Bednark Studio proves Brooklyn manufacturing is thinking big

March 29, 2019 Michael Stahl
Michael Bednark, founder and CEO. Photo courtesy of Bednark Studio
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Brooklyn-based design firm Bednark Studio launched 12 years ago in a Brooklyn apartment. In July, it will move into a space larger than a football field. That expansion reflects a kind of growth in the borough’s manufacturing district that defies expectations, outpacing the rest of the city.

The company specializes in “brand experiences” like pop-up shops, sets, displays and other promotional vehicles for clients like Nespresso, Nike, Google and more. In moving to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they take over a 62,000-square-foot space in the industrial park’s recently completed Green Manufacturing Center and will add 65 jobs over the next five years.

Through the July 1 move-in date, Bednark Studio will remain in its Bushwick workshop and office, about a third the size of their new digs. The space upgrade will spark peak productivity for the company, a business that CEO Michael Bednark founded in 2007.

“My dad was a great cabinetmaker, a woodworker his whole life,” said Bednark, 36, who after college started his career in set design for print and TV ads. Before long, Bednark was using his skills to construct sets on a kitchen island in his Williamsburg loft. He continued the work at another apartment in Gowanus, where he had a woodshop adjacent to his roommate’s band rehearsal area.

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As Bednark Studio’s client base and revenue grew, Bednark continued to hire new hands. Today, 75 full-time employees work out of the 22,000-square-foot space in Bushwick, scurrying about on the workshop floor or clicking away at laptops in the upstairs office.

Bednark Studios is en route to a major expansion. Eagle photo by Michael Stahl
Bednark Studio is en route to a major expansion. Eagle photo by Michael Stahl

Navy Yard ‘checks key boxes’ for Bednark

“Our mission is to stabilize and expand the manufacturing centers in New York,” said David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle. “A lot of those manufacturers are relatively small, so signing a lease of this scale, for this quality of company, is very exciting for us.”

Ready to expand again, Bednark said in a statement about his company’s latest move that the Navy Yard has “shown impressive growth, and it checks key boxes for us — the location, the amenities — and we see added potential in their new innovative tenants over the past few years. When we had the opportunity to move our headquarters there, it just clicked.”

The CEO told the Eagle that the Navy Yard also offers business-friendly rent rates, comparable to what he’s dishing out in Bushwick, as well as added security in lengthy leases. “No one gives you leases for more than, like, five years in Brooklyn,” Bednark said. “The landlords are a nightmare, and the prices are just super high.”

Bednark signed a 10-year least at the Navy Yard.

“We work really hard to make sure the rents here are affordable,” Ehrenberg said. “And when I say affordable, I don’t mean that they can just barely afford to pay that rent; I mean they can afford to pay that rent and continue to invest and grow the company.”

Bednark Studios specializes in “brand experiences,” like pop-up shops, sets, displays and other promotional vehicles. Photo courtesy of Bednark Studios
Bednark Studio specializes in “brand experiences,” like pop-up shops, sets, displays and other promotional vehicles. Photo courtesy of Bednark Studio

The Navy Yard’s occupancy rate is consistently above 90 percent, according to Ehrenberg, with approximately 250 current tenants listed on its website. Though its Building 28 in the Green Manufacturing Center, where Bednark Studio will reside, was completed two and a half years ago, Ehrenberg says the right occupant that required such a vast space had proved elusive — until now.

A sign of success for Brooklyn manufacturing

Retaining manufacturing companies bred in Brooklyn, like Bednark Studio, is vital to the local economy, Ehrenberg said, especially because the sector generates middle-class jobs.

According to a Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce study from 2017, 37 percent of all New York City manufacturing businesses are located in Brooklyn, with the sector’s five percent growth in the borough slightly outpacing that of the city’s over the previous seven years.

With average annual salaries of $52,000, manufacturing industry jobs provide wages above city- and borough-wide averages.

The bustling expanse of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane.
The bustling expanse of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane.

“Beloved family-owned businesses that have existed for generations and entrepreneurial start-ups alike continue to invest and grow here because of Brooklyn’s access to talent,” Hector Batista, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email. He credited the borough’s “thriving creative industries” and “critical support services” with the borough’s business retention capabilities.

The value of the Brooklyn brand isn’t lost on Bednark, whose company t-shirts boast of its home borough. Brooklyn roots, and the access they provide, are key to the business’ success.

“It’s about finding the people that are here, that have the right mentality and attention to detail,” Bednark said. “I have no interest in leaving Brooklyn.”

Michael Stahl is a freelance writer and editor. A former high school English teacher, he has written for Rolling Stone, Vice, the Village Voice, Narratively, Splitsider, Outside Magazine and other publications.

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