Category Archives: New

Aster Workshops – Start Garden Entry

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 tom@asterworkshops.com or visit the website asterworkshops.com.

Advertisements

Hey! What’s Growing On?

As I am sure everyone knows Start Garden started today.  Start Garden is the next big thing from Rick DeVos and Pomegranate Studios, where people can submit ideas for a chance receive $5,000 in an initial investment.  Each week, 2 ideas will be chosen and given $5,000 and then the winners will be required to come back in 60-90 days and present where they are at with their winning idea for opportunity to get additional funding, in the amount of $20,000.  Ideas that are progressing well and have potential to become viable businesses can in theory receive up to $500,000 dollars from Start Garden.  The fund is backed up $15 million commitment from the DeVos family, so there is plenty of opportunities for many ideas to get a lot of investment dollars.  Throughout the process, ideas receiving funding will be able to get some resources and mentoring from Start Garden to help their idea move ahead.  The public gets to be involved in the process as well by choosing one of the weekly winners and public events will be held to present the progress of previous winners.

Some things I like about Start Garden:

  • Accountability.  Unlike the 5×5 Nights winners, who are not required to update anyone on their progress or what they have done with money that they won, Start Garden requires winners to come back in 60-90 days and update everyone on their progress.  Not to mention that great minds think alike, here is my tweet to 5×5 Night (Pomegranate Studio) on January 24, 2012 and their response.  I asked them if they followed-up with winners on their progress or what they were up to, and 5×5 responded that they didn’t..  I was always curious if there was an mechanism in place besides one own morals which prevent someone from coming up with a fake idea (charity/or good cause) and win the competition and just take the $5,000 and run.  Granted it would be a lot of work for someone to do all that but I am sure there must have been at least some hucksters who submitted ideas with this premise.  Plus people what to know what happens next, its like a cliffhanger and people want to see a resolution or at least the next chapter.  Start Garden did a great thing by adding in this extra step.
  • Helping ideas get off the ground, and giving them money
  • General philanthropy of the DeVos family
  • Getting exposure to some new, great, and interesting ideas (it could potentially give me more fodder for my blog)
  • And this great quote form Mlive “Backed by his wealthy family, [Rick] DeVos…” Wow way to empower all the troll commentators to like to spout negatives about the DeVos family.

Some things I don’t like:

  • All the garden talk.  I know its part of the name, and it helps complete the narrative, but look at this quote from Rick DeVos: ““Start Garden creates the field and brings the water. We ask the people to bring their ideas and plant them. And we ask existing businesses in our region to become the farmers. Because we believe the soil is fertile for business here and we can be the best place for somebody to have an idea and run with it”
  • Never did they really say what is going to happen to 5×5 Night, though by looking at the website, it does say “Site Closed Temporarily closed. Check out our new project Start Garden.”  None of the stories I read mentioned it, even the official press release never states what is going to happen to 5×5.
  • The logo should be green or brown instead of yellow… you know garden, things growing, greenery and soil.

Start Garden, cool idea, that I will be curiously following, and I am especially looking forward for the 60-90 day recaps which I think is the best part.  What are your thoughts?

Holland’s Creative Crass?

Well at least the name is an accurate description of the location of studio.  The front of the building is on the north side of 17th Street, and this Gallery & Studio is the “backside” of the building facing out onto 16th Street.  Here is a picture of the location. It is right behind WayCup Cafe.

Company Name Juggling in Grand Rapids

Local marketing firm Steketee Greiner Company (SGC) is now Agent X. SGC merged with an “experiential marketing agency” based in Chicago, called Agent X. They decided to retain the Agent X name, but reviewing the company’s history, the name switch should come as no surprise.

The company started in 2004 with Fiaba Creative located in Saugatuck. In 2007 Fiaba changed their name to Context MG. Context MG then moved to downtown Grand Rapids in January 2009. Sometime in 2009 (my guess is late summer) Context MG decided to change their name once again. This time the firm became SGC. SGC was named after the two founders Brian Steketee and David Greiner. This name was retained for about 1.5 years. Then in August 2010 SGC launched a new company called Catalyst SGC.

