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.
Groan, say hello to another “i” branded product, the iLean, a lightweight shelving unit (created & made in West Michigan). Am I the only one who is getting quite tired of this whole “i” name thing? It is getting out of control and whole “i” name has already been around since 2001, when Apple first released the iPod. So using “i” isn’t this fresh, new idea… it is now old, tired, and worn. As far as I’m concerned, Apple is the only company that can use the “i” moniker with impunity (but they can still mess it up, case in point “iPad”).
Don’t get me wrong, its a great story of a Holland resident who had a need (portable shelving for her garden), created a solution (the iLean), created a company Angleworks and then ultimately through various partners (all in West Michigan) brought the product to market. I love the stories about the entrepreneurial mind & spirit at work, and it looks like a cool product, but lets be a little more creative on naming this shelving unit.
Just google “ilean” and see how many pages it takes you to get to the official website. Nothing on page 1. There is a story on a mommy blog on page 2, a result on page 3 for Real Simple, then nothing until page 9 with a campus life blog, and after I hit page 20 of the search results, I give up… nothing for their official site http://www.ileanstore.com. So what did I learn, Ilean is a perfectly acceptable and widely used spelling for the name Eileen, and iLean needs some SEO help (any of you SEO types reading this should probably give these guys a call, and I would be more than happy to receive a lead commission as well).
They even named their accessories the following iLink, & iLedge. Well good luck to Angleworks and their new product, the iLean.
Dexys Midnight Runners must be so proud!
Hard to believe but yes, there are plenty of West Michigan companies besides Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Haworth who will be participating in this year’s NeoCon show on June 14 through the 16th in Chicago. It always surprises me how one tradeshow in Chicago, year in and year out gets the local West Michigan media into a frenzy about office furniture. I guess it makes sense. According to my informal research through LinkedIn Companies Function – Haworth, Herman Miller, and Steelcase all have over 500+ employees in West Michigan, so 1,500+ total, plus their families, retirees, and the number of people interested in these companies, the list goes on and on.
But I am here to shed some light on the other players in the furniture industry here in West Michigan, that are participating in NeoCon, and I was quite shocked by the size of the list. Here we go:
- 2/90 Sign Systems – Grand Rapids – Sign design, wayfinding, manufacturing of both interior and exterior signs and sign systems, project management, installation and post-installation maintenance
- American Seating – Grand Rapids – Seating from auditorium to stadium to office to education and transportation
- BIFMA International – Grand Rapids – A not-for-profit organization that leads, advocates, informs and develops standards for the North American office and institutional furniture industry
- Compatico – Grand Rapids – Manufactures and supplies new office furniture systems and parts
- Configura – Grand Rapids – HQ in Sweeden, with their US location in Grand Rapids, provides software solutions Commercial furniture
- Flexible Montisa – Plainwell – Features file, storage, and furniture product offerings to facilitate innovative solutions for corporate, educational, and medical institutions.
- FreshFolios – Byron Center – Pre-designed portfolio websites for photographers, interior designers, architects, artists and all members of the creative community who rely on a well sorted portfolio to display their work
- Gibraltar – Zeeland – Metal manufacturing company serving the office, institutional, and hospitality furniture industries
- Gill Industries – Grand Rapids – A full service supplier of engineered, mechanical assemblies to a wide variety of markets such as automotive, furniture and multi-use vehicle markets
- Grand Rapids Chair Company – Grand Rapids – Besides chairs, they also provide tables for commercial environments
- Great Openings – Ludington -Provider of quality metal filing and storage products to the office furniture industry
- Gross Stabil Corp -Coldwater – Manufacturer of casters, bases, and gas cylinders for office chairs
- GT Industries – Byron Center – Foam products, lots and lots of foam based products
- Guilford of Maine – Grand Rapids – Surprisingly they are headquartered in Grand Rapids, they are a textile provider
- Izzy+ – Spring Lake – Officer furniture provider for a variety of industries
- Knu Healthcare – Zeeland – Manufacturer of healthcare furniture, and part of Industrial Woodworking Corporation
- Leland International – Grand Rapids – Contemporary seating and tables manufacturer whose products are built to order and provide project designers the opportunity to customize features such as color, finish, trim, size and cut out design
- Light Corporation – Grand Haven – Design and manufacture fluorescent task lights and ambient light fixtures for office furniture industry and high bay fluorescent fixtures for industry, gymnasiums and retail.
