Well this seems like a no-brainer, Start Garden has an entry for the competition on August 16th, called Aster Workshops. If you need me to spell things out for you, Aster is a flower, and flowers grow in gardens. How perfect would it be for Start Garden to select Aster Workshops as a winner, and then help Aster Workshops “grow” with the $5,000 prize, and help “nurture” the company forward until it “blossoms”.
Anyways the Aster Workshops idea was submitted by Tom Pietri, a friend of mine who I have worked together with the Google Fiber for Holland campaign back in 2010. I was interested to hear from Tom firsthand about this idea, and I had a chance to recently interview him about the idea. Enjoy.
- The Ledger: What is the idea? – Tom Pietri: The idea is to have a
network of independent craftsmen who would build high quality production furniture.
- TL: Ok, lets get some more details. – TP: I have a group of
craftsmen, like woodworkers, welders, and finishers. Each of these
craftsmen has the skills to create furniture and they have all the
necessary equipment, tools, in either their home garage, pole barn, or workshop. I would design the furniture, and sell the finished
furniture through furniture stores or our website to consumers. When an order would come in for a set number of pieces, I would find out which of my craftsmen would have the time and capacity to complete their part of the furniture project, within certain number of days. Once their part is completed, I would inspect the finished pieces, and deliver them to next craftsman to work on. For example if an order for a table was made – I would provide the wood for the woodworkers, who would complete the wood portion of the table. Then the wood portion would be brought to the finisher, who would then add a finish to the wood table top, and finally the wooden tabletop would be joined with the metal base for the table which was created by the welder.
- TL: Sounds like you are the glue in this whole operation, bringing everything together, and filling in the spots. Can you elaborate more on your role? – TP: Sure. Right now I have a small group of craftsmen, who are ready to go. But of course as things get going, I will have to add to my roster of craftsmen at Aster Workshops, so that would involve validating any new craftsmen, by checking their work, and ensuring that it meets my quality standards. In addition I am also the lead designer, creating the furniture designs, and developing new ideas. But of course as this gets moving along, I might also be interested to taking submissions of designs from other people as well to incorporate their work into the process. Then I am doing almost everything else. Like talking with the furniture stores, receiving feedback to develop the product catalog further, and also doing quality control checks on the pieces of furniture, delivering materials, and finished products as needed, and finally also acting as a craftsman as well, if demand goes over capacity, I am ready to act as a safety valve, as I already build custom furniture in my home shop.
- TL: You mentioned furniture stores, is that your primary customer? – TP: Initially yes, local furniture stores are a great starting point, because they already are known in the market, they have intimate knowledge on the market, the consumers, and furniture trends. I am hoping that by working with the furniture stores we can design and create pieces that may fill a gap in their current offering, and also learn how Aster Workshops can better serve the market and the customers. But we are open to selling to individuals as well, so when our website gets updated with our designs, feel free to contact us with any interest.
- TL: Where did this idea come from? – TP: I currently build custom furniture pieces, and wanted to expand my market, and get more regular business, but since there is only me, I have limited capacity. Realizing that there must be other local craftsmen in the area, who do the same thing, and would like to leverage their skills and abilities to create pieces, what if I could link up all the various craftsmen, so we could operate like a factory, but without all the overhead, and fixed costs. The craftsman would be well compensated for their work, and they would only take new projects as they have capacity for. I thought it made perfect sense.
- TL: What is in it for the craftsmen? – TP: Obliviously, they will
be paid for their work. They will also be able to do something that
they enjoy doing. I enjoy being an independent craftsman, and take a lot of pride in my work, and there is nothing more satisfying than
being able to create something like furniture with your own hands and tools. The next best thing is hearing the reaction from the recipient or customer of the piece created. So if I enjoy this feeling every time I am creating something, I am sure that there must be many other craftsmen who feel the same way. By creating this network, these craftsmen can employ their craft and use their skills to be part of something bigger, and have access to more regular work, and be a part of a whole community. Plus they get to put their Maker’s Mark on the pieces they make.
- TL: Maker’s Mark? I am guessing this is not a bottle of whiskey you are referring too. – TP: Hahaha, no. What I wanted to do was have something unique to each craftsman who is part of Aster Workshops, to have their own unique mark, that signifies that this piece of furniture was made by a unique individual, and not a faceless company. Each craftsman would have their mark, and this will be placed on the furniture, along with any other craftsmen who had their hands in creating the piece of furniture. These Maker’s Marks will be placed somewhere inconspicuous.
- TL: So if you get selected by Start Garden what would you use that $5,000 for? – TP:Mainly operating capital, I need to ensure that the pieces that we are designing and creating would be well received in the furniture stores, and that they would be selling regularly. So we will need to do some testing on various designs to determine what is going to sell.
- TL: Now that I asked you about the best possible outcome with your entry, I need to follow-up with what happens if you don’t win? - TP: Well since I can always re-enter Start Garden, I will re-work my entry and try again through that avenue. But I would also look at some standard investment strategies, and if neither of those go through, then I would use my own money and just go at a much slower pace to create and grow my business. So no matter what happens, keep checking asterworkshops.com.
- TL: Great, thanks for the information Tom, and definitely keep us posted, and The Ledger would like to keep checking up on your progress periodically. – TP: Not a problem at all, and hopefully I will have some good news to share.
There we go, an in-depth look at Aster Workshops, one of the entrants in Start Garden. It is quite an interesting idea, because almost everyone knows a craftsman – either a co-worker, family member, or a neighbor. You know the guy or girl, with a garage full of tools and equipment, and who is always working on some new project or product. They are everywhere. The best thing is that the people who do build stuff on their own time, in their own workshops, are passionate about what they do, and they enjoy doing it. With West Michigan’s rich heritage in furniture manufacturing and woodworking, this region is ripe with people who can do this type of work, and also people who appreciate the end result. So why not leverage this ready and available resource, to help create unique furniture pieces, that each have their own story to tell.
Anyways best of luck to Aster Workshops, and if this idea really resonates with you be sure to vote for them by Thursday August 16th, at http://startgarden.com/ideas/detail/aster-workshops.
Questions for Tom Pietri and of Aster Workshops – email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website asterworkshops.com.