Grand Rapids, Michigan-based modern retailer Design Quest is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — For five decades, growth has been a constant part of Design Quest’s history.
The Grand Rapids-based retailer has grown from an undersized 1,200 square foot showroom in 1972 to increasingly larger spaces (5,000 square feet, 10,000 square feet, 18,000 square feet) to its current 32,000 square foot showroom and warehouse.
“We grew out of room by room,” Thor Sorenson, co-owner of Design Quest and son of founders Meg and Jorgen Sorenson, told Furniture Today. “We have been at this location for 30 years; We moved in 1992. Finally we have a location that has the visibility in Grand Rapids. We have a facility that is ideal for a furniture store: all on one floor with attached warehouse.”
Before opening their first store, Meg and Jorgen Sorensen taught high school at a private school in Arizona. Looking for a change, they decided to open a furniture store. Meg’s brother, Joseph Grassie, was the Grand Rapids City Manager and encouraged her to visit the city and they eventually chose to open in the Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids.
While many felt modern furniture would not come across when it opened in Grand Rapids, Thor Sorenson said good design transcends many things.
“People’s connection to good design – design that speaks to you – that’s universal and doesn’t change over time. What materials it’s made of and what particular design might change, but if people are going for good quality, the piece speaks to them,” he said. “That still applies today. You run your hands over a beautifully curved armrest of a chair and say, that’s really beautiful, and if it’s not done right, it puts you off.
“I think customers often don’t know what they like or dislike about something, but the small details that are left out when trying to make savings in production often have a detrimental effect on the customer experience. That hasn’t changed.”
Design Quest has made a name for itself with modern furniture, but it has also always had a modern mindset, particularly when it comes to technology. Sorenson said that while he had worked in the family business for years, he became really interested when he was asked to computerize the operation.
“We’re doing everything we can to stay on the ball. From the beginning we had a point of sale system, which many stores didn’t have. We wrote orders on the computer,” Sorenson said. “We have always been involved with technology. Once we had the system that could handle it, we barcoded our stock. We always looked forward to going as far forward as possible. With one company, you think there are these things that we should be doing.”
Sorenson said another forward-looking element was the decision to join Contemporary Design Group, as it gave Design Quest the opportunity to discuss ideas with other retailers in other markets and ask questions when needed.
“That was very good for us. We learned a lot from sharing information,” he said. “It was so educational. That was a big help; They have a lot of people in similar boats and they keep asking questions. That was big.”
So what does it mean for the Sorensons and their longtime associates to have been in business for 50 years? “Of course it is a huge milestone. We know that the vast majority of businesses don’t live 50 years in any area,” Sorenson said. “We’ve been through a lot of changes in the economy, our store locations and what customers are looking for. It has been continued growth for all of us, both for the physical presence of the company and for the people who work in it.”
Design Quest celebrated the anniversary throughout October, and Sorenson said it was the company’s best October ever. About a month ago, it celebrated its 50th anniversary in its showroom. Sorenson said the response exceeded expectations, and some in attendance said they remembered the original location.
“You never know, but you send the invitations. We had 500 people,” he said. “The caterers had planned for 200 to 250 people and they were wiped out food and drink. It was a great experience and nice that so many customers came and wanted to celebrate with us.”