I understand the possible need to re-name a company when an acquisition or merger has happened, but 4 names over 7 years?. Often times companies want to either keep the stronger brand, or adapt names to retain the best from both companies, or even create a whole new name. But the only acquisition/merger, I could find was the most recent one between SGC and Agent X. The other 3 name changes were just new names. It must be difficult to build a brand, image, and clientele with one name, and then switch names and have to create or try to retain the brand, image again. Not to mention how confusing this could be for clients, and how expensive re-branding is for the firm (create new collateral, letterheads, redesign website, etc).  I wonder what the clients think of this name juggling.

But then again maybe this blogger should keep his mouth shut regarding changing names… West Michigan Business Blog is still transitioning to The Ledger.

Religious Themed Establishments

One of my first stories on this blog was about Graces, a bible themed bar in Grand Rapids.  Recently, the Kalamazoo Gazette had an article on Disciples Cafe,  a Christian themed coffee shop located in Kalamazoo.

While I do like the Disciples Cafe name, I am not a big fan of the logo, the cross seems a little too pirate-like (I think its the angled points on the cross).  The coffee shop also embraces the theme with the decor.  A mural of Jesus on one wall and a cross shaped counter in the middle of the store are just some of the things mentioned.  No word if the owners drew their inspiration (or just purchased fixtures) from Graces.

Actually now the cross in the logo looks like toothpicks.

Bachelor Pad Grand Rapids Promotion – A Few Thoughts

River House Condominiums located in downtown Grand Rapids on Bridge St., is holding a contest, Grand Rapids Bachelor at River House. They are looking for a male of at least 21 years of age, non-married, legal resident of Michigan with a clean criminal record, who wants to be the Grand Rapids Bachelor at River House. The contest starts out with some castings calls, then according to their Facebook page, the top 10 finalists will go out on dates at local venues with a bachelorette (no word if its the same bachelorette or different ones for each finalist) and then they will “be slowly eliminated until only one bachelor stands!” Which would be the winner.

So what does this lucky winner receive for all his trouble. Well according to the rules and eligibility section of the website “The winner will also be featured on all print and electronic promotion of the Bachelor Pad.” Oh great, the bachelor will have his mug and/or torso used for free advertising and promotion. Nothing better than being an unpaid model for a company that is using you for its own monetary gain.

Additionally, “all finalists will receive free meals and entertainment during the course of their participation with this contest.” Well that is nice, we do not want the prospective bachelors to disappoint their bachelorettes with a crappy date at Quinzos.

Lastly, perhaps the greatest prize of all is “The winner of the River House Bachelor Grand Rapids contest will receive the use of the Bachelor Pad at River House Condominiums for weekend accommodation and entertainment purposes up to three (3) times throughout 2011”. WOW! 3 weekends, 6-9 days (if you count Friday) out of a whole year! That is amazing! What a great prize. I would not be surprised if the bachelor will also have to pay for his own parking at River House for one of his three weekends.

What is this “Bachelor Pad” room? Can’t you just give the winner the room for the whole year? Or is this pad also the communal room, where other residents can host events and gatherings. I wonder if there are black out periods. What if this “Bachelor Pad” room is a dump (I doubt it) but there are no pictures anywhere to prove otherwise.

If you are going to do a contest like this why not go all the way. I would think River House could leverage this promotion better if the winner stayed their the whole year. Check up with him throughout, do some videos, have him give tours that sort of thing.

This whole ordinary person who becomes locally famous is somewhat amusing for me. Do you remember WOTV The F4CEe of 4? Well this is year two, of the promotion. The winner does get “used” by the station and is plastered in advertisements, used in events, and in spots on TV, but least the F4CE of 4 actually wins something, $20,000 . I just remember seeing last years F4CE of 4, Jordan Carson and her dog at a local high school football game handing out Subway Sandwiches and encouraging people to win swag with a bean bag toss.  She was very friendly and personable but seems like a drag (it was quite cold out as well). I can’t imagine having to do that week in and week out.

Any prospective eligible bachelors reading this blog that would participate in the contest?  Why or why not?

Sleepyhead in Michigan: An Entrepreneur’s Tale

Entrepreneurs amaze me.  The ability to conceive an idea into a product, service, and then turn that offering into a company is impressive.  (You can probably tell I like to focus on them from these past posts – iLean, ClipCleany, Cornhole).

