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The Plan We Use for Running Our Woodworking Business

25. September 2019 10:58

By: John Lindsay, New Breed Furniture LLC
As readers who have been following me so far know, I find this home-grown, five-part business organizational tool essential in managing my growing wood manufacturing business. The system is called "A.M.O.R.I." - A is for administration, M is for marketing and sales, O is for operations, R is for research and development, and I is for Investments and Intellectual Property.

Let's run through an update on of how New Breed Furniture’s current business development projects fit under this system, one letter at a time. Hopefully, you will find some insights into the AMORI system through these concrete examples showing how the system plays out in a real-world woodworking business. And maybe some of these specific ideas could even work for your company. 

So let's start with A for Administration, and look at the development of New Breed Furniture's Discount Policy for Volume Purchases.

A - Discount Policy

When New Breed first broke into the furniture world, we were a very small fish in a large and red ocean. More on red and blue oceans later (see Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, published by Harvard Business Review), but let’s just say there was and still is a lot of competition, which we were and are ready for.

What we weren’t ready for and aware of was the vast network of middlemen/women we would have to cater to. What we had to master was our wholesale and retail pricing.

If we wanted to place our brand new New Breed Furniture into high-quality chic furniture stores, we would have to be good little wholesalers and offer our work at 40%-50% off (sometimes as much as 55% off for floor models) the final sale price (M.S.R.P.). So we did it for the first few years, always at a loss because the orders were always small.

We believed, rightly so, that this was key to getting our products out in front of the right people, helping us to gain traction as a brand, opening other doors in hospitality and commercial commissions. In short, I wouldn’t do anything different, and that includes eventually doing everything differently when I decided to pull focus away from our original wholesale offerings and launch our own online store.

This second phase allows us to keep our prices down for the end user while increasing our RPT (revenues per transaction). So, now the name of the game is crafting the right discount policy, one that incentivizes the right kind of customers while protecting our RPT. The truth is that we just don’t have that much of a discount to offer, maxing out at a third off MSRP, rather than 50%, 

for the rare client that can deliver massive annual sales. Our new strategy is to go after direct sales, leaving the middlemen/women behind.

So here’s New Breed Furniture’s new discounting policy: a long list of the New Breed family, including repeat customers, designers, a  few supportive retailers, industry professionals, and makers will be issued their own representative code, that when used will offer a two-fold discount/credit, starting at 8%-16%, in which the user of the code gets an immediate 8% discount, while the representative get the same amount in future credit.

This percentage increases with the amount of purchases made under any given representative. Now, for example, if a client like our beloved repeat customer Cortney Bishop Design places the order themselves, using her own representative code, then she gets to enjoy both the discount and the credit for future purchases, making for a more conventional wholesale experience, but not quite totally the same. 

Level annual sales discount

  1.  $0-$24 →8%-16%
  2.  $24G →9%-18%
  3.  $48G →10%-20%
  4. $96G →11%-22%
  5. $192G →12%-24%
  6. $384G →13%-26% 
  7. $768G →14%-28% 
  8. $1,536G →15%-30% 
  9. $3,072G →16%-32%

We're on the letter M of the AMORI system. Hopefully, through these concrete examples showing how the system plays out in a real-world woodworking business, you may find specific ideas could even work for your company.

M - Coupon Design and Distribution

New Breed Furniture just finished paying off a Printa Systems Screen Printer (www.printa.com) and more in an early effort to make possible in house promotional materials and merchandise. The first projects will be shirts, postcards, flyers, and smaller posters. We have been working on a great stylebook for all these printing projects and more, including patches, buttons, stickers, and pins, but it was when I was working on new business card designs that this whole discount policy I previously discussed found a cool new expression and marketing idea. (Click for larger view of image.)Our first business cards were a bi-fold design (2” x 7”) with the front featuring a close up of our Petalply joint illustrated with black lines, four shades of white, and a cut out of wood grain where the dowel ends are. The inside of the card features what we called the “Galleria” in which our custom font spelling New Breed Furniture Network diminishes in perspective with line illustrations of a selection of furniture in the foreground.

With this new design, the line illustrated products will be on the front side, with the inside of the cards dedicated to a personalized cards for the list of the New Breed family described above on the right side, and the left card with tear away center being a New Breed coupon complete with the dedicated discount code also described before.

So imagine getting a box of these business cards that contain coded coupon cards that you can share with anyone you may know that may be interested in New Breed Furniture, and as the sales are placed, your New Breed Bucks accrue, allowing you to obtain more and more furniture for less and less. I consider this type of marketing a pre-emptive sales representative recruitment strategy.

Without even asking strategic enthusiasts will be giving an opportunity to fill the role left by the former retailers. This approach is in line with a continuum of business plans we are developing that blur the lines between consumers and producers, customers and salespeople, employees and owner-operators, but more on this in later episodes.

O - Dynamic Shop Design (D.S.D.)

Currently, New Breed operates out of a 4,000 square foot building with a full 4,000 square foot basement, and an added 2,000 square feet of combined garage and driveway. If we were to set up our machines and production with a traditional approach, dedicating space to permanent setups, we would quickly have a space shortage problem when larger orders or multiple orders are in progress.

