Tag Archives: Local-Phile

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

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?

Case in Point – People love Big Brands

In my recent post about well known stores & brands taking up shop in Grand Rapids like Anthropologie, The North Face, Apple Store, I made the following comment regarding a question about the trend of supporting local businesses:

“Thanks Wendy. I broadly define the local population of GR into the following two areas a) social activists, proponents of GR, and local first types b) everyone else. Everyone else consume based on familiarity, and convenience. So whereas you hear about all the good thing the type A population is doing, most consumers probably fall into type B, where it would be nice to drive an extra 20 mins to go to local store, then another 15 mins to go to local store B, but if I go to Big Chain I can just do all my shopping at once.

Plus big brands are identifiable. You can be reasonably assured that no matter who you talk to they have heard of GAP, H&M, and Nike. When you talk about the major shopping areas like the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, almost all the stores are either designer luxury brand stores, or well known national stores with multiple locations. That is what people talk about and that is what really gets the general populace excited.

Of course Grand Rapids will probably never get the wide range of stores that are featured in the key retail shopping districts in Chicago and New York, but I think that they can get a good mix of a couple of national brand stores to rally the masses, and then sprinkle in with a lot of smaller local retailers to fill in the gaps and help feed off the energy and masses that the national brand stores bring in.

But then again I have had no experience in urban design or economic development. I just call it like I see it.”

Well I think the recent news of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro coming to Grand Rapids (East Beltline & Knapp) illustrates my above comment perfectly.  WZZM tweeted about this on November 18th.  To show the excitement news about P.F. Chang’s in Grand Rapids, this news was tweeted and retweeted by about 23 different people (5 here , 6 here, 3 here, 4 here, another 5 here,).  Mostly with comments like Yum, and Yummy.

I could only find one negative tweet by CreativeIncite who stated the following: “Not excited about PF Chang’s coming to #gr – why would I be excited about another non-unique nat’l chain? Blah. #anywhereUSA”

I am surprised that there was not more of the negative backlash against this especially on twitter, which seems to have quite a high percentage of local-philes (my new name for Proponents of their city, region etc.).

Thoughts?

An Anthropologie Study on Grand Rapids Retail Environment

I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t more of a hub-bub surrounding the recent news that Anthropologie, a trendy & popular woman’s apparel, accessories, and home decor retailer, owned by Urban Outfitters is moving to Breton Village in Fall 2011.  The community has always been striving for well known brand names to move into the area, and Grand Rapids is heading in the right direction  look at some of the other current “cool” tenants of Grand Rapids like the Apple Store, and The North Face (which is opening up next weekend in Woodlawn Mall).

Well part of the reason people still do not think Grand Rapids has arrived could be  because we do not have a Trader Joe’s. (though it shouldn’t be) See examples here – read the comments as well 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
Not to mention Facebook Groups – by the way Trader Joe fans get your act together and consolidate, no wonder why Trade Joe’s doesn’t want a store here, look at this mess below:

So why is it thought that Grand Rapids still hasn’t arrived yet?  The real reason (my hypothesis) is that these stores are not in downtown Grand Rapids.  They are on the outskirts of town, or in the mall (which in many GR proponent view as evil).  Right now when people talk or brag about Grand Rapids they start with downtown, which basically has everything, except for a strong retail shopping presence.  When people talk about other downtown areas that they are found of retail shopping usually comes up, and more often than not the talk leads to international brand name stores, trendy boutiques, and the like.  Perhaps the DeVos family can kick off this initiative as well, after all Pamela DeVos (wife to Dan) is the designer and president of the Pamella Roland brand of designer womans clothes.

So what do you  all think would these type of stores be better off in downtown Grand Rapids and would they be supported and thrive with consumer spending?  Or is the Grand Rapids downtown just not have enough residents and visitors to support a well known retail store yet?

For my other post on Grand Rapids “arriving” click here.

Update:  So did WOOD TV 8 read my blog and get a story idea – click here for text and video .  Very cool of A.K. Rikk’s to use ArtPrize as an opportunity to explore (and exploit the crowds) the feasibility of opening up one of their stores downtown.  The short term leases sound like a great idea, and a good way for a retailer and the city to find a perfect match.  Why wouldn’t the city and property owners be more open to this concept.

Grand Rapids on a Pedestal

Finally.

In reading Grand Rapids development news over the years, you always come across Grand Rapids emulating other cities or having Grand Rapids proponents arguing that Grand Rapids needs exactly what XYZ city has.  Or if Grand Rapids gets X then we would be just ABC-ville.

For example:

Exhibit A: Urban Market – Emulating: Columbus-OH, Milwaukee,-WI, San Francisco-CA, Seattle-WA

Exhibit B: Streetcars – Emulating:  Portland-OR

Exhibit CTrader Joes & Whole Foods – Emulating:  Every other community that has one

Exhibit D: Whitewater course for the Grand River – Emulating:  South Bend-IN, Wasua-WI, Petoskey and Chesaning-MI

Exhibit EMonorail – Emulating:  North Haverbrook, Odgenville, and Brockway

Anyway Grand Rapids sheep can now become the shepherd, or the tables have finally been turned.  There is a city in the United States that is benchmarking Grand Rapids, and is actually aspiring to emulate our city.

The city is Cedar Rapids, the second largest city in Iowa, built on the Cedar River.  With a population of 128,000 Cedar Rapids is an economic hub in Iowa.  The cities have a lot of similarities besides the whole “Rapids” thing, and based on this story in the Gazette Online, Cedar Rapids aspire to have a medical district like the Medical Mile on Michigan Street that Grand Rapids developed.  I found it fascinating to see Grand Rapids actually being bench marked for a change and not the opposite.  So slow down Grand Rapids take a breath, and enjoy the view from the pedestal.  Oh and thanks for the compliment Cedar Rapids you’re making us blush.

Be sure to read the whole story here.

Any of you readers have more examples of Grand Rapids being bench marked by other communities (maybe with ArtPrize)?