30 'green machines,'" Charne explains. "These are anodized green metal machines that we either fabricated in-house or modified off-the-shelf and have arranged in stations. Someone who doesn't have deep woodworking experience can very quickly step in and process those wood components, whether that be drilling them, routing them, or rounding their edges."
While Fyrn's business was initially comprised of 90 percent commercial sales and 10 percent residential sales, Charne says the pandemic has altered those numbers to 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial. "Either way, a large segment of our business comes through interior designers and architects who come to us repeatedly," he continues. "We've built credibility with them, they love the product, it's easy for them to source and get exactly what they expect."
Demand for Fyrn's furniture doubled from 2020 to 2021, and Charne says the company has an aggressive target of three to four times growth this year. To facility this, they're in the process of opening a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Reno, Nevada.
"Ros has moved to Reno," Charne says, "And we're making our first hires of machinists and woodworkers for that space. We've started the production of our patented metal parts and internal hardware there, and we should be able to bring all the wood manufacturing online in Reno over the next couple of months."
Why expand in Nevada rather than California? Charne says the main driver of the move was a desire to ensure their workforce has a better quality of life.
"We're growing our crew of production folks," he continues, "and before we go from 15 to 100 or so builders, we wanted to create a place where quality of life could be high, and people could think about a job [with Fyrn] as a career. Reno has a lower cost of living, is proximate to the Sierra with lots of great outdoor stuff, and is also a place that is getting a lot of attention for innovation, technology, and manufacturing."
That said, Fyrn isn't planning to leave San Francisco entirely. It will retain its headquarters in its original location as well as some aspects of production. "We do a lot of factory tours [in San Francisco]," Charne says. "We'll probably create a showroom. And many of the people who work outside of production will continue to work out of this space."
Challenges: "Oh boy," says Charne of Fyrn's current challenges. "Omicron, supply chain, rising costs, hiring, is that enough? I think there are always challenges when growing a business. In our case, we have sort of two businesses: manufacturing and then, on the front end, designing and selling furniture to the world. That's hard to do under normal times, but all the things I just mentioned have added an extra degree of difficulty to be sure."
Opportunities: "We have an exceptional product that's loved by our customers," Charne says. "The things they say about it once they've owned it, and the repeat business we get, make everything day-to-day easier. Also, I think for us, there's an opportunity to set a higher bar for consumer products and how they're made, bought, delivered, and serviced through their lifetime. We can set an example and be a catalyst for American manufacturers to innovate solutions as opposed to always looking at how to lower the quality to drive a little more profit."
As a circular manufacturer, Fyrn is committed to promoting sustainable consumption among consumers. "It's a long-term commitment to quality and making sure that we support, in any way that we can, creating an extended life for the things that we design and put out into the world," Charne says. The company’s unique customer programs launched in 2021 -- including Fyrn In-Home Trail, Fyrn Exchange, and Fyrn Buy Back -- all work together to give every piece of Fyrn furniture a second or even third life.
Needs: Charne explains that he thinks about needs in terms of what Fyrn can control as a business. "I think we need to execute our strategy," he says. "We need to bring new products to market as a component of that. And we need to inspire great leaders and people to want to come be a part of this company."