Thanks to a conscious effort to offer solid wood furniture that relied on lower-tech manufacturing, we have been able to produce our work with-out cumbersome CNC machines and space-hogging equipment. This allows us to have all the machines and workbenches on wheels, in fact an effort has been made to develop storage solutions for our hand equipment and supplies to also be made mobile, thus we are able to increase our production space by an order of magnitude.

We have dedicated a small percentage of our floor space to be an area to consolidate inactive machines/benches/storage, freeing up the main production space to be organized daily for the tasks at hand. Also, by organizing the work into monthly batches, we are able to get the most out of each setup. The difference is amazing. Just from a material handling perspective, the efficiencies are stunning. Instead of the lumber going from one dedicated machine to the next, often ping-ponging back and for, zigzagging all over the shop, the lumber gets centrally placed, and the machines come to it, saving both our backs and our sanity.

The best part is how with each breakdown, the area gets a more thorough emptying out the area, cleaning out of the inevitable junk that collects in any workspace. The production space takes on the feeling of a Dojo, and the work enjoys a more serious concentration thanks to the lack of distracting clutter.


R - Abacus Desks

Often our new product development is born out of opportunity and necessity. When we were offered a chance to collaborate with AH Interiors out of Bozeman MT, on an exciting commercial project, Jelt HQ, we jumped at the chance to throw our hat in the ring and design a new line of desks and tables to go with a custom credenza that spanned close to 20 feet.

Liking what AH Interiors had first presented us, we used some of their details to inspire a new take on the Petalply system, and so we are now in production on a new line of desks we call the Abacus Desks, inspired by the classic trestle table. These desks have horizontal 2” dowels that serve as both the trestle like structure, holding the legs solidly square, while also facilitating sliding file cabinets that can run along the dowels like an abacus. The lower dowel will also make for a unique kind of footrest, and for the first time we will be offering motorized adjustable height desks that incorporate the Abacus file cabinets.

I - Retail Work Space and First Friday Furniture Festivals

Currently, we are converting a 2,000 square foot garage and enclosed driveway to what will be a finished show room space, along with another 1,200 square feet currently inside the shop. Once this remodeling is complete, and we have the floor pieces ready we will be advertising a regular monthly event, the First Friday Furniture Festival showcasing our work, other merchandise we create with our screen printing facility, fresh sushi and fruit, wood themed locally crafted beer and coffee, and eclectic live music.

Thanks to our Dynamic Shop Design mentioned previously, we are able to convert our work space into a disco palace, facilitating both furniture shows and dance parties. These events will be targeting an exclusive class of designers, industry professionals, and enthusiasts. The goal is to host a regular gathering that will be sinked with our monthly productions, allowing us to share our work fresh out of the oven, while gathering a concentration of design rock stars and influencers. I will definitely be sharing more on this in upcoming episodes.

John Lindsay is President of New Breed Furniture LLC. Reach him at john@newbreedfurniture.com 847-946-7867. www.newbreedfurniture.com

Adopting A Holistic Approach to Finishing - Step Number 1

18. September 2019 17:14

By Joe Baggett, Innovative Wood Process Solutions

Before we get started with Step One in the finishing cycle, I want to emphasize why this is the starting point. Two reasons:

  1. Finishing usually creates the most perceived value in finished wood products, and
  2. A strategy at the outset should align with creating a finish that can be branded and marketed, and that gets your customers excited so it is imperative that it must occur at this point. If it occurs later on, there most likely will be issues with permitting or application.

Step One is about creating the performance, aesthetics and value in a finish that gets people excited. The big starting point here is what comes first.

I would encourage this part of the discovery and development process not be connected, or disconnected as much as possible, from the current state of any competitor or other wood finisher. It should be based solely on creating a coating system that is game-changing and difference-making.

The main questions to develop this strategy are below. I would encourage this discovery to be planned and executed as a project involving Sale/marketing, Engineering, Finishing, Production and Executive Leadership.

As the questions are answered I would also suggest developing a one-page document of the coatings strategy that references hard samples supporting the answers to the questions below.  I am very grateful for KCMA for their leadership in developing finishing performance standards. These standards are a great starting place and for many is great place to establish coating performance that meets their strategic needs however some coatings strategies demand higher performance than KCMA standards.

 Holistic Wood Finishing Process Cycle

 This is great place to start and will help give context to answering the questions.

Performance: 

  • What scratch/abrasion resistance would create more, better or new value to current or future markets? Typically, a nickel mar test is the starting point for this standard but there may be a higher demand for high performing coating needs.
  • What film build would provide that “feeling” your customers would love when they touch it? This can be objectively measured by dry film build gauges in mils. Along with the film build how soft to the touch does in need to be?

Moisture/Chemical Resistance-

  • Does the KCMA spec suffice or is there added value to higher resistance to moisture and chemical exposure? This the typical edge soak test or in come cases being able to clean it with strong solvent such as acetone.

