Michigan Furniture Company Lives up to Its Name
New machinery purchases increase production at Unique Furniture.
By Sam Gazdziak
When Hytham Aljida was looking to name his company, he wanted a name that accurately described his work. Unique Furniture Mfg. Co. certainly fits the bill, as his modern, laminated furniture stands out from other furniture companies.
“I think the product speaks for itself,” Aljida says. “There is a lot of traditional furniture out there. But for what we do, there’s a gap in the market. A lot of people are looking for modern furniture.”
Unique Furniture in Oak Park, MI, manufactures high-end furniture and some cabinetry for residences and commercial buildings. Almost all of the work is laminated and features rounded corners. “None of our pieces are square,” says Aljida, who started the company in 1988. “Everything has got the rounded corners. We’re well known for that.”
Unique has made everything from tables and entertainment centers to commercial cabinetry, but the company is probably best known for its bedroom sets. The sets, which can range from $3,500 to more than $16,000, come with any number of options. To start with, Unique offers dozens of laminate colors; Aljida says he personally likes marbleized patterns, but there are plenty of solid colors available, too. Unique uses primarily Wilsonart laminates and occasionally Pionite and Formica laminates, as well.
With so many color choices, Aljida says customers can get overwhelmed. “When we go to their house, we look at where that piece is going to go, we look at the design of the house, and then we make recommendations,” he explains. “We give them samples, and then they decide what they want.”
Once the colors are chosen, customers can decide from an array of features. End tables can be attached to the bed frame or left separate, there can be storage drawers in the headboard or hidden jewelry drawers in the base, lights or metallic accents. Some bedroom sets have neon lights installed underneath the bed. Even the base of the bed can be round, half-round, square, bullnose or have radiused corners.
In the 13 years that Unique has been in business, the company has never paid for advertising, relying instead on word of mouth and steady retail accounts.
One major account is Art Van Furniture, which has 28 locations in the Detroit area. Unique used to sell occasional tables to the furniture store. That proved successful enough that Art Van bought two exclusive models for its customers and displays them in the store showrooms. Still, anything sold through those stores is custom-made and can be altered to fit the customer’s taste.
Another account, Casual Living, buys dining room tables that Unique makes using an exclusive marbleized laminate. Unique has been working with Casual Living for more than 10 years.
Along with the retail stores, customers can also visit the 2,000-square-foot showroom that’s attached to Unique Furniture’s 12,000-square-foot facility. Many of Unique’s tables, wall units and bedroom sets are on display there. When potential customers call on Unique, Aljida invites them to the shop to see the showroom and production area.
“That way, they are more comfortable when they order a piece,” he says. “I don’t want just to come to the house and take dimensions; they don’t know what they are dealing with. We explain everything to them, down to the handles.”
Some of the largest jobs Unique has done have been commercial jobs. Most recently, the company worked on a jewelry store and two hair salons, both of which were more than 8,000 square feet in size. The jewelry store owner was looking for something different and modern, and Unique made the showcases, wall cases, desk and store front using woodgrain and black laminates.
“It goes a little bit faster for us in commercial work,” Aljida says. “With residential, there are more details. With the commercial jobs, you build so many of one piece, all the same size.”
Between the retail stores and the direct customers, Unique Furniture is kept busy. Last year alone, the company made 140 bedroom sets for Art Van Furniture.
“We do a lot of odd-shaped designs and curves,” Aljida says. “It was taking a lot of time for me to draw it, cut it and hand-sand it perfectly. We couldn’t keep up with the production and more.”
Within the last year, Unique has made two large equipment purchases to boost production. It bought a Komo VR 508 Mach 1 CNC router last year and an SCMI Sigma 65 panel saw this May.
“Those machines cut my labor down a lot, and we have accurate parts every time we cut,” Aljida says. He adds that last year, Unique made 140 bedroom sets for Art Van Furniture. Because of the increase in production, Unique has already made 170 sets through the first eight months of this year.
Efficient production has long been one of Unique’s strengths. Aljida says that he has not had to replace any key employees in two years. Three employees concentrate on finishing, two add the hardware and two (including Aljida) cut the panels into parts. Aljida’s wife, Nancy, manages the office and also decorates the showroom. Their son, Layth, programs parts for the router on the office computer, using CimTech software. At 13 years old, he was the youngest person to graduate from Komo and CimTech’s training classes.
Responsibility for the work is divided among employees, Aljida says. “Everybody is responsible for his department. The finish guys are responsible for finishing, and I don’t get involved,” he says. “I only come to them and tell them what I need. I build it, give it to them, and they finish it.”
Once parts are cut to size and routed, any square parts are edgebanded on a Holz-Her edgebander. Parts are sanded on an SCM widebelt sander. The finishing department then laminates the pieces. Due to the custom nature of the work, everything is laminated by hand.
Unique’s employees preassemble all pieces in the shop to make sure everything fits well. They also install all their work and service it. Aljida tells customers it takes six to eight weeks to finish a piece.
“We take our time building because we like to build it right,” he explains, adding that retailers like Art Van Furniture keep a record of how many service calls their customers make. “Last year alone we did the 140 sets, and we haven’t been back to one of those sets to do service.”
Aljida demonstrates for customers the quality of the work by opening a drawer in a bedroom set and standing in it. He says that his employees feel the same way about doing quality work as he does.
“Our company motto is ‘Pride in our company means quality in your home,’” he says. “All the guys take pride in what they do. It’s the only way to work for us — you really have to know what you are doing and give it your best shot. If you go back and make a service call, you lose a lot more than if you just took the time and did it right.”
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