Fashioning profits at Western Services

Denise Wells-McMillion and her brother, Tony Wells.
Going global: Denise Wells-McMillon and her brother, Tony Wells.

By Monica Mendoza

After 40 years in the upholstery business, Tony Wells and his sister, Denise Wells-McMillon, have found themselves partnered with one of America’s top clothing designers, Michael Kors.

And it’s a partnership that has zebra print all over it.

The owners of Western Services, a small Colorado Springs upholstery and furniture restoration business, are making zebra-print benches and rugs for the designer, who uses them to display clothing in his retail and department stores around the world.

In recent months, Kors has stepped up the orders to outfit his new retail stores opening in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Western Services in the past week has sent out 51 zebra-print benches to new Kors stores, said Tony Wells, president of Western Services.

“He’s (Kors) adding new stores like crazy, and all over the world,” Wells said. “It’s a great economic barometer as to where things are going now. If they are expanding, if they are seeing this as a good time to put more stores in, it’s a good sign of things to come.”

Western Services began working with fashion designers in 2004, when a St. Louis, Mo., company that designs department store displays for designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger called on it for a big order. The Missouri outfit needed 2,000 orange leather benches for Michael Kors’ clothing displays, and it needed them in three months.

“We were able to pull it through somehow — it was an enormous job,” Wells said.

Once that order was complete, Western Services began working directly with Kors representatives. Then came the order for the zebra benches.

The benches, it should be noted, aren’t made from real zebra hides.

Cowhides from Brazil are dyed off-white and zebra stripes are stenciled on. Western Services covers the benches of various sizes and sends them to the retail stores. The company also is making 8-foot-by-10-foot zebra rugs for Kors. The last shipment went to Tokyo.

Kors isn’t Western Services’ only big-name client. The company just finished a project for Beverly Hills handbag designer Judith Leiber, and it did all of the leather booth seating in the Ralph Lauren restaurant in Chicago.

“Here is a small, family business that is going national and worldwide,” Denise Wells-McMillon said.

Western Services was started in 1957 by two brothers. Then in 1967, Leo Wells, Tony and Denise’s father, bought into the company. He assumed full ownership with Tony in 1971.

Business boomed through the late 1960s and early 1970s with contracts to restore furniture at military installations in the region. When the military contracts waned, the company turned its attention to refinishing and restoring residential pieces.

The company operates out of a 14,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.

In recent years, Western Services has made a name for itself locally with its custom seating in restaurants, churches and auditoriums, including work at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Marriott hotel. Every restaurant in The Broadmoor features custom booths by Western Services.

“There are big booth manufacturers, big hotel and motel room furniture manufacturers, and it’s impossible for a small company to compete,” Tony Wells said.” However, on a custom level, when a company is looking for smaller projects that need fitted booths, we are able to fill that niche.”

The company has maintained steady sales, generating up to $2 million in annual revenue. Denise Wells-McMillion expects to grow the commercial and retail side of the business in the coming year. She said the company, which has six employees, will continue to restore individual pieces for local customers.

“We do it all,” Denise Wells-McMillon said. “Most customers who have been with us forever want to have Grandpa’s chair redone and restored. Definitely, we still do all of that.”