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Wendover Art Group finds a niche during the pandemic

The company is in the midst of a 70,000-square-foot expansion to increase production capacity at their Largo headquarters.
Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo.
Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo. [ KRIS ELLIS PHOTOGRAPHHY LLC | Courtesy of Wendover Art Group ]
Published Mar. 25

At a time when many companies shrank their real estate footprint or scaled back operations, a Largo-based art manufacturer did the opposite during the pandemic.

Wendover Art Group undertook a massive expansion at its main headquarters and is making acquisitions.

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

Forsyth, now 44, said his company had “courage organizationally” which he believes separated Wendover from larger businesses that “did not make that choice and were OK with being more stagnant.”

Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers – although if you look on the back of a catalog picture, it won’t say Wendover. There’s a white label so most consumers have no idea where their wall hangings come from. Wendover also decorate spaces 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 artificial intelligence built in that lets buyers more easily customize 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 light fixtures company for an undisclosed amount. The firm is currently negotiating a collaboration with the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art for Wendover to reimagine MET pieces into something new that will be sold on Wendover’s website.

Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo.
Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo. [ Courtesy of Wendover Art Group ]

In Largo, the company is also in the midst of a 70,000-square-foot expansion to increase production capacity and add more team collaborative space at their 130,000-square-foot headquarters. The work is expected to be completed in November. Forsyth said the expansion costs millions although he declined to provide a specific figure.

During the pandemic, the Largo manufacturing site stayed busy since employees didn’t have the flexibility to work from home.

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

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

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Forsyth also worked with a healthcare organization to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible, so employees could get their two shots on site if they chose, although Forsyth said it wasn’t a mandate.

”We had 86 percent of our team opt in,” Forsyth said. “We were very proud of that.”

The company also hosted an on-site flu shot drive, something Forsyth said he believes more companies should do. In a time of the company’s expansion that was also riddled with stress from the pandemic, Wendover emphasized communicating with employees, so Forsyth meets with staff during weekly or bi-weekly “town visions.” Forsyth said he strives to be clear and consistent, so employees understand the company’s vision to help them work together as a team.

“We were very transparent in what was happening, what our challenges were, where we’re going, and making sure everyone was getting the same communication,” said Forsyth.

Wendover’s growth certainly hasn’t come without challenges. Hotels, restaurants and cruise clients have been slammed economically by the pandemic, canceling future projects and trimming fat where necessary, which often meant cutting back on areas like art. Wendover’s hospitality industry business dipped by as much as 50 percent, Forsyth said, although he is expecting a major rebound in travel and leisure sales.

Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo.
Wendover manufactures decor that’s for sale in Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and other lifestyle retailers from their home base in Largo. [ KRIS ELLIS PHOTOGRAPHHY LLC | Courtesy of Wendover Art Grou[ ]

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

”That part of our business is on track this year to grow approximately 60 percent over 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? Is it beautiful?”

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

Wendover Art Group

Founded: 2005

Employees: More than 350

Headquarters: Largo

Growth: This year, Wendover is projecting revenue to be 16 times higher from 2009 figures.

Employee comments: “It allows me to be a part of something bigger than myself and to be a part of a team whose lives are directly influenced by my actions.”

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

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