- Nucraft – Comstock Park – Design and manufacture furnishings for conference rooms, lobby and reception areas, private offices, and training areas
- Pulse Design – Grand Rapids – Manufacturer of a desktop connection system with touch-control electronics to hide or reveal the unit on a desk
- Sparkeology – Holland – New line of office furniture developed by Worden in collaboration with Via Design and Square One Design. The products target locations are public buildings’ lobbies and lounges, even libraries because of their flexibility and mobility, and being able to be used in multiple functions and configurations. Plus based on their twitter feed looks like they are going to give away a lot of loot bags. Wonder what is inside- anyone want to get me one?
- Stryker – Kalamazoo – This was an odd one but looks like they are providing some furniture solutions for the healthcare industry
- Symbiote, Inc.- Zeeland – Manufactures laboratory and technical furniture systems emphasizing custom product solutions, looks like they feature ergonomic solutions
- Trendway – Holland – Not officially at NeoCon but they will have something going on in their showroom at the merch. mart. Office furniture manufacture famous for their On Time guarantee.
- VanerumStelter – Grand Rapids – Provider of products and services for their interior environments. Chairs, desks, tables, workstations for all levels of education and for office environments.
- Workstuff – Grand Rapids – Provider of adjustable keyboard systems and ergonomic workplace solutions.
So what do you think? I am really surprised by the number of companies from Zeeland representing. Anyways this just goes to show that there are plenty others in West Michigan besides the Big 3 who are part of the office furniture business (even though some of these companies are not directly related to the industry).
Additionally, here is a short list of other players in the furniture industry who are not attending NeoCon. Do you have any more companies to add to the list?
- Avian Boards – Grand Rapids – Manufacturer of lightweight board to be used for a variety of applications
- Charter House Innovations – Holland – A seating and decor company with a wide range of solutions for a variety of industries. Big focus on sustainability.
- OMT Vehyl – Holland – The result of a merger of two German companies to provide products for the office furniture industry
- RT London – Grand Rapids – Has a emphasis on furniture for the education segment with learning and dorm room solutions
- Worden – Holland – Maker of furniture for the educational and library markets, also behind Sparkeology.
Posted in Manufacturing, West Michigan
Tagged Chicago, Furniture, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, Haworth, Herman Miller, Holland, Kalamazoo, Media, Michigan, Only in West Michigan, Steelcase, West Michigan Made, Zeeland
It must have been perfect timing. Driving on the highway I came along side a Jonathan Stevens Mattress truck, and thought nothing of it, until I drove past an Allen Edwin Homes Billboard, and that is when I began to scratch my head.
The Three Word Company Name with the Three Color Row Square logo. Take a look for yourself (and if you open up both company links in your browser look at their URL icons – Three Color Row Square.)
If you do have a long company name you are somewhat limited with what you can do with your logo, because you do not want it stretching across the whole letterhead, truck or billboard.
Anyone else have any examples of the Three Word Company Name with the Three Color Row Square logo look?
See my previous post about Allen Edwin Homes here.
Posted in Branding, Manufacturing, Marketing, WMBizBlog
Tagged Brand, Building, Furniture, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Logos, Only in West Michigan, West Michigan Made
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend an event over at one Haworth Center in Holland, MI. Of course this was at Haworth, and all I have to say is Wow. What an amazing building and workspace, granted I only saw a small section of the building, but I was still impressed. Haworth pulled out all the stops for this building, hell the pond in front even had swans, not Canadian geese but swans! Anyways for more information on the building visit this website. The website gives you a virtual tour of the building while highlighting the sustainable design features, organic workspaces and workplace insights which is quite fascinating. Again if you ever have the opportunity to visit One Haworth Center, I highly recommend that you do.