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Friday, Oct 7, 2022

Maker of Whom, Innova Furniture Brands Plans New Locations

Jonathan Bass still believes in brick-and-mortar retail. 

As shopping centers contend with late rent payments and vacancies, he opened a furniture store at the Westfield Century City mall last month and plans to open a half-dozen more by Christmas. 

“We’re looking at New York, Boston, Miami, Virginia, San Francisco, San Jose and at Houston,” Bass said. “We feel that there’s a window of opportunity for growth for us right now. … All that disposable income that has been spent in the past on vacations and holidays, people are going to (use it) to start to fix up their living environment.”

Bass runs PTM Images, a home décor company he founded in 1995 to sell golf memorabilia. 

Under PTM’s umbrella, Bass now sells framed art and operates two furniture brands: Innova Luxury Group, which debuted in 2011 at the Milan Furniture Fair with $7,000 sofas; and Whom Home, which carries goods at a price point somewhere “between Innova and Ashley Furniture,” according to Bass. 

Pieces for both brands are made by some 450 workers at the company’s factory in San Luis, a Mexican town that straddles the Arizona border. 

PTM also has about 20 employees at its Westwood headquarters and generates about $50 million in annual revenue, according to a Business Journal estimate.

The pandemic brought on a slew of canceled orders from PTM’s wholesale  
customers, which include Bloomingdale’s, Walmart Inc., Nordstrom Inc., Wayfair and Home Depot Inc. 

“We sell something to almost everybody … and when Covid started, all of our customers canceled all of their open purchase orders, and then said that they weren’t going to pay for 90 days,” Bass said. “It was like, ‘Okay, what do you do now?’ The only thing that really kept going was our dot-com side of the business.”

His recovery plan included introducing Whom Home to shoppers at a branded store, in an environment where they can ask questions, check the firmness of the sofas, and feel the fabrics. 

“I thought, ‘Alright, while all these people are bolting out of retail, do I think that retail is going to survive?’” he said. “The social experience, being able to go out and walk and look at new products, to be inspired by goods whether you buy them online or not, that was something that coming out of Covid was going to be so important.”

Bass plans to hire three or four workers at each new store.

The stores will be supplied from his factory in Mexico, which he opened in 2010 after a visit to the plant PTM used in China led him to decide to move production. 

“I wanted to see where the employees lived and where they ate. And when they were showing off to me how these people live and how they fed them and how cost-effectively it was run, and how they didn’t leave factories for 11 months, I got on the plane and came back home, and I was like, ‘How am I contributing to this?’” he said. 

Labor rates in Mexico are higher than in China, but Bass said he’s balancing out the costs with shorter production times and being able to transport about 25% more product via trucks versus overseas shipping containers.

“I learned when I went down to Mexico that, as the American retailer, I was never cheap enough because no matter what price I gave, China was cheaper,” Bass said. “No matter the fact that my employees went home at night, had dinner with their families, went to church on Sunday, took care of their grandparents and they could afford a real life.”

But that appears to be a hard sell. Bass said his wholesale customers are after “the lowest price that they can get in the market, and they don’t want to know how you treat their employees. To me, that’s one of the main reasons that I wanted to open a store at some point where I can offer the product quality I want, made by the people I want making it, pay them a fair salary, and be able to deliver a fair product by going direct.”

Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino
Mediha DiMartino covers retail, manufacturing and the ports. She can be emailed here.

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