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Austin furniture maker Four Hands grows distribution space, adding 50 local jobs

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 8/17/2022 Lori Hawkins, Austin American-Statesman

Unlike many businesses, longtime Austin furniture designer and global importer Four Hands saw a surge in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We had a great lift during the pandemic," said Jerome Kearns, chief operating officer of the company, which was founded in 1996. "People were buying home furniture. Because people were staying at home, home office was very big. People were spending a lot of time at home."

Still, the company, which has supplied furniture to retailers including Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and West Elm, ran into supply chain issues and sometimes ran short on inventory.

Those problems are largely resolved, Kearns said. Four Hands has 700 employees, including 480 in Austin. It also has international operations, which were a lifeline during COVID, he said. The company has offices in Vietnam, China, India, and Indonesia.

"The one good thing about having 150 employees overseas is we were still able to work with manufacturing partners and ship containers. We were boots on the ground, so we were able to keep our supply chains moving along," he said. "Compared to a year ago, we're pretty good on inventory."

Now, Four Hands is in growth mode, and has signed two leases in Buda that will serve as the company's distribution headquarters. The two leases at industrial park Buda Midway on Fire Cracker Drive will add more than 360,000 square feet of warehouse space. The expansion is expected to add 50 jobs.

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Four Hands will keep its existing headquarters and showroom on Woodward Street in South Austin. It will also retain five warehouses that total 530,000 square feet of space near St. Elmo Drive that will be used for other purposes including storage.

In addition, earlier this year, the company opened a 35,000-square-foot art studio that produces exclusive handcrafted pieces across different mediums, from watercolors to photography. To date, the company has curated more than 4,000 images from a rotating roster of 150 artists.

Four Hands first sought industrial space in Austin, but that proved to be unfeasible, Kearns said.

"We were not able to find the kind of buildings we were looking for," he said. "We looked at Georgetown and that was also pretty tight. Then we looked at the Buda/Kyle area and there is quite a bit of industrial development going on there. We were pretty excited to get some properties in Buda."

Current employees who work in distribution will move to the Buda sites, and Kearns is optimistic about recruiting additional employees in the area. Other warehouse suppliers nearby include Amazon.com and US Foods.

"We're in pretty good company in that part of the area," Kearns said. "One of the reasons we like Buda is there is a good labor pool there. With gas prices being high, this is a shorter commute for people. We're very excited about the demographic and recruiting from a really great labor pool."

Four Hands, which is privately held, posted $450 million in revenue in 2021 and is on track to reach $1 billion in sales within the next five years, the company said.

More:Why Austin-area demand for industrial space is soaring

The company's expansion comes as demand for industrial space in Central Texas is sky rocketing. In a recent report, commercial real estate services firm CBRE said it expects Central Texas' growing population, increased manufacturing -- led by technology giants like Tesla and Samsung -- and other factors to continue to drive strong demand for industrial distribution facilities for the foreseeable future.

"Supply-chain disruption and rising transportation costs during the pandemic have driven historic demand for warehouse space closer to population centers," said Darryl Dadon, senior vice president with CBRE's Industrial & Logistics platform in Austin.

More than 8.4 million square feet of industrial space is under construction in Central Texas, according to Colliers, a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

Millions more square feet -- by one estimate up to 30 million more -- are in the planning stage, although industry experts say it remains to be seen if all of those projects get built.

By the end of next year, 20.7 million square feet of industrial space is expected to be added to the Austin market, according to Colliers, which said 48 buildings are under construction, including six of more than 300,000 square feet or larger.

The surge in the Austin area's industrial sector is a good sign for the region's economy, said Ray Perryman, a Waco economist.

"A vibrant industrial sector is essential to long-term prosperity, bringing in investment and generating new jobs," Perryman said.

Industrial production brings in money from outside the region, along with the tax dollars paid by those large corporations. The increase in industrial space can also benefit consumers by getting goods in their hands more quickly.

"Consumers are demanding goods faster than ever, which requires goods to be stored in warehouses closer to consumers," said Sam Owen, managing director and partner in the Austin office of Dallas-based Stream Realty Partners.

American-Statesman reporter Shonda Novak contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin furniture maker Four Hands grows distribution space, adding 50 local jobs

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