Thousands of children may have better posture thanks to a new chair from a Hastings company.
Furnware's Bodyfurn plastic chairs have been making classrooms more comfortable for learning since 2005.
But now owner Hamish Whyte wants to see the chairs in children's bedrooms - perhaps sporting the colours of their favourite rugby team.
Furnware dates back to 1934. Known then as Christie Industries it started business the same week as Wattie's and boasts the postal address of PO Box 1, Hastings.
It is New Zealand's biggest and oldest manufacturer of school furniture.
Whyte started at Furnware in 1993. He bought the business in 2001 and embarked on a massive project to redesign traditional school chairs.
"We had to prove that we could add value to our customers because otherwise we were going to compete with Chinese furniture."
The company's research team measured about 20,000 students by age, year level, sex, height and weight.
"We basically went out and lived in classrooms to try and find out what was going on. It gave us a hell of a fright - it showed that about 30 per cent of children have headaches or back pain at school."
The research was a necessary process and ensured the success of the Bodyfurn chair.
"The challenge you face going from a $40 chair to a $130 chair is you have to prove why - we really had to go out of our way to get the facts," Whyte said.
Since coming on the market in 2005, Furnware has captured 60 per cent of the domestic market.
Primary and secondary schools have traditionally been its biggest customer, but tertiary institutions are also lining up for Bodyfurn chairs and desks.
"We focused on the schools because they were our core market but we've had people from school say why don't we have it at university."
The company exports to 10 countries including Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada the United States and Saudi Arabia. Exports grew from 10 per cent to 50 per cent as the business grew 25 per cent last year. About 22,000 Bodyfurn chairs were exported last year.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest emerging market, with Shanghai the newest market ordering Furnware products.
"All made here in Hastings and shipped to China."
Whyte wants to continue the company's reach into Asia. Seven staff man the Furnware office in Melbourne.
The company, which had 18 staff when Mr Whyte started, has grown to 70 full-time employees, with 100 employees working to fill school's orders this summer.
But the Bodyfurn chair is in line for a revamp, with Whyte hoping to launch the next generation in 2013 - a brighter version aimed at parents looking for a chair for their child's study station.
"It's a very passionate business because we're helping kids," said Whyte.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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