By Eric Peterson | Jun 27, 2022
Farr West, Utah
Robert and Beth met while temporarily residing at an extended-stay lodging in Maryland.
Beth was working in defense contracts, and Robert was welding pipelines at the time. They fell in love -- Robert proposed after two weeks -- and started Invictus Steelworks together.
"We both traveled a lot for work," says Beth. "When we got married, we said, 'Well, this doesn't make sense for us to live separately all over the country. What can we do to combine our collective abilities?'"'
After Invictus Steelworks began with a focus on structural steel, a delayed construction project led to something of an epiphany.
"He went and cut up the roof supports for a gazebo that we had made and built some furniture," says Beth. "A month later when those contracts came, we turned them down. We've done furniture ever since."
Basic parson tables quickly evolved into custom jobs. "We discovered there was a huge market for high-end, sculptural tables," says Beth. "We no longer build any of the straight, parson-style tables."
Starting in 2016, Robert "spread his wings" with a number of unique designs, and the market responded. "By 2018, we were in the Architectural Digest Design Show in New York City," says Beth.
Every table is made to order, with options on the tabletop material and dimensions. "Our most popular design has always been our Cross tables," says Beth. "They're a technical build, so they're a little bit more expensive."
Robert's manufacturing method is a throwback. "He does everything by hand," says Beth. "We don't use high-tech machinery. We have no com like laser cutters or plasma tables. We have no computer-assisted design whatsoever."
Instead of digital tools, Robert uses soapstone to draw cuts on the steel before making them by hand. "He can take three-dimensional shapes in his head and spin them around," says Beth. "He can scale the same design to be anything from a coffee table to a console table, a dining table, a conference table -- he can scale it to any size."
The company sources U.S.-made steel due to the quality. "It's as clean as steel can be," says Beth. "When you're going into Chinese steel, with the impurities, it's a much slower process. You can get the same results, and it'll be the same table at the end of the day and you would never know the difference, but we would rather spend the money and get better quality."
Growth was steady until 2020 when COVID-19 stymied many customers, but Invictus was able to pivot to sneeze guards for restaurant customers. "We did over $100,000 of them in a matter of weeks."
Sales recovered in 2021 and slowed a bit in 2022. "We're still seven days a week, 18 hours a day, struggling to keep up," says Beth.
Challenges: "Everyone's concerned about the economy," says Beth. "Are people going to stop spending?"
There's also a challenge related to consumer perception. "People look at pictures and don't have a keen understanding of what a quality weld looks like," she says. "If it were wood, people are more familiar with woodworking processes and what a finished wood tabletop should look like."
Opportunities: "All of our sales are passive," says Beth. "I never know who's going to call me tomorrow. It could be a designer looking for a dining table for an A-lister in L.A. It could be a homeowner in Houston just looking to modernize their own home or furnish a new home."
Needs: Help. Beth says she and Robert work "18 hours a day, seven days a week" in Invictus' 2,400-square-foot shop. "I am spread super thin, and he's the only one who can design and build all this stuff," she explains. "In a perfect world, he would have someone to help him do his prep work and focus more on designs. He has a catalog of designs in his head that far exceeds anything we have done, but he doesn't have time to do it."
Market awareness is another need. "The biggest problem we have is being found. Think about it: People go onto Google and say, 'best table base' or 'black table base,' whatever it is they're looking for. There are only so many ways to describe a table, so when I go on Google I have to compete with Target and Walmart and IKEA and Ashley Furniture and Bloomingdale's -- all these people who have massive budgets for advertising. There's no small business that can compete."