From Mission to Mandate
The Global Furniture Group
A lot can change in 50 years — especially in the furniture business.
Since founding the Global Furniture Group in 1966, Saul Feldberg has witnessed it all: new materials, technologies, manufacturing processes and styles that have pushed his company to adapt and change. But in five decades, one thing has remained the same. The group has upheld a mandate to “build a product that the average person can afford,” while continuously contributing to the industry in significant and substantial ways.
After immigrating to Canada in 1953 at the age of 17, Feldberg worked at an upholstery shop and learned the basics of the trade through the production of restaurant benches and chairs. 13 years later, he founded the Global Furniture Group with Bill Kemeny and launched the Executive 105: a highly affordable vinyl-and-fabric chair sold to dealers for only $68. “To give you an idea of how ridiculous this pricing was, one of our competitors sold a similar chair for $290 to their dealers, who of course marked it up before selling to an end user,” recalls Feldberg. “Who could afford to buy it? For $2,900 you could buy a brand new, fully-loaded 1966 Pontiac Parisienne.”
Though Global initially had to defend itself against skeptics, they soon proved to competitors and customers that high quality furniture does not need to generate an equally-high price tag. Over the next few years, the company established itself as a mid-market manufacturer of contract furniture, producing affordable metal filing and storage, wood case goods, desks and chairs —including the 1999 Concorde chair, which has adorned the offices of presidents and prime ministers alike. Today, the Global Furniture Group is celebrated as one of the largest office and institutional furniture manufacturers and marketers in the entire world. With products sold in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East, the company has truly earned its global name.
Fifty years after its founding, Feldberg remains chairman of the company; though he has since enlisted the help of his family to carry on his mission. His son David worked at the company before becoming president and CEO at Teknion, while his other son Joel now holds those same positions at the Global Furniture Group. Over the next five decades, the company will surely continue to adapt to reflect the evolving industry; but Feldberg is optimistic that their mandate will never change. “I believe that price, value and comfort weigh heavily on the minds of our customers,” he says. “As in the past, Global still strives to ‘Build a product that the average person can afford.’”
When Art Sandler first founded the Imperial Sales Agency in 1976, the business operated strictly from his kitchen table. Fast forward 40 years and the furniture company—now branded ISA International—has over 95,000 square feet of warehouse space and product sales recorded worldwide.
“My father’s first exposure to the industry was when he worked with my grandfather manufacturing residential and custom furniture in a small factory in the west end of the city,” says Kevin Sandler, Art’s son and current president of ISA International. “Later, he founded his own company, and it’s in large part his entity today.”
The business, which began by specializing in European wood products, truly became international when Kevin joined the company in 1990. After receiving his education in the business by opening up small retail locations nearby, Kevin launched a more ambitious initiative to establish a presence in the U.S. market. “I was young and naive, and our marketing wasn’t particularly good,” he recalls, “but we did some trade shows in the States, gained some momentum, and eventually built the reputation we have today.” In addition to a successful relationship with the U.S., ISA International has worked in international markets including Saudi Arabia, the Caribbean and Anguilla.
With their international growth came new opportunities, including a plan to break further into the office market and an increased focus on upholstery and custom work. Today, custom furniture—including chairs, tables, sofas and ottomans—accounts for approximately 30 per cent of their business. “We’re constantly being asked to do new things with new materials, source products and engineer designs,” says Kevin. “One of our biggest challenges is communicating to our customers just how wide and deep our custom capabilities actually are.”
Though ISA International encourages its customers to approach them with design ideas, the company is adamant that the projects they take on meet certain criteria. The team works closely with clients to ensure that the products they’ re purchasing—or the custom pieces they’re requesting—fit within their setting. “A phrase I like to use is ‘make it appropriate for the application,’” says Kevin. “For example, what’s appropriate for a corporate environment isn’t always appropriate for an airport restaurant. The first step in accepting an order is understanding the application within which the product will be installed.”
In addition to ensuring that the product fits within its setting, ISA International seeks customer satisfaction throughout the entire process—from the moment they interact with a salesperson to the individual shipping their product at the end of the line. With 90 employees on board, Kevin works with his team to achieve this ambition. “I want the customer to feel as good about the company at the end of the sale as they did at the beginning,” he says.
Above all, ISA International strives to continue Art’s original mandate. “One of the things my father always brought to the table was great design, and that approach to the business has stayed true,” says Kevin. “There’ s no huge revelation in terms of our plans for the next 40 years. We’ll simply continue pushing the envelope with quality design and keep doing what we do.”