Javi Suarez and Ben Nettles want to change the way you think about benches. Together they’re working to create the perfect cross section of art and function with their line of concrete furniture. Javi, an architect, met concrete artist Ben through their sons’ school. They quickly became friends and soon business partners as Javi began to contract work out to Ben.
“I started hiring Ben for projects that I was designing and then we started talking about similar ideas for concrete,” Javi explained. “So we said let’s start a company that focuses on creating functional art objects.”
After a year of brainstorming the pair launched Red Linen Design which turns concrete into functional art that doubles as furniture. This wasn’t their first entrepreneurial venture. Ben manufactures concrete counter tops while Javi owns his own architecture firm.
“We both run our own businesses and we’ve had success running them but neither of us hold an MBA or a degree in any sort of business. Any additional help that we can get to get better is a plus.”
“We specialize in art, not business,” Ben said. “The accounting we outsource but the business planning, everything else, we’re doing that ourselves.”
One of the challenges of such an innovative business is that not too many people are familiar with concrete art. “With this business it’s something completely new,” Javi said. “We have to completely explain everything from what we do and how we do it, even our name.”
In case you were wondering on the name: “One of the things we do is fabric forming, which means pouring the concrete into fabric of some sort,” Javi said. “There’s a very limited number of people that do this and they traditionally use a woven geotextile. We were experimenting with whether we could do something with more affordable fabrics, and one of them was linen. Our first project was with red concrete- it just sort of stuck.”
Javi heard that the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership was coming to Southwest Florida and decided to apply. According to Ben the UEP coaches have already pushed Red Linen design to explore new avenues. “A lot of the things we’re researching now came about through the UEP, so that would be a testimony to what we’re experiencing in the program and some of the things they’re having us do that we may not have done on own.”
Javi added: “The structure of the UEP has helped us realize a lot of things that we weren’t paying attention to, the idea that an artist should have a business plan, the same thing a Fortune 500 company has.”
Ben added that the UEP has also helped the company with networking. “We’ve gotten a few connections through the UEP which we otherwise would not have gotten on our own, and we’ve done well with those connections.”
One area the UEP has helped Red Linen in is determining their market.
“Our initial idea was that this line of functional art objects would be sold to the residential market. The institutional market became something we stumbled into and the UEP helped us identify the bigger possibilities for both this market and possibly others,” Javi said.
Recently Red Linen Design installed ten benches for the Downtown Bradenton Transit Station and is now looking for other cities interested in their product. “We’re going to start here and we have big pictures for our company. It’d be great if we could compete on a global level,” Javi said.
Similar artists work in Germany and Canada but the entrepreneurs are confident they can compete. “There’s a number of people whose stuff is sort of like what we do,” Ben said. “It’s like a painter having a different style but everyone uses the same paint.”
As the company grows, Ben and Javi hope they are creating something that can be passed on. The pair optimistically look forward to future projects.
“We really want to be the visionaries and the drivers of the company and to help teach the craft to whomever we bring forward and hopefully with bigger projects,” Javi said.