A Whole New Seating Arrangement - Black Enterprise

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Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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Classroom furniture for kids K-6 has gone high-tech, thanks to Burnett Nelson, president and owner of the 101 Group.

Launched in 1991, the 101 Group designs and manufactures instructional furniture with a futuristic twist. Last year, Nelson’s company earned more than $275,000 in revenues. This year, he expects to exceed $500,000.

“Our basic theme has been to design the classroom of the future–a classroom that will allow the teacher or the instructor to be a facilitator instead of a lecturer,” says Nelson. “That means the furniture is moveable and has many functions.”

Picture this: computer tables with pop-out CD storage racks, a pull-out keyboard shelf and a pull-out mouse pad shelf for right- and left-handed students. There’s also a desk that seats four kids, and comes complete with reversible panels that allow the students to use one side as a multiplication chart, and the other to explore a map of the United States.

The eight-employee firm also creates storage cabinets and dramatic play centers, which include a kitchen facility complete with a microwave, stove, refrigerator, iron and ironing board. All the furniture is made of wood. Prices range from $125 to $600.

Nelson, 46, worked as a money manager for 15 years before starting his company. After talking with educational experts about transforming these toys into instructional tools Nelson designed a prototype for a multifunctional classroom table.

“It had unique features that included buckets at the ends to hold blocks and the top of the table could slide out and reverse,” says Nelson. “I also designed an attachment to the table which allowed you to raise it up. It was magnetic on one side and used Leggos on the other.”

In 1993, Nelson carried his prototype to a national Head Start conference in Indianapolis. He took several orders but had no capital to finance its mass production. That same year, Nelson drew up a 50-page business plan and with, orders from his prototype in hand, he applied for a bank loan. After being turned down, he sought the help of private investors and managed to raise $25,000. “I just went knocking on doors and began having investment meetings in hotels and restaurants,” says Nelson. With his new financing, he purchased equipment and leased office and manufacturing space.

In 1995, Nelson went back to the bank after receiving a larger order from a local school district, and got it to commit to approving a $30,000 loan–if he could clear up his minor credit problems, which he did within 48 hours. One of his biggest orders that year involved designing and manufacturing all of the educational furniture for the TSU/HISD Laboratory School in Houston, headed by Herschel L. Williams, principal.

Additional clients include other schools in the Houston Independent School District, Head Start and school systems in various states including Texas, Florida and Illinois.

Nelson says he anticipates expanding the business to include other items. He is now working on a customized media center for churches plus a high-end wine storage unit that he plans to sell retail.

The 101 Group, 3820

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