Elasticity/Adhesion/Creep-

  • As wood expands and contracts the coating needs to have some elasticity and creep without breaking the coating especially around sharp corners and profiles. What level is needed for the targeted coating? Also, sharp corners and profiles present an issue here for any coating. Defining the level the edge can be slightly broken in the whitewood goes hand in hand here with coating development. Usually a .020” rounding on sharp corners and edges is a minimum to prevent the coating from breaking in the field. Maintaining inner coat adhesion and adhesion to the whitewood is the goal here.

Color fastness/period of time-

How long do the stains, paints, clears need to maintain color after exposure to light especially UV and other elements light before they yellow, fade, flip, or turn amber?

Aesthetics: Stains, Paints, Clear Coats

  • Stains- Does the stain need to be more transparent/translucent or opaque, does the stain need to have depth in itself? People perceive stains differently depending on the market. Is the stain to cover up white wood color, change/tone whitewood color, bring out the grain, cover the grain, can any sanding marks be visible.
  • Paints- Do the paints need to have clear depth on top of them or can the depth of clarity exist with a colored final coat? Does the feel of the painted parts in the hand need to be super soft to the touch especially with high gloss? Specifically, how long would the parts be warrantied not to yellow or flip colors?
  • Clears- How much film build is needed to create the target depth of clarity on top of stain or paint this should be objectified in DFT mils (dry film build)? The dry film build will always have an impact on the moisture/chemical resistance and elasticity. Too little will allow moisture to enter in areas beginning in corners, joints etc. too much (beyond the coatings rating in WFT/DFT and the coating may crack or craze after final curing and temperature/humidity change (this is also applicable to paint). How clear does the film build need to be?

Gloss/SheenWhere will you set the target for gloss and sheen? Usually a 60 scale is used for this but establishing a sheen or gloss level is important. Sometimes people perceive the finish solely on the gloss level. But this is changing. The gloss level needs to be defined on a scale such as the 60-scale set within a range. Just as a reference high gloss is 90 plus, medium gloss is 20-30, and dull or low gloss is 0-10.

Depth of clarity- What is the target depth of clarity for the coating being developed? This how far the clear part of the coating sits on top of the stain or paint in dry film mil thickness. It may be determined by visual acuity but set in mils of DFT dry film build. This can also be measured with a dry film gauge in between coats. 

Once all the questions have been answered, make a strategic summary in a one-page document. The main question here is what is or would be important enough to the customer (end user, builder, architect, distributor etc.) that would drive the value of the coating to be game changing/difference making? Sometimes they don’t know what that is until you put something great in their hands. I know sometimes there is a perception that a market will not bear the cost of high performing coatings but taking a great coating system to market is how that changes. In the following articles of this series we will cover how high performing coatings systems can be applied in a cost-effective manner. 

Joe Baggett is President of Innovative Wood Process  Solutions. Reach him at iwpsolutions19@gmail.com,    817-682-3631. www.iwps.biz

A Systematic Approach to Running a Small Furniture Operation: How I Use A.M.O.R.I.

13. September 2019 11:35

By: John Lindsay, New Breed Furniture LLC

 Here's a quick review of the management system acronym that I have been featuring in this blog: A.M.O.R.I. 
As readers who have been following me so far know, I find this home-grown, five-part business organizational tool essential in managing my growing wood manufacturing business. The system is called "A.M.O.R.I." - A is for administration, M is for marketing and sales, O is for operations, R is for research and development, and I is for Investments and Intellectual Property.

In the next series of five blogs, we'll run through an update on of how New Breed Furniture’s current business development projects fit under this system, one letter at a time. Hopefully, you will find some insights into the AMORI system through these concrete examples showing how the system plays out in a real-world woodworking business. And maybe some of these specific ideas could even work for your company. 

So let's start with A for Administration, and look at the development of New Breed Furniture's Discount Policy for Volume Purchases.

A - Discount Policy

When New Breed first broke into the furniture world, we were a very small fish in a large and red ocean. More on red and blue oceans later (see Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, published by Harvard Business Review), but let’s just say there was and still is a lot of competition, which we were and are ready for.

What we weren’t ready for and aware of was the vast network of middlemen/women we would have to cater to. What we had to master was our wholesale and retail pricing.

If we wanted to place our brand new New Breed Furniture into high-quality chic furniture stores, we would have to be good little wholesalers and offer our work at 40%-50% off (sometimes as much as 55% off for floor models) the final sale price (M.S.R.P.). So we did it for the first few years, always at a loss because the orders were always small.

We believed, rightly so, that this was key to getting our products out in front of the right people, helping us to gain traction as a brand, opening other doors in hospitality and commercial commissions. In short, I wouldn’t do anything different, and that includes eventually doing everything differently when I decided to pull focus away from our original wholesale offerings and launch our own online store.

This second phase allows us to keep our prices down for the end user while increasing our RPT (revenues per transaction). So, now the name of the game is crafting the right discount policy, one that incentivizes the right kind of customers while protecting our RPT. The truth is that we just don’t have that much of a discount to offer, maxing out at a third off MSRP, rather than 50%, 

for the rare client that can deliver massive annual sales. Our new strategy is to go after direct sales, leaving the middlemen/women behind.

