under new management

 

an amazing ride

    In 2009 the economy was in free fall,  what was especially damaged was the housing market in America, which meant the idea of starting a furniture company that focused on craftsmanship at the onset of the Great Recession was very unadvisable.  But that’s what we did.  We ignored the prevalent weather patterns and headed our little skiff straight into the rolling thunder.  When we started Alex and I weren’t young and naive, but in our forties, and had already paid serious dues in the construction industry.  Alex had faced some pretty trying times as an architect, and I had seen my dreams die, having lost my first business, Tree of Life Woodworks.  Alex supported himself managing rental properties his family owned while being a professor of architecture at IIT.  I had to resort to selling windows and doors for close to a decade, while keeping a small shop going on the side.  At our age what Alex and I had earned was patience, that and a twenty year old friendship that made us like brothers.

    This patience was necessary for us to take the time to work on model after model at the beginning.  Even though most of those models had great potential, what we held out for was more than a good table design or a good chair design.  What we were looking for was a true innovation in furniture making.  What we were on the hunt for was a dynamic and multi-use system.  What we sought after was to start a simple but potentially sophisticated language that would be auto-didactic, meaning a system that spoke its own language while growing its own vocabulary.  It took patience to hit gold, and it took wisdom to know when we had.  New Breed’s continued success happened not because of the founder’s business savvy, but rather despite our limitations.  The whole reason I am still making this wonderful furniture many years later is because of the real value of the design system itself.  These products have proven universally appealing, and have always done an impressive job of selling themselves.  So when I look back at what happened and how we did it, the heroes of our story are the products themselves, and I’m grateful to them for carrying us through.

    I am looking forward to what is a new beginning for New Breed.  I have negotiated with Alex to take over the company, and lead it by following my heart while learning from the past; however, If I was to die today, I would be prepared to rest in peace knowing I can say I got to experience a dream come true with a design and business partner that was hand chosen for me.  Together we got to do something most people only dream of, and for a while we did it as if we were a unit, two as one.  Alex has agreed to hand over the tiller, and let me take the business to the next level, but our collaboration is far from over.  We have so far done the impossible twice, started a world class brand of furniture, and kept our mutual respect in tact.  Despite difficult financial dealings, our friendship is as strong as ever, and we are now ready to start this new chapter, you can call it New Breed Furniture LLC.

 

applied lessons on what and what not to do

    Admittedly, my big ideas can be a big pain in the ass, and the naming of New Breed Furniture Network was the first sign of trouble between me and my partner.  It wasn’t enough to create a respectable furniture company, I wanted to ignite a maker’s revolution in America (secretly I still do), and that's why the added word 'Network' in the name was meaningful.  The more I put the focus on the future network and away from the day to day responsibilities of filling orders, the more of a rift was created between us as business partners.  I pride myself on being what I call a “paradoxicalist” so I can see it both ways, I totally understand why Alex kept urging me to keep it manageable.  At the same time, I believe my insistence to feed the dream of the network made us seem to be more than we were, two guys in a two thousand square foot shop.  I believe we would of never gotten some of the game changing opportunities that put us on the map if I didn’t push us to go big or go home, but I also believe Alex was right about the sustainability conundrum.  Now that I’ve finally taken matters into my own hands, and built the new website, I have a new perspective of the past years.

    The new website is evidence that we did a lot right.  we developed a wonderful line of furniture, we got into stores around the country, including Scout, Post 27, Haymaker, Green Home Chicago, Century House in Madison WI, Roam in Minneapolis MN, Madelife in Boulder CO, Mod Livin in Denver CO, Bobby Berk Home in New York/Atlanta/Miami, and Atmodsphere in San Luis Obispo CA.  We also got picked up by a number of online stores like Smart Furniture.  We enjoyed a lot of free publicity in Chicago Magazine, Luxe Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Wallpaper Magazine, Dwell Magazine, HGTV, and even in a Little Big House video.  The biggest feather in our cap was having our first three commercial customers be Whole Foods, Starbucks, and Google spec'd by world leading firms like Gensler and Perkins and Will.  With that resume you would think we were financially as happy as pigs in shit, but instead by being good little wholesale manufacturer’s we could never seem to make ends meet.  We were in a catch twenty two situation, we needed to offer wholesale pricing to even be considered by retail stores and online stores, which was the gateway into the commercial world, but the larger orders were few and far between.  Most all the orders that you see on the website were one offs, and one offs sold at wholesale is the kiss of death.   It feels like the first five years was one big lost leader aimed to get ourselves known, with that accomplished its time to be good Adam Smithian's and learn to turn a profit.

 

a hybrid approach toward manufacturing

    You have to understand, the DNA of New Breed is about being an alternative to the current furniture world, a world dominated by imports, shoddy construction, and phony materials.  Our brand objective was to be real designer/builders, believing that the current mode of designers being separate from the manufacturers, often at odds,  was sub-optimal, leading to soul deadening design.  In fact, the word ‘arkhitekton’ in Greek and ‘architectus’ in Latin means ‘master builder’, the word ‘heahcraeftiga’ in Old English means ‘high crafter’, and finally my favorite word ‘shokunin’ in Japanese can be defined as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan’ even ‘builder/designer/contractor’, but that does not express its deeper meaning.  The traditional Japanese apprentice is taught that ‘shokunin’ means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude of social consciousness.  “The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.  This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.”  Tasio Odate

    So, it was always essential that we be makers, but ironically the way to lead this maker’s revolution in the long term is to stop making everything in house for now so that some day we can be in the position to offer experience to all our stakeholders that fulfill the requirement.  Until then, the new New Breed strategy is to search and find component part manufacturer’s to supply our little out-fit with parts and sub-assemblies, and to focus our in house activities on assembly, finish, distribution, design, and most importantly sales and marketing.  This new approach will hopefully increase quality, decrease delivery times, increase volume, decreasing costs, and most importantly increasing profits (right now a very low bar to jump over).  

    So here is what’s being done, in a joint effort with Woodworking Network Magazine, I am conducting a thorough survey of all the component part manufacturer’s in the midwest, with-in a six hour travel time radius around Chicago.  I have sent production packages to over ten companies that include product drawings, spec’s, and more, in fact a lot more.  After getting a non-disclosure agreement signed by the participants, I am sharing everything I have gathered after over six years of building this furniture full time about the process in true lean manufacturing terms, including weights, lineal footages, square footages, board footage, a breakdown of every step of the process, and the times for each.  With this information the participating companies will submit their bids, turn around times, and terms, knowing they’ll be reviewed in a national magazine, and if chosen they will be put to the test with an initial order. 

    This initial order will be an aggregate of orders we receive from the launching of the new online store on the new website, www.newbreedfurniture.com (say bye bye to www.nbfn.us), an email campaign to all the buyers and enthusiasts that have reached out to us over the years, a new barter system that is directed to industry professionals, and a highly promoted national online flash sale scheduled in March with Touch of Modern and Houzz.  From my experience, I should be able to put together an impressive first order to put my theories to the test.  By outsourcing the parts, can New Breed enjoy sustainability and more?  This is the first step of building a revolution focused on a basic call to action "love making what you love".