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August 11, 2007

Shop Talk: Nikita Indoor Outdoor furniture


Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Nikita Grigoriev, owner and inventor of the Nikita Indoor Outdoor furniture line.

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Tell me about your business: I’ve been in the furniture industry for 25 years and basically founded the futon industry. We were one of the first to manufacture futon frames. The industry started off with a lot of quality people, but over time, the industry went overseas as the Wal-Marts, Targets, etc., got involved, and essentially killed the market. There are only a few who manufacture (futon frames) in the States anymore, and we’re one of them.

We’ve tried to perfect efficiency in everything we do. There’s no wasted time or energy. Instead of the cost of shipping and warehousing, we make it locally.

All the parts are interchangeable, as well.

Describe a typical day in your business:

I pretty well do what I want. I just bought a plane, so I plan on doing a lot of flying. My secret passion is also classical guitar.

But beyond that, I design furniture, and I work in the production center (in Richfield Springs) _ I like to be hands-on and actually make the furniture myself. I spend some time here (in the showroom) as well.

How did you get started in this line of work?

I was an aeronautics and mechanical engineer _ I designed and built DeHavilland aircraft. I became a pilot, but I was very bored with it. I felt like a glorified bus driver. I had creativity bursting out of me, and I just had to do my own thing.

I was on a flight back from California one day, and I became intrigued by the idea of making a frame that’s really so simple. I started doodling on my napkin, trying to figure it out. I finally got it into an arrangement where the proportions were just right. From that drawing to getting an actual prototype, I would say it took me a week or two. From there, I started the patenting process.

We recently realized that this application is suited to outdoor use as well. Now, with the explosion of the outdoor-furniture market, we’re really poised to take advantage of that.

Where do you see this business in five years?

We would like to have a few quality stores in carefully chosen places. Oneonta is an interesting place to start. It’s a very discriminating market. There’s not a lot of supply for high-end, sophisticated design, and people really have responded to us. Business has been about twice of what I expected.

It is, as you can see, a unique, focused line. Most stores are eclectic, selling a lot of different styles, but we’re selling only this. It needs to be focused in this way so you can focus your attention on the product. It’s almost deceptively simple at first glance, but there is really a lot to it.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

When I first applied for a patent, my lawyer kept submitting it and the examiner kept rejecting it. It was such a simple design, he didn’t understand what made it unique. My lawyer actually said, “We’re going to go down to Washington and show him this design in person.” So we did. We hauled (a futon) down there, we got it up to the building, into the elevator, and down the hall to the examiner’s office. We set it right there on the floor and said, “Here it is.” When he sat down on it and started moving it around, he started telling us what to patent on it and how we should describe it. We call the design a fourbar linkage. The furniture converts very easily with one hand from an upright position, to reclining at any angle, all the way down to laying flat. It uses a counterbalance, so that when you lean back, it is completely stable at any angle.

What have you learned from your work?

I’ve only become more convinced of certain things _ that you’ve got to do things right. Life is too short to waste your time on short cuts, and in fact, there are no short cuts to quality. You’ve got to do it right the first time.

What are some advantages/ drawbacks of doing business in this area? We looked at a lot of sites for our showroom, but we decided to come to Oneonta. Our factory is in Richfield Springs, so it’s convenient, but it’s not just that. Oneonta, even though it’s a small city, it draws on the larger area. And we have a product that’s for everyone. We have a sofa bed that sells for $385, which is the same quality as another piece that’s made with mahogany and sells for $1,400.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Efficiency, which is in every part of what we do, sets us apart from all other manufacturers. I wouldn’t bother doing it any other way. This is not just an idea; it is a part of everything that we do. It is our entire way of doing things.

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To suggest a business for Shop Talk, contact Emily F. Popek at 432-1000, ext. 255, or epopek@thedailystar.com.