So here’s New Breed Furniture’s new discounting policy: a long list of the New Breed family, including repeat customers, designers, a  few supportive retailers, industry professionals, and makers will be issued their own representative code, that when used will offer a two-fold discount/credit, starting at 8%-16%, in which the user of the code gets an immediate 8% discount, while the representative get the same amount in future credit.

This percentage increases with the amount of purchases made under any given representative. Now, for example, if a client like our beloved repeat customer Cortney Bishop Design places the order themselves, using her own representative code, then she gets to enjoy both the discount and the credit for future purchases, making for a more conventional wholesale experience, but not quite totally the same. 

Level annual sales discount

  1.  $0-$24 →8%-16%
  2.  $24G →9%-18%
  3.  $48G →10%-20%
  4. $96G →11%-22%
  5. $192G →12%-24%
  6. $384G →13%-26% 
  7. $768G →14%-28% 
  8. $1,536G →15%-30% 
  9. $3,072G →16%-32%

Next time we'll look at the M in AMORI, Marketing and Sales - and talk about New Breed Furniture's approach to coupon design and distribution. 

A Holistic Approach to Finishing

27. August 2019 10:38

By Joe Baggett

I am reminded of a scene from the old movie Unforgiven where Clint Eastwood looking to exact revenge walks into a saloon and asks who owns it. The bar tender raises his hand and claims to be the owner, and Eastwood shoots him dead.

Gene Hackman who plays a corrupt sheriff exclaims that Eastwood just shot an unarmed man, to which Eastwood replies, “He should have armed himself.” To remain cutting edge in finishing we need to always “be armed” with the best information and questions.

In the first couple of articles we focused on the “How" questions we ask and the ways they shape our worlds. We also noted how some parts of the woodworking industry have become so specialized that they are their own world.

Don’t get stuck unarmed in an obsolete world. Let’s remember the best answers come from the best questions, and the best questions provide the deepest understanding.

We will start with finishing as it always seems to be the most popular area of concern. The future isn’t what it used to be. Industrial wood finishing in regards to chemicals and equipment has changed more in the last 25 years than it had in the previous 100. You can expect it to continue to outpace the rate of change for other parts of the wood industry due to increasing environmental regulations, demand for higher performance, usability, and the effort to lower costs.

In the last five to 10 years there have been major coatings and technological developments in curing and application, so the future will most likely never be what it used to be. That's why you should adopt a holistic approach to stay abreast of technological developments that can create the highest value for your wood finishing processes.

Some may question if there is a high-level holistic process that really applies to all wood finishers. I would say yes, unequivocally.  Let me say that every year I hear or experience first-hand wood finishers who order equipment or make plans to move to a new coating and don’t do the environmental due diligence and or don’t develop a coating that performs at a high enough level to meet the customer's expectations.

Sometimes the equipment waits for long periods of time before it can be used due to environmental permitting. If the finishing journey doesn’t start at the starting point, eventually the environmental regulatory agency or the customer will bring it back to that starting point.

That said, to be a leader in finishing and create the highest value, every question in regard to a successful finishing journey is best asked from the standpoint of what would be game-changing and revolutionary in regard to creating the highest value for the organization and the customer. 

A finishing journey that starts by asking how others are succeeding in finishing and then seeks to emulate them,  assumes too much.  The value of another’s experience is to give us hope not, to tell us how or whether to proceed.

Holistic Wood Finishing Process Cycle

No great finishing system was ever created by copying another finishing system. That said, many small- to medium-sized wood finishing operations who want to scale up don’t start at the starting point. Sometimes they don’t even realize the environmental permitting they follow. I have seen shops make major coatings plans and investments before considering it. This occurs with larger wood finishing operations as well though less often.

The good news is there have been more innovations in coating formulations, coating application and curing technology and environmental controls in the past few years. Harnessing these innovations using a holistic approach is the key. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that following a holistic process like this with good questions and understanding will take too long and cost too much. If that is a concern, I want to share a few good reasons for why it is better to use holistic approach:

a. Most wood finishers don’t know their target and true transfer efficiency or track it on a regular basis. Just like rough mills live and die by hardwood yield the best finishing operations live and die by transfer efficiency.

b. An estimated 80% of the perceived value in finished wood products comes from the performance and aesthetics of the finish. The average amount of time, effort, understanding and organization in wood finishing operations isn’t proportionate to the perceived value.

c. The majority of accounts/customers that are lost due to quality are issues are classified as finishing defects.

d. Finishing equipment has the highest rate of obsolescence in cost and time compared to other woodworking machinery.

e. More wood products are being sold unfinished than ever before or are being purchased as pre-finished components then sold with other components and larger assemblies.

f. Ignoring environmental regulations and permitting thinking that it costs too much will always result in higher costs and potential other business/operational problems down the road.

g. The highest value finishes are the ones that help create a brand and have the value and performance that get and keep customers excited. This isn’t a cheap fast process.

Let’s look at how to get started with the holistic process in the graphic above. Let me first say that this process is most successfully done with a combination of leadership and technical knowledge and that is why there is an abstract picture of leadership in the middle of the graphic.

