By Alyssa Pressler
Fabio Delmestri is proving that a small U.S. furniture company can thrive by picking a niche and out-hustling larger rivals. Thomasville-based IoA has more than doubled annual revenue to $30 million over the last decade, selling customized furniture to U.S. hospitals including giants such as the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins.
Delmestri, 57, is a third-generation owner of a family business that started near Venice, Italy, in the 1920s and moved to Thomasville in 1978, when his father, Dario, concluded North Carolina’s business climate was preferable. “Italy is a beautiful country, but it is a hard place for entrepreneurs,” Fabio Delmestri says.
IoA, which stands for Images of America, historically produced general commercial furniture. Things changed when Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, now part of Novant Health, asked the company to make a patient recliner it couldn’t find elsewhere. The Delmestris realized that hospitals valued innovative, customized products and great customer service, which he says gives IoA an advantage over larger companies that make many different types of furniture. By the early 1990s, it was focusing exclusively on the medical market.
“Hospitals are made of so many different departments, and each department has its own needs and dynamics,” says Delmestri, who has a design degree from Pratt Institute in New York. “As an industrial designer, it was an endless opportunity to pursue design innovation.”
Though his father, who is 83, is no longer president, Delmestri says he shows up every day. Even his mother, Annina, sometimes assists the company’s 140 employees.
Growth has accelerated in the last decade, aided by contracts with elite hospitals. The company makes basic waiting-room chairs and more complex furniture used during oncology-infusion treatments and other procedures. Each piece requires several weeks to design, typically after company engineers spend considerable time in a hospital working with doctors and nurses. IoA has to consider outfitting chairs with the latest technology while ensuring they remain comfortable and stylish. The company has won several Nightingale Awards, the most prestigious in health care design.
“Hospitals are just amazing; they’re like cities,” Delmestri says. “There’s so much technology, so much expertise. They employ tens of thousands of people, and we are able to work alongside brilliant people.”
Rapid consolidation has helped IoA grow, he adds. “The health care furniture market seems to be better suited for small and midsized companies because they are more nimble. Hospitals like the relationships they can develop with us rather than working through so many layers of management.”
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