So when I was approached with the opportunity to interview one of the founders of Sleepyhead, (Facebook, Twitter) a Chicago based nighttime relaxation drink manufacturer, I found it hard to say no.  But allow me to get into a little bit of background, before I got an email (how to contact me) from Sleepyhead’s public relations staff.  Back in early August my brother, a Chicago resident, came to visit for a weekend, and brought a surprise.  A can of Sleepyhead.  Side Note: My brother enjoys beverages, and in fact he bought me a case of Water Joe (caffeinated water) for my birthday – I still have some left if anyone is interested.  Anyone interested in a giveaway – leave me something witty and insightful in the comments and I will send you a bottle of Water Joe if shipping is not too expensive.  So I was quite intrigued by this can of Sleepyhead, and then my brother throws this in.  He knows one of the co-founders of Sleepyhead, and mentioned how they just up and left their desk jobs.  My jaw hit the floor.  So I took that can of Sleepyhead and put it in my cupboard.  See I rarely have a problem falling asleep, in fact my wife tells me I am a pro at it.

Alright back to the story.  Sleepyhead PR guy emailed me and mentioned that Sleepyhead is expanding into Michigan and wanted to find out if I would be interested in speaking with one of the co-founders.  I mentioned my familiarity with the product, and eventually I had a conversation with one of the co-founders Chuck Hammon.  Here are a couple of interesting things that came up during the conversation:

  • Chuck and his partner Eli developed this idea after meeting after work at each others residences for a period time
  • Eventually they hammered out the idea for Sleepyhead and decided they wanted to start a company.  So they both quit their jobs in corporate America and became beverage entrepreneurs
  • They got some guidance from their local SCORE chapter (I can’t say enough good things about SCORE – Grand Rapids especially has a great chapter – personal experience with them) on some things they didn’t think of or needed to develop better.
  • Per Chuck now in this down economy is the best time to start a company, because banks, vendors, suppliers, retailers who would have never down business with you in the past are all more cooperative, willing to negotiate, and eager to work with any new business (This one surprised me, because I could see both sides of it, but thought most people would be conservative)
  • They learned more in the months of working in bringing Sleepyhead to market than they ever learned in school or at their corporate jobs

Now a little more about the drink, Sleepyhead was developed by Chuck and Eli as a product that they would use and wanted to use.  Their target market is young professionals 22 to 35, men and women, who have a lot going on their lives, and have difficulty falling asleep.  They developed the product to help people unwind and relax, and help get them to bed and get them to sleep.  The product was originally launched in Chicago, and is now available at 7-11 stores, and numerous other convenience type stores or local grocers.  They decided to enter into the Michigan market because they have some local friends in the area who put them in touch with a beverage distributor called Galaxy Wine Distributors in Livonia.  Apparently they were a good match and the timing seemed right so now Galaxy is helping promote Sleepyhead launch in Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids.  I was hoping that there would be some cool promotions, launch events, or creative publicity for Sleepyhead but it seems like it will be pretty low-key.  Chuck and Eli have set up a schedule with Galaxy to go out and visit accounts carrying their products to learn more about how to support the retailers and what some of their challenges might be.

Well seeing that Sleepyhead is taking a low key approach to launching in Michigan, I thought I would help them out with some ideas…. Enjoy

–       Reach out to the Mommy Bloggers in the area, there are a bunch and many of them do product reviews, and no doubt many live busy lives between, children, family, and blogging, and might be interested in something that may help them relax and get to bed.

–       Our local start up community for entrepreneurs seems like it always has something going, perhaps work with them or speak at an event or provide a nice product placement of Sleepyhead for participants. Perhaps Sleepyhead can talk at one of these upcoming events, and support these fellow entrepreneurs.  I am sure they all have their thoughts racing at the end of the day thinking about what to do next and how to do it.  Seems like a logical fit, and a welcoming group.  Here is the list:

As an aside if you are looking for some entrepreneurial resources do check out the local SCORE Grand Rapids chapter, and GVSU has a great list of resources here.

I would like to say congrats to all the entrepreneurs out there, for taking an idea and making it happen.

Have you tried Sleepyhead, thoughts?  What do you think of the whole slow down and relax beverage segment?

Oh and apparently this week is Global Entrepreneur Week in Grand Rapids.  Good timing right?  Here is a link to more information & schedule.