By Jamie Siebrase | Jul 13, 2016
Bennett was designing racecars -- mostly IndyCars -- when he was hurled into the realm of baby furniture in 2005.
"That stuff was made mostly in Vietnam, and a little bit in China," Bennett recalls. "It was very obviously unsustainable -- not just environmentally, but from all levels. Labor costs in Asia have gone up. . . . To compensate, quality was being cut."
He wanted to see if he could do things differently. But he couldn't exactly recreate the offshore factory model here in Colorado, so he peeked back into his racecar past and "thought about how we had cut out labor-intensive steps by tapping into technology," says Bennett, pointing to computer-controlled machining and aerospace crossover on materials.
The goal was to "design something without a lot of handwork and labor," he says. And the plan is working.
Housefish launched in 2008 with the Key modular storage system made exclusively with CNC machines. The result? "One person running the machine and catching parts can produce the same amount of furniture that 10-plus people would produce manually," says Bennett.
The cut quality is perfect, of course. "There's no way for it to be inaccurate because it's computer-controlled; there's very little room for the kind of mistakes that come up in a giant factory," Bennett says.
He eliminated the quality conundrum, but managed to maintain some of the handmade attributes us Coloradans admire. Bennett calls his process "the intersection of technology and handcraft." Parts come off of one of the company's CNC machines and a person does the edgework and finishing.
Onshore manufacturing has its advantages -- and one is innovation. "We came up with a way to 3D-print sawdust and soak it in resin so it has structural strength," Bennett says, referring to the company's latest manufacturing endeavor, which will be used in a forthcoming lighting design.
During Housefish's first year, Bennett was shipping stuff out of his garage. "As soon as I could afford to move, we were somewhere else," he says, adding, "It's organically grown from that."
In 2015, Housefish doubled its sales, and the company is on track to increase its revenue by 50 percent this year.
According to its Bennett, Housefish "has been a series of experiments” with a stock catalog spanning storage, furniture, and coat racks. At first, he targeted residential customers, and very little product was sold locally. (It mostly shipped to California and New York.) "Things have evolved," Bennett explains.
After the Key series took off, Bennet moved onto chairs: the Lock Chair, more specifically, which you'll see at Avanti Food and Beverage, Novo Coffee, and Sushi-Rama, among other spots in Denver. Housefish has corporate clients in Canada, too, and makes custom designs for this clientele. Hence, there are plenty of products residential consumers won't find on the company's website.
Housefish products are sold in about a dozen retail shops. Bennett recently opened a Denver concept store, but is planning to shutter that as the company transitions to a commercial showroom instead. The consumer-focused retail space was "another experiment," he explains.
Challenges: "We're getting close to the limit of what I can manage on my own," Bennett says. His current challenge, then, is navigating the company's next level of growth. "I'm still heavily involved in every part of the business; if we're going to get bigger, I'll have to let some of that go," adds Bennett.
Opportunities: "Especially the way things are in Denver, I think the commercial market needs some attention," Bennett says. From restaurants to office space for incoming tech companies, Bennett wants to snag more corporate accounts. Even on the residential side, though, he sees tons of opportunity, given the city's massive projected growth.
Needs: Space. Housefish's next big step is figuring out where to relocate. "Industrial space is getting snatched up by marijuana growers, or it is being converted into residential space," observes Bennett.