Local furniture designer and manufacturer Autonomous Furniture was announced on Monday as one of the recipients of FedEx’s #SupportSmall grant program.
The grants provided a total of $150,000 to 30 small businesses across Canada, with $5,000 awarded to Autonomous Furniture, a Victoria-based company launched in 2013.
Kirk Van Ludwig, Founder and Designer of Autonomous, says he started the company after his partner, Jodie Webb, encouraged him to adapt his notebook of designs into real life pieces.
Since then, Autonomous has grown as a local business, selling over 1,500 pieces to clients on Vancouver Island and abroad.
“Our Victoria clients… it’s just amazing how they’ve really enabled us,” said Van Ludwig. “Victoria people allowed us to build out. We have 30 or so designs that we build all the time.”
That local business model was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a large drop in sales at their storefront on Government St.
“March 15 2020 we were having one of our best months ever,” Van Ludwig said. “For the next six weeks we didn’t see a single sale.”
The company had planned an expansion following invitation to a New York trade show in 2019, but those plans had to be put on hold as Autonomous struggled to stay afloat through the summer of 2020.
Then the FedEx grant was announced. Van Ludwig says the money was exactly what his company needed to adapt to a COVID-19 world.
“The Fedex grant allowed us to funnel funds into a Google Digital Marketing campaign,” he said.
“Without this money, I think we would have bumbled along… I think we’ll look back on this as a major turning point for our business.”
Van Ludwig has also revisited his furniture design work and says Autonomous has launched five new designs over the course of the pandemic.
Even with the move to a more digital age, however, Van Ludwig says he is determined to keep his storefront and business in Victoria.
“I think we have a lot of room for growth on Vancouver Island,” he said.
“I was the guy seven years ago saying we’re crazy for opening in Victoria, but I just see it as one of the nicest places to live in the world.”