1. Start every question in the context of what is game-changing and difference-making; first ascertain the value, performance, aesthetics, and cost that would make a great finish for the wood products that are being brought to market. What finish would help make a difference in the brand? If the new or revised finish doesn’t do these things it probably won’t make that big of a difference.

2. Have discussions with several coatings suppliers, equipment suppliers, and other design and technical specialists. Engage the marketing, brand, product development, and manufacturing leaders in the organization to develop key insights. Use third-party labs to perform tests. Sometimes for high performing finishes, these test results can be used as marketing materials. What we want to do is develop a winning strategy for finishing.

3. Make up a one-page document that states how the winning finish will perform, aesthetically appear/feel and what value it will have in cost to manufacture and what the customer would be willing pay for in the context of experiencing a great finish. It helps to make this as objective as possible.

When this process isn’t used many people just ask how can we do what we have been doing better? Very seldom does an improvement of an existing finishing system in simple formulation or application make a big enough difference to be a difference-maker or game-changer.  I encourage everyone who has a stake in creating game-changing/difference-making finishing systems to create something new! The next four articles will dive into specifics for each step in the holistic process from the graphic above.

Joe Baggett is President of Innovative Wood Process  Solutions. Reach him at iwpsolutions19@gmail.com,    817-682-3631. www.iwps.biz

The Cure For Jack of All Trades Mania Broken Down

7. August 2019 21:47

By: John Lindsay, New Breed Furniture LLC
In my last entry I shared an acronym I came up with that helps simplify what any kind of business owner needs to focus on, and here it is: 

Administration

M  Marketing and Sales

O  Operations

R  Research and Development

Investment and Intellectual Property

But before I give an in-depth explanation, my editor suggests I explain a little about
my own woodworking history. 

As the owner and principal designer of New Breed Furniture LLC, I have been developing for the last ten years a complete line of furniture including chairs, stools, benches, side tables, coffee tables, dining tables, conference tables, desks, dressers, credenzas, consoles, shelving systems and more all based on one beautiful innovation, the Petalply knuckle joint.

This discovery came after close to a year of research and development working with hundreds of 1/10th scale models and full-scale prototypes, searching for a wood-centric manufacturing system that also made for a great design language. Happily, something truly original and beautiful was realized. Structural components such as legs, arms, and stretchers combine and rotate around a structural dowel/tenon, maximizing glue surface while stabilizing each component, eliminating cupping or bowing of the wood. 

The tabletops defy the norm by not merely sitting over a base, but rather by spanning between component parts, resulting in a fully integrated monolithic structure. Add to that the creative use of penetrations in each piece that both allow for seasonal wood movement while freeing light and space to travel through and around each piece, creating a highly sculptural experience.

The effect is an amazingly strong structure that proves to be eye-catching, truly an example of beautiful forms defined by function. The shapes of the different components resemble the petal of a flower, and the layered glued components with alternating grain act like a muscular alpha plywood, thus its name “Petalply”. 

Of course my work includes other joinery techniques, each chosen because they are the best solution to the varied challenges of building furniture for so many situations, such as tongue and groove as the principle joint for all the case work, for both boxes and drawers. And then there is also my fascination with thick alternating solid wood veneers that are pressed and engineered to be both stable and durable, combining three, five, and seven veneers for different applications like doors and table slabs.

But it has been the Petalply joint that has been my main interest for this many years, so much so that it is almost embarrassing. I’m kidding when I say that, but there is a strange relationship in which I feel I am more its apprentice than I its inventor. Please forgive me if I belabor and gush about this work, but its been truly pleasurable pleasing customers employing it for so long.

The truth is, I’m yet to get sick of the process, I’m talking after tens of thousands of hours later, and it keeps proving a reliable technique for so many situations. Anyway, when you find a process that you love that offers great results, hang on to it, and double down on it, that’s what I’ve done with this. So, if you get a chance to search through my website, www.newbreedfurniture.com, and follow my social media you can judge for yourself if you think I’ve invested in something worth while, and if so then maybe what I will be continuing to write here might be worth reading, or not? 

To circle back around, in my last entry I proposed five questions: 

A Whether furniture, cabinetry, and millwork companies ever go back and analyze what parts of their initial estimates and systems for bidding were accurate?

M How to spend marketing dollars and time?

O How to use the shop floor in concert with the available storage to get best performances and build the best products?

 R How should a smaller to medium scale artisanal manufacturer continue developing their product line’s design languages while filling orders, collecting money, packaging and shipping, etc?

 I  Can you imagine being a venture capital fund that made strategic investments in parts of your business, expecting to see real return on investment?

Sadly I will have to tackle these questions in the coming editions, for now I must get a material order placed for my next exciting new commission, a new series of desks, a large wall console, custom conference and lounge tables for a company located in Bozeman, MT, Jelt HQ. In fact plan on reading about this too in the next installment. 

John Lindsay is President of New Breed Furniture LLC. Reach him at john@newbreedfurniture.com 847-946-7867. www.newbreedfurniture.com

Book Preview: "Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America" - How Materials & Technology Shaped Design

3. August 2019 22:17

By Bill Esler, Editor, IWF Network News

Yale University has published "Serious Play: Design in Medcentury America." It tracks the rise of commercial and consumer design trends following World War II as new materials and technologies enabled designers for Herman Miller and other corporations to move in vibrant new directions.

