Bloomfield-based Salamander Designs has remained healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, in more ways than one.
Not only has its 45-employee workforce remained virus free, founder and President Salvatore Carrabba says his business has also been growing.
Salamander designs and manufactures furniture custom made to integrate audiovisual (AV) technology, for both residential and commercial settings. With companies large and small shifting their staffs to working remotely, and with more meetings being held virtually, an increasing number of companies in recent months have begun creating spaces for AV conferencing and collaboration.
That usually means bringing in crews to run wires and mount AV equipment — such as monitors, speakers and video cameras — on walls or ceilings, which not only is costly and time-consuming but sometimes can require permits and structural improvements. Salamander builds the technology right into its furniture, Carrabba said.
“Our customers love it because it’s a faster way to deploy this technology,” with the added benefit that furniture can be moved, he said.
‘Follow your passion’
Salamander, which has an 85,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 811 Blue Hills Ave. — formerly the site of a Bernie’s Audio Video TV and Appliances distribution center — began making furniture for commercial uses only five years ago.
Carrabba founded the company in 1995, three years after graduating from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, with a bachelor’s degree in business and sculpture.
With a father and grandfather who were doctors, there “was family pressure to get into medicine,” Carrabba said.
So, after Skidmore, he enrolled at the University of Hartford and began taking pre-med courses.
At the same time, he had started Salamander Designs as a side business.
“I love building things,” he said.
He was also into music and high-fidelity audio equipment, and designed and built a cabinet to hold his equipment. It included wood shelves — some with air vents and all with vibration dampers — held together by threaded rods.
“It caught people’s attention,” he said, and he eventually began building cabinets in his father’s garage to sell. Because the shelving system was modular and highly flexible in how it could be assembled, its popularity grew.
Ultimately, his love of building and the demand for his cabinets made Salamander Designs his career.
“My dad said, ‘follow your passion,’ ” Carrabba said.
New furniture for new technology
Today, customers can order custom furniture directly through the company’s website, salamanderdesigns.com, or through AV retailers such as Best Buy or Crutchfield. Carrabba noted that The Audio Store, a home-theater store on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, was Salamander’s first retailer and continues to sell its pieces, one of more than 2,000 independent AV retailers selling its furniture worldwide.
Commercial sales are promoted by Scott Srolis, Salamander’s vice president of sales and marketing, and his team, and by independent resellers of AV technology. That includes Windsor-based Carousel Industries, an information technology management and integration company.
Technology companies also have recognized the value of working with Salamander, asking it to design furniture specifically for new AV equipment. Sony asked Salamander to design a cabinet to hide its 4K Ultra Short Throw Laser Projector. The cabinet allows the projector to rest flush with the top and has a built-in cooling system.
“It’s a case where we developed a new piece of furniture for a new piece of technology,” Carrabba said.
Salamander did the same for Cisco Systems Inc., the multinational technology conglomerate based in San Jose, Calif., developing a mount for one of its camera systems.
Chris Bottger, who directs workplace experience strategy for the Americas for Cisco’s device technology group, said Salamander has been developing furniture for its technology for years, but this was the first time Cisco requested help.
“What we particularly like about the work they do is it is geared toward our AV technology, but it is geared to look good,” he said. “They can make it look aesthetically really, really good, but it’s functional as well.”
In November, Salamander announced that its FPS Series Mobile Stands, designed for the Microsoft Surface Hub 2S, had been fully certified and authorized by Microsoft.
Carrabba said Salamander makes many of the components for its furniture, but also works with some subcontractors, mostly located in New England.
“We are doing more in-house manufacturing,” he said, adding, “We do all the assembly here.”
In most cases, he said, Salamander can deliver an assembled piece in less than a week.
He declined to share sales or revenue figures for Salamander, which is privately held.
The Hartford Courant reported in 2013 that Carrabba projected the company would have sales between $7 million and $8 million that year, but that was before Salamander entered the commercial market.
According to a report issued in October by market research firm 360 Research Reports, the “entertainment centers and TV stands” market was valued at nearly $2.6 billion this year and is expected to grow to nearly $3.8 billion by the end of 2026.
CE Pro magazine, which reports on the consumer-electronics industry, has listed Salamander Designs as the brand leader for electronics furniture for the past 16 years.
Carrabba said he expects Salamander to be busy because of the pandemic. He noted that his company is working with a Hartford-based insurance company that plans to add AV technology to more than 1,000 meeting rooms over the next five years. Salamander also is collaborating with Zoom to develop the optimal layout for technology in conference rooms to host virtual meetings.
“We are benefiting from opportunities in the commercial space,” he said. “It’s a very large market, with lots of conference rooms being built every day.”