Banker finds business potential in iconic benches
As a teenager, Peter Hovey discovered he had a deep passion for a rare piece of furniture. “I lived in Old Westbury, Long Island. That suburb was into fox hunting, shooting, and golf — things affiliated with old English tradition,” the owner of Club Fenders L.L.C. said.
With that culture, he was introduced to fireside benches, which he found in some of the homes he visited in his youth. But the history lesson and growing appreciation for the old English benches wouldn’t prove useful for some time. Hovey ventured into the world of finance, splitting 20 years between Bank of Westminster and Bank of America before opening his own business consulting firm, NetWork Capital Consultants.
But in 2008, with the financial world in disarray, he reconsidered his life’s work. Hovey wanted to explore the consumer marketplace and see if he could fill a need. Around that time, he reconnected with his love of fireside benches.
“I wanted one for my library,” he said. “I had lots of problems with the design features, prices and incompetence of ordering one from importers, so I decided I would make my own using local artisans.”
The result was a bench that Hovey’s friends “raved” about. The lack of such benches in the American marketplace along with the compliments from others gave Hovey an idea: “I thought I could make a business of it.”
As business consultant, he’d offered counsel to small businesses for 15 years, so he followed his own advice and officially launched Club Fenders in 2011 out of his New Canaan home.
“I wanted a business that I could bootstrap financially until I had proof of concept,” he said. “I didn’t want to compete head-on with established products or services or in the field of next-generation technology.”
Hovey assembled a team in Connecticut to make the fireside benches, which he describes as three-sided backless benches that frame the fireplace hearth. The team includes Chris Bowan, an artisan custom blacksmith in Woodbury, Giorgio’s Upholstery in Norwalk and Harbur Architectural Woodworking in Ridgefield.
So far, Club Fenders has remained a small company. Hovey said he has managed to sell 10 benches within a price range of $1,000 and $2,500, but intends to expand his brand. The lack of competition is healthy for his business, he believes, and claims his company is one of the only ones that can make custom iconic British-influenced fireside benches.
“The big advantage is we are close to (the) customer so we can work out the design features,” he said.
Still, marketing has been a challenge. “(Fireside benches) don’t exist for a lot of people. And it’s not a one size fits all,” he said. These are things he is “working on all the time.”
The overall lack of knowledge is not a deterrent for him, though, and he intends to forge ahead. “We are encouraged. As the (popularity of the benches) spreads, I will have a robust company.”