On the consumer side, following World War II, Americans began accumulating more and more goods, spurring a transformation in the field of interior decoration. Storage walls became ubiquitous, often serving as a home’s centerpiece.

Designers such as Alexander Girard encouraged homeowners to populate their new shelving units with folk art, as well as unconventional and modern objects, to produce innovative and unexpected juxtapositions within modern architectural settings.

"Playfulness" as a term of art can also be seen in the colorful, child-sized furniture by Charles and Ray Eames, who also produced toys. And in the postwar corporate world, the concept of play is manifested in the influential advertising work of Paul Rand.

Set against the backdrop of a society that was experiencing rapid change and high anxiety, the book Serious Play: Design in Midcentury America takes a revelatory look at how many of the country’s leading designers connected with their audience through wit and imagination. Edited by Monica Obniski and Darrin Alfred, includes essays by the editors, as well as by Amy Auscherman, Steven Heller, Pat Kirkham, and Alexandra Lange. 

Ann Landi, reviewing the book for the Wall Street Journal  notes, "As several contributors . . . point out, many designers . . . rejected a dogmatic modernism and hungered for something beyond rational and utilitarian motives.’The post-World War II era was marked by an acquisitive appetite, for which designers like Charles and Ray Eames and Alexander Girard devised colorful multitiered storage units, while ceramists like Eva Zeisel created charming table accoutrements to fill them.”

The book contains over 25 pages of materials checklists sourcing the numerous furnishings and designs included in its pages. 

Co-editor Monica Obniski is Demmer Curator of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Design at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which hosted a related show earlier this year. Co-editor Darrin Alfred is curator of architecture, design, and graphics at the Denver Art Museum.  Learn more or order the book at Yale>>

Is There a Growing Need for High Resolution Digital Databases of Wood Imagery?

23. July 2019 12:42

By Bill Esler, Editor, IWF Network News

Sherwin Williams Virtual Panel Studio www.virtualpanelstudio.com

As design programs grow more robust, the ability to generate realistic renderings of furnishings and projects has improved dramatically. For patterned laminates and paint colors, there is no problem matching graphics and colors in renderings - since most of these originate as digital designs prior to creating the decor laminates.

But rendering convincing versions of real solid wood and wood veneers - that's another matter.  In nature, the trees take care of creating the grain pattern for the finished work - but how do you do it digitally?

One approach and I think it's the best one, is photographing the real thing. Veneer companies have been developing controlled photographic renderings of inventory for years now - to share the look of a bundle or lot of material without buyers having to travel. Here's how  Veneer Supplies of Frederick Hill, MD describes it: 

In a lot of 20 sheets from the same bundle, the top veneer may show a bark patch and the bottom veneer may be flawless. The pictures we shown are always taken from the side of the bundle that has the most defects.....When photographing the veneers on this website, I do not use alcohol, water, or any other means of enhancing the grain or figure. I try to photograph the veneers as close to the original color as possible by shooting with white light and applying software-based color correction that is specific to our light source. 

The most widely known source for identifying wood species is www.Wood-Database.com (above) which has gradually improved and broadened the photographs it presents. It relies on woodworkers to volunteer shots of wood species with two grain directions and end grain - when available. The quality varies but is continuously on the rise.

Now there is a new and growing database of very finely resolve wood images - but this one  - Sherwin Williams Virtual Panel Studio - was established to show wood stains on various wood species. You have to be approved by Sherwin Williams to access it - and it is intended for designers, specifiers and their woodworking professionals in doing project planning. 

Sherwin Williams describes the Virtual Panel Studio is a "first of its kind online resource available exclusively for furniture, kitchen cabinet, and other wood product designers and product developers to discover, manage and share hundreds of high-resolution panel images." It is part of its Global Color Design and Design Center.

A password-protected account allows users to search, download and share the images. Request registration at oem.sherwin-williams.com/gcdc-panel-access-request

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Luke Barnett Handcrafting a Windsor chair

15. July 2019 11:43

Luke A. Barnett handcrafting a Windsor chair at the Adrian Community Woodshop, where he teaches. Video by Jason Ely and Brian Court of Chameleon Studios. All from Adrian, Michigan

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Overwhelmed Being a Jack of All Trades/Master of None? Then Try Breaking It Into Manageable Parts

9. July 2019 16:01

By: John Lindsay, New Breed Furniture LLC

Editor's Note: This is the first blog in a series by design/builder/entrepreneur John Lindsay. 

After years of being an owner/operator of a small furniture company that offers more than two hundred solid wood products developed and manufactured in house, I determined I had to understand all my roles and responsibilities to help mitigate the anxiety that comes with having to wear so many hats. I began by going back to school - in this case, self-education through reading and listening to audiobooks - in pursuit of my own Masters of Business Administration degree.

I liken the process to reading about the latest research on aerodynamics while building a flying machine while flying said flying machine, while hurling down to the unforgiving ground at breakneck speed. What I was in search of were systems, philosophies, best practices, and heuristics that could help me structure my efforts building my business. 

