Made in Chicagoland: Baker Rd. Furniture
November 1, 2011 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- Tom Karkos has been working with furniture for as long as he can remember.
In fact, he was the first person hired at the groundbreaking Naked Furniture company, based in Roselle. He was only 16 years old.
"I always wanted to make things. I was the kid in the back fixing things. I always wanted to go into manufacturing. So when a small manufacturing operation became available, we bought it, and it grew from there," Karkos said.
That was back in 1975. That company is now Baker Road Furniture in South Elgin.
"This is our original design, our original finish," Karkos said. "We've been doing this for over 30 years."
The company, founded by Karkos and his father, specializes in high-end cabinetry items, custom pieces in cherry, oak and maple. They employ 25 people. Just a few years ago, there were about twice as many.
"Chicago used to be a hotbed of furniture manufacturing. Now, that's all gone away," Karkos said.
Karkos says his is the last company of its type left in the area.
"Furniture in our category, wood-case goods, close to 85 percent of wood-case goods furniture sold in this country right now is made in the Asian markets -- China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam," Karkos said.
The reason: Mostly cheap labor. That means products mass-made overseas can often be sold for a lot less in this country. But Karkos says there's a big difference between initial price and the real cost.
However, Karkos said he has recently seen an uptick in people specifically looking for products made in the U.S. He's hoping that trend continues for the sake of local workers.
"It would be huge for us. We compete against offshore imports head-to-head, and our business is off 50 percent from where it was in its heyday. And if we could regain some of that market share, it would be huge," Karkos said.
Baker Road is practicing what Karkos preaches; almost all of the vendors he uses to make his furniture -- dowell, screws, glass and the like -- he buys from people in the area. Around Baker Road, "Made in the USA" is more than just a slogan.
"It makes you feel better when you buy an American-made product, especially when you know it's a good value. It's a good product that is going to outlast you," Karkos said.
Baker Road Furniture
730 Schneider Drive
***Baker Road Furniture is one of the businesses ABC7 has features in our "Made in Chicagoland" series. These businesses employ local workers to make products right here in the Chicago area. And the three businesses we're introducing you to are also helping us with a makeover to the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago has been helping families for a century. But there is one room in their center that needs a little TLC. So we thought, "Why not get the help of some local businesses who take pride in making products here in the Chicago area?" We will show you the results of our makeover Friday morning.
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