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Finding a Global Niche

Joseph Jeup has turned his early passion for innovative furniture design into a competitive international success.

By Julie Bonner Stevenson
Photography by Michael Buck

 

Joseph Jeup’s success story demonstrates two principles: The American dream is very much alive, and the combination of passion and a strong work ethic can bring that dream to fruition.

Jeup, 38, purchased the assets of Designer’s Workshop, a sister company of John Widdicomb, in 1997. He had worked there while attending Kendall College of Art and Design and for five years after graduation. Since then, he has developed a new client base, bringing the now-named Jeup Furniture unprecedented success.

In the past six months alone, Jeup has established showrooms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Miami, Chicago, Scottsdale and Denver. Two recently established showrooms of which Jeup is most proud are in Taipei, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

“ I’ve been real aggressive over the last year,” Jeup said. “The furniture business has had a rough time with imports — we’ve had to stay competitive.”

Locally based in Jenison, Jeup Furniture offers niche-market residential and commercial furniture to interior designers or architects as an alternative to retail stores. The Jeup line is focused on high-end furnishings, boasting clientele such as The Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

“ It’s a couture line,” said Jeup, who added that several Michigan clients have purchased pieces after viewing them on his Web site, www.jeupfurniture.com.

Growing up in Mt. Clemens, Jeup said he knew as early as middle school what his career path would be, adding: “I started in middle school in an industrial arts program and was in shop class. (I) had a passion for it, loved it.”

While in high school, Jeup heard about a job opening with a local cabinet manufacturer. He applied and was hired, becoming at age 17 an apprentice to three master craftsmen from Italy. He attended Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, transferring after three years to Kendall, when he began his stint with Designer’s Workshop.

“ It was a 20-person operation when I was working there,” said Jeup. “I took the essence of the operation (and) hand-picked 10 people. Our first year, we did the same revenue with 10 as they were doing with 20.”

Being as savvy with business decisions as he is with design has undeniably led to Jeup’s noteworthy success at a young age.

“ People say, ‘You’re young, how’d you get into the business and get so successful so quickly?’” he said. “I was ready to take a risk that most people are not. And maybe ignorance is bliss in the early years — there is some truth to that thought.”

However, Jeup’s acumen is about far more than streamlining labor. He is also a designer, describing his line of furniture as contemporary and masculine.

“ Every year we come out with a new collection. Our product line kind of tells a story, has a certain sensibility from a design aesthetic,” he said. “I had a certain passion to design product that didn’t exist in the marketplace. … I want to create new and innovative product. I was fortunate enough to understand that that’s where I wanted to go.”

Jeup now employs a staff of about 20, whose excellence he hopes to retain.

“As the furniture industry goes away, the pool of people goes away. I think we’ve got a great staff. This company is about me, but it’s also about these people that are here. Without them, I can’t do it,” he said.
Jeup projects steady, managed growth for Jeup Furniture. He said his focus on customer service keeps him centered in well-planned business development, and his future goals include becoming even more profitable and honing in on his segment of the market. GR

   
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