What I came up with was a simple to learn acronym: A.M.O.R.I. which both represents the five distinct categories or departments that all business need to have to be able to scale while having its own business philosophy built into the name. This philosophy is that to be a successful owner/operator/entrepreneur you have to resist the natural desire to favor certain parts of your business over the others and learn to LOVE every aspect of your business, which means taking an active role in mastering all the differing roles. Here’s how it works:

A    Administration
M   Marketing and Sales
O   Operations
R    Research and Development
I    Investment and Intellectual Property

This is what I plan to share with you in this series of articles about owning your own woodworking business. However, discretion demands that I be transparent about when these ideas I share are more hypothetical, and when they have been practiced and hard-earned. In short, I am far from having mastered any of these categories, and in some cases have yet to have any real experience leading teams in the trenches, but rather, I am projecting forward standards I hope to one day prove essential to my success.

I’ll get right into it with the first letter of the acronym.

A  for Administration:

A question that has long plagued me was whether furniture, cabinetry, and millwork companies ever go back and analyze what parts of their initial estimates and systems for bidding were accurate? From my experience, it is very difficult to go back over a project, sift out all the necessary numbers, separating out the different activities and costs into the same categories, all in an effort to compare apples to apples. Then once the analysis is complete, be able to identify which unit costs or algorithmic heuristics are off and change them.

Next, keep a record of the changes with descriptions of the decision processes that lead to the change, so that they can be confirmed or denied time and time again. Finally, learn over time which systems are reliable, how reliable, and why? Instead, I imagine many companies skip these crucial process’, having completed the project, needing to move onto the next. My first principle thinking mind concludes that missing these steps will keep all bad practices and estimating flaws right where you don’t want them, in the driver’s seat of your profitability. In coming articles I will break down why doing this work is so frustrating and difficult, how to set up your operations and your administrations to best capture vital information, and more importantly how to know what isn’t necessary.

 M for Marketing and Sales:

Another question that every business owner faces is how to spend marketing dollars and time? It seems to me that if you have a company who sells products made of the most beautiful material on the planet (wood) and is handled and manipulated with expert skill and craft then why not learn to apply that maker’s talent to your marketing materials? 

In coming articles, I will break down why hand made marketing combined with smart social media is the winning strategy. 

O for Operations 

A third question that I ask myself as a user of space is how to use the shop floor in concert with the available storage to get the best performances and build the best products? In coming articles I will break down why most shops have it all wrong when they let their larger machines dominate their space with permanent footprints.

R for Research and Development

My lifeblood is dependent on the quality of the designs I am offering. For my kind of business, being serious about having an ongoing design process which includes art directing, engineering, cost analysis, market research, and comp collection is essential, but not always possible. How should a smaller to medium scale artisanal manufacturer continue developing their product line’s design languages while filling orders, collecting money, packaging, and shipping, etc?

In coming articles I will break down how dedicating time to experiments and explorations in design can be balanced with the day to day deadlines and orders.

I for Investment and Intellectual Property

This is the part of the article where I let myself dream, and share ideas about how to best invest real profits back into this crazy business that I am learning to run, while running it, while hurling toward unforgiving realities. The last question in this article is can you imagine being a venture capital fund that made strategic investments in parts of your business, expecting to see real return on investment? I much enjoy ignoring my present reality, and enter a fictional world in which the business (or business’) that I have created are all wildly successful and I’m faced with the happiest problem anyone could have, where to put the piles of money that is pouring in? In coming articles, I will dream big and imagine how real estate can be both the destination and generating agent of profits.

John Lindsay is President of New Breed Furniture LLC.  Reach him at john@newbreedfurniture.com  

Questioning How Your Plant Operates Is Hard, and Why the Answer to How? Is Yes!

4. July 2019 22:42

By: Joe Baggett,  Innovative Wood Process Solutions  

The best answers come from the best questions. And from the best questions come the deepest understanding.(although sometimes we won’t like the answers to those "best questions.")

Let's take a look at how we can learn to ask the best questions. As the skills for each area of wood manufacturing (fabrication, finishing, programming, etc.) become more specialized, managers must adopt a type of strategic learning to be able to tap into and harness the specialized skills of department managers. In other words, you have to figure out how to become a temporary "expert," while asking the right questions to guide the conversation and discovery, in the context of the actual “world” of wood manufacturing.

It seems there is always a noteworthy business that is closing down (like Wood-Mode) or shifting to Mexico (like MasterBrand ) or even exiting the business (like Masco).  Somehow under new ownership or at a new location, these businesses are able to start fresh and succeed, or else they never re-open, like Cardell. 

And that is largely because the former leaders have not asked the right questions - or didn’t want to. While that may seem harsh or even irrelevant during this strong economy, it is important for organizations that endeavor to create strategic learning organizations that constantly reinvent themselves. Wille Peterson in his book Strategic Learning says “failure is seldom caused by what the environment does to us; it is caused most often by what we do to ourselves”.

According to an old friend and industry colleague (he’s wood industry leader John Huff), people will believe 25% of what they hear, 50 percent of what they see, and 100 percent of what they want to believe. John and I often joked together about how biased our own thinking processes were, and we struggled with what we could do to overcome our own preconceived ideas and beliefs.

