BEDFORD - Tom Mereen is a true small businessman.
A native of Connecticut, Mereen has been in the hardwoods industry for more than 30 years. After years of working for other companies, in 2004 he established Bedford Forest Products, a log-sourcing and export business that distributes hardwood logs, lumber and veneer to mills domestically and abroad.
He followed that up when he and Italian associate Luigi DeNardi, whom he had met through international trade connections, established DeNardi Import & Export in December 2008.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)
Tom Mereen, owner of DeNardi Import & Export, stands near a walnut china cabinet that was made in Italy. DeNardi’s primary showroom is in Lambert’s Gallery and Custom Framing, 117 S. Juliana St., Bedford.
Both of the businesses are independently owned.
"I am a strong believer in small business and trying new things. When I believe in something, I will ride with it until I see it won't work," said Mereen, who received the 2011 Innovation Award from the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce.
Mereen, who moved to Bedford 24 years ago, was named Western Pennsylvania Small Business Administration Exporter of the Year in 2010 and the Small Business Exporter of the Year in 2009 by the St. Francis University Small Business Development Center.
Mereen said his latest venture was a spinoff from Bedford Forest Products.
"I saw an opportunity to bring a unique product to the American marketplace and to expand my related business," Mereen said.
DeNardi Import & Export has both a local and European element.
"He takes walnut trees grown in Bedford County that are sent to Italy and handcrafted and brought back here to sell," said Kellie Goodman Shaffer, chamber executive director. "It is local wood made into exquisite handcrafted furniture by Italian artisans."
"We use regional hardwoods because of the quality and specificity of it. We call it 'New World wood, Old World craftsmanship,'" Mereen said.
Mereen said 40 percent of the wood used to make the furniture comes from Bedford County. The wood is sent to Belsano de Grappa in northern Italy.
"The walnut is steamed to even out the color and dried and the flitches [boards] are sold to furniture manufacturers. The board is ripped and cross cut to get optimal yield from the flitch. There is less waste and more utilization," Mereen said.
DeNardi Import & Export has taken the abilities, patterns and dedication of generations of Italian craftsmen to turn out high-quality furniture, Mereen said.
"The furniture is beautifully crafted and is heirloom-quality furniture. It is like having a showpiece in your home," Goodman said.
"It is simple but not ornate. It is classic Italian design," Mereen said.
DeNardi Import & Export offers tables with drop leaf extensions, desks with fold-down fronts, dressers, armoires, curio cabinets and credenzas. Tables are the biggest seller, making up about 15 percent of sales, Mereen said.
The pieces range from $500 to $3,500, with the average price about $1,600.
DeNardi's primary showroom is in Lambert's Gallery and Custom Framing, 117 S. Juliana St., Bedford, with a second showroom in Frederick, Md.
Mereen admits sales have been going a little slower than he hoped.
"I've sold 40 percent of what I brought over, about 35 pieces. It has been very hard. These are very trying times. The economy has been a problem," Mereen said. "When we started, we were hoping to move a container [85 pieces] every six months, but that is not happening right now."
Mereen said he doing well locally.
"My customer base is middle-age people, a lot of business owners, people with established homes who want to upgrade their furniture," Mereen said.
Despite a tricky economy, Mereen remains optimistic about his business.
"If the economy picks up, the furniture will sell. No one knows what the new economy will be. Most products of cheap quality will not work again for a long time. This furniture is a good idea. 'Will it work?' is the question. We were willing to make an investment to try it," Mereen said. "We feel there is a market for high quality handcrafted furniture."