Wendover Art Group finds a niche during the pandemic

Wendover Art Group finds a niche during the pandemic

At a time when many businesses have shrunk their real estate footprint or downsized their operations, a Largo-based art maker has done the opposite during the pandemic.

Wendover Art Group has undertaken a massive expansion of its headquarters and is making acquisitions.

“We had the mindset that we were absolutely going to use it as an opportunity to make the most of the situation. When others stepped back, we were going to be aggressive and grow,” said CEO Richard Forsyth, who was 26 in 2005 when he started leading the company which now employs more than 350 people. including three in-house artists who create original creations. rooms.

Forsyth, now 44, said his company had “organizational courage”, which he said set Wendover apart from larger companies who “didn’t make that choice and were agreement to be more stagnant”.

Wendover makes ornaments that are on sale at Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers – although if you look at the back of a catalog photo it won’t say Wendover. There is a white label, so most consumers have no idea where their wall hangings come from. Wendover also decorates spaces ranging from hotels to doctors’ offices and more.

Wendover’s bold growth during the pandemic included spending more than $1.5 million on a new website with built-in artificial intelligence that makes it easier for buyers to personalize their artwork purchases. In October, Wendover purchased a $5.7 million, 34,000 square foot building in Hightower, North Carolina to use as a new showroom. This month, Wendover acquired a South Carolina-based lighting company for an undisclosed amount. The company is currently negotiating a collaboration with the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art in Wendover to reimagine the MET pieces into something new to be sold on Wendover’s website.

Wendover makes sets that are for sale at Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home in Largo. [ Courtesy of Wendover Art Group ]

At Largo, the company is also in the midst of a 70,000 square foot expansion to increase production capacity and add more team collaboration space to its 130,000 square foot headquarters. The work should be completed in November. Forsyth said the expansion is costing millions, although he declined to provide a specific figure.

During the pandemic, the Largo manufacturing site remained busy as employees did not have the option to work from home.

“We make things. We must be together. We have to collaborate,” Forsyth said.

In manufacturing, safety matters. Wendover added COVID-19 measures early in the pandemic, including mask requirements and socially distanced break rooms. The company also spent about $250,000 on bi-weekly COVID testing for employees, he said.

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Forsyth also worked with a health care organization to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible, so employees could get the shot on site if they wanted, though Forsyth said that was not a mandate.

“We had 86% of our team opting out,” Forsyth said. “We were very proud of that.”

The company also held an on-site flu vaccination campaign, which Forsyth said he thinks more companies should do. At a time of corporate expansion that was also marred by the stresses of the pandemic, Wendover has emphasized communication with employees, so Forsyth meets with staff at weekly or bi-weekly “visions of the city” . Forsyth said he strives to be clear and consistent, so employees understand the company’s vision to help them work as a team.

“We were very transparent about what was going on, what our challenges were, where we were going and made sure everyone got the same communication,” Forsyth said.

Wendover’s growth has certainly not been without challenges. Hotels, restaurants and cruise ship customers have been hit economically by the pandemic, canceling future projects and cutting fat where needed, which often meant cutting back on areas like art. Wendover hospitality industry activity fell 50%, Forsyth said, although he expects a major rebound in travel and leisure sales.

Wendover makes sets that are for sale at Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home in Largo.
Wendover makes sets that are for sale at Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home in Largo. [ KRIS ELLIS PHOTOGRAPHHY LLC | Courtesy of Wendover Art Grou[ ]

Yet at the same time, the number of people buying art for their homes has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“This part of our business is on track this year to grow about 60% from 2019,” Forsyth said.

Marketing director Sarah Guarnizo theorized why. When people were stuck at home with government stay-at-home orders in place or working remotely, they looked around and thought, “Does this space reflect who I am and make me happy? It’s beautiful ?”

The cheapest way to renovate a space is to splurge on a piece of art, Guarnizo said.

Wendover Arts Group

Creation: 2005

Employees: Over 350

Headquarters: Largo

Growth: This year, Wendover expects its revenues to be 16 times higher than in 2009.

Comments from an employee: “It allows me to be part of something bigger than myself and to be part of a team whose life is directly influenced by my actions.”

“Provides excellent employment opportunities for employees in a positive manner. It helps employees grow and train for a better future. They care about the ideas provided by us, the employees, and the team leader respects and explains in an ethical and professional manner any questions I have.