In all these queries, l realized the outcomes on projects are more of a product of the questions we ask - even when we don’t always consciously understand that those questions actually come from our pre-conceived ideas and assumptions. Most of the things we ask or assume come from thought patterns that were based on “What to Think” behavior. These were formed from the way we see the world in which we work and live, day-to-day.

But that view of the world is a product of our own background. It is the sum of our education, exposure, belief systems, and culture. In re-engineering or starting up a plant, we have to be open to set that aside. Here’s a good example and thought exercise on that concept:

I’m a big fan of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. In a scene from “The Return of the Pink Panther.”  Sellers was checking into a hotel and saw a dog sitting next to the front desk manager. He asked, “Does your dog bite?”

The manager looked up and said, “No.” Sellers reached down to pet the animal, which promptly bit his hand, pulling off his glove. Shocked, Sellers immediately retracted his hand and exclaimed, “I thought you said your dog did not bite!” The hotel manager looked up and said, “That is not my dog.” Context is everything for asking the right questions.

In my last blog, I mentioned most wood manufacturing companies have a “dungeon” – the place where equipment that is not in use or is obsolete, is stored. I asked if we had to write a report about the equipment not in use or obsolete, what story would it tell? In general, I believe it would tell about how there was a failure to derive increasing simplicity from increasing complexity.

The wood industry has become increasingly specialized and more complex while making some traditional methods seem “easier.” This increased specialization has caused some wood products manufacturers to keep it simple, while not taking full advantage of possible improvements and game-changing technology.

The average woodshop may not want to acquire the maintenance, operator or leadership talent to adopt and utilize the technology. Some manufacturers risk acquiring the technology, but don’t have the organization or strategy to apply it in a successful manner, and end up discarding it for simpler methods and machines. Some are investing in the organizational talent, culture, strategy and learning to apply as much cutting-edge technology as possible,but are is still years removed from what could be and should be the current state.

I recently visited a cabinet shop and was required to sign an non-disclosure agreement because they had switched to a new wood coating. While we observed the operation, we couldn’t help but notice the coating was a modern but typical post-catalyzed conversion varnish. This type of wood coating has been around for well over 30 years. It was new to them (their world) but in the actual world of available wood coatings, this is an older technology (in the actual world of woodworking). 

The increased specialization in the woodworking industry has created these two worlds. This is a good thing because we need to be constantly developing cutting edge technology but, to successfully apply it, we also need to put it into perspective and context. Strategic learning is the key to harnessing this specialization for its value and asking the right questions in the context closer to the actual “world” of wood manufacturing.

It starts by re-envisioning the way we ask our questions. Peter Block does great work in his book, The Answer to How Is Yes, in re-envisioning the way we ask questions. As Block puts it: 

There is depth in the question “How do I do this” that is worth exploring. The question is a defense against the action. It is a leap past the question of purpose, past the questions of intentions, and the drama of responsibility. The question ”How?”- more than any other question - looks for the answer outside of us. It is an indirect expression of our doubts.

Block gives us six typical questions that shape manufacturing operations, equipment and products more than any others and the way we could ask them differently that would have a profound impact.

  1. How do you do it? This the greatest assumption. The biggest question is what is worth doing and what matters the most not how it is done.
  2. How long will it take? The question how long drives us to oversimplify the world.
  3. How much does it cost? The most common rationalization for doing the things we do not believe in that what we really desire either takes too long or costs too much.
  4. How do you get these people to change? What would empower and create the environment for the needed organizational transformation? Also, what does it mean for me? 
  5. How do we measure it? Many of the things that matter most defy measurement. Our obsession with measurement is really an expression of our doubt. What measurement would have the most meaning to me and our organization?
  6. How have other people done it successfully? The value of another’s experience is to give us hope not to tell us how or whether to proceed.

If you look at the rhetoric in the woodworking industry you can see how the questions of “How?” proliferates in our thinking.  We constantly see "How To" advice in much of what we read, hear at conferences, attend and listen to in the woodworking Industry.  How to set up a profitable finishing operation, how to select the right software, how to select the right machines. 

If our default for developing great questions remains heavily on the “How” we will continue to be susceptible to the missteps resulting from the increasing specialization, and from other opportunities and threats. The best strategic solutions often require learning and knowledge we have yet to experience. The solutions take longer than what we want, cost more than what we want, require more or better people than we have. And they deliver results that we don’t currently measure.

I love the woodworking industry and want to see it rise to new heights, both on the national scale of manufacturers as well as the global scale. I want to see the small and medium-size shops realize their dreams and be recognized. I want to see the large manufacturers invest in technology and become even more strategic leaders in the global woodworking industry.

I truly believe that the most important contribution a leader can make is to make more leaders. It is my purpose in these writings to inspire and provoke new thoughts and passion, and evoke thoughtful but decisive action. I keep coming back to a need for us as leaders in the woodworking industry to revise some common thinking processes, an area we will continue to explore. 

Joe Baggett is President of Innovative Wood Process  Solutions. Reach him at iwpsolutions19@gmail.com,    817-682-3631. www.iwps.biz