Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Corbin Clay founded Azure in 2009 on the idea of transforming beetle-kill pine into handcrafted, heirloom-quality furniture. In early, Clay sold the business to the couple in 2019. Bernhard brings a deep manufacturing resume and big plans for growth to the respected brand, plans that include investments in Denver-based manufacturing operations and new products for commercial markets.
"It was great to find Corbin, because this company was founded on some great ideas, which also provide many options to grow from this point forward," he says. "The brand is strong, and from the view of beetle-kill pine furniture, you can expand into other unmet needs in the industry, where wood is not used to the best of its capabilities."
Beetle-kill furniture will continue to be a core product, primarily for the residential market, but he points to diversification as a key to continued growth for Azure. "When you talk about the other channels in the commercial worlds -- offices, hotels, and restaurants -- soft wood tabletops are often not the right solution. So hardwood is another direction we're going -- we call it 'inspired' hardwood -- lumberyards would say 'rustic' hardwood."
Azure currently manufactures in a shop in northeast Denver, but Opitz' ambitious plans may involve expanding to a larger facility at some point. "We have this given space of 7,000 square feet, enough space to support two teams of people, four craftsman, who can drive only so much volume and not more. That's a limit we have to start thinking about."
Opitz says he plans to continue manufacturing in Denver, but the push into new markets will also expand the company's material needs and supply chain. "When it comes to materials, the wood we work with, beetle-kill pine, is from a radius of maybe 150 miles round," he says. "The other hardwoods are still U.S., but a bit farther away."
Looking beyond wood, Opitz cites a need for Azure to source globally for the first time. "Steel will be a bigger portion of our products; more commercial furniture typically have steel bases. The steel for those products today does not come from the U.S.," he says. "When you talk about U.S. manufacturing, there's always a global component somewhere, but in our core [business], we want to work here, in the U.S., and we have great local partners here with whom we can really cover all the needs that we have."
It seems an ideal challenge for the German-born Opitz and his wife Ricky, an artist already contemplating new furniture designs: a promising young company poised to benefit from an infusion of management experience and acumen.
Bernhard has worked for such companies as Bayer and Blue Bunny Ice Cream over the course of his diverse career. Building furniture wasn't necessarily his preferred path, but the fit was too good to pass up.
"Manufacturing was the primary idea," he says. "This company just appeared in the right place to build from."