Friday, February 27, 2009

The Power of the Internet

The web is a funny thing. Some days I can't find what I want and I think all this online stuff is just a big waste of time. (I sound like Mark, don't I? No, this is Alison.)

But other days, I think it's great. (That's better.)

For those of you who don't know, Hardwood Artisans is also on Twitter. What's Twitter? It's like a blog, but everything has to be said in 140 characters or less. It's an interesting mode of communication because it requires you to be concise. Sometimes I feel like I'm back in 11th grade English with Mrs. Avery telling me to eliminate all flowery language. No adverbs! No infinitives! If you use "however" or "anyway" you will be shot!

Anyway, this week, I sent one of Tom Heath's Washington Post columns over to a guy named Ben McConnell, who wrote "Creating Customer Evangelists". He then sent it out to all the people who read him as a great example of marketing coverage by mainstream media, giving me credit. If you're a rock music fan, this is like being acknowledged by Mick Jagger or Eric Clapton. Wow.

Next, Mark was trying to design a piece of furniture for a customer that involves round legs. Since we don't usually do round legs, we were going to have to buy them from someone who does, but we couldn't find an appropriate supplier. Luckily, I happened to have met someone on Twitter a few weeks ago who does hand-turned wooden furniture legs: Within just a couple of hours, I had a drawing, I had a price and they told me they could mail them out today if I wanted them that fast. Wow again.

Just when my faith is lagging, something like this happens and all is right with the world again.

P.S. You can follow us on Twitter @furnituregirl.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The story of sycamore

For years and years, our founder, Greg Gloor, worked with a lumber mill to purchase quarter-sawn sycamore. Above, that's a picture of what quarter-sawn sycamore looks like at its best. Between us and another manufacturer in Vermont, the mill hoped to be able to sell enough of this not-very-popular wood to make drying it in quantity a profitable operation.

However, sycamore is hard to dry. It is prone to what is called “blue stain”—an infection in the wood that cause the surface of the board to turn, essentially, blue—and a couple of loads of stained wood killed the market. Stained wood of this type becomes virtually useless, as it isn’t pretty enough for anything but painting. The mill couldn’t get the prices they needed as a result and stopped the production of quarter-sawn sycamore.

We went through a period of time trying to cobble together enough stock from other suppliers to keep using it as a secondary wood in our drawers and an accent wood on other pieces, but only about five percent of the mills in the entire country quarter-saw lumber, making it very difficult to secure the quantity we need at a price we could afford.

We tried valiantly, but in the end, we had to give up. Ash is cut by many more mills and is competitively priced so finally, the Board decided to make the switch. We’d been phasing out the sycamore-sided pieces over the last year or so, but it has been taking too long so we finally decided to sell them off all at once.

We've also got a few pieces that have discontinued fabrics on them or that have been in the showrooms for a while. Click over to the floor model list and see what treasures you can unearth for your home!

Monday, February 9, 2009

VIDA and the lifetime value of a customer

It's not often that I run across a company that I would love to work for. In fact, it took me almost ten years of working various places before I found my spiritual home at Hardwood Artisans.

Today I read about VIDA, a fitness company with three locations in the DC metro area, none near me all the way out here in the suburbs. This is a company that gets it, probably because they have a CEO who gets it--he has a passion for working out. I can relate. I'm a bit of a workout fanatic myself. I love to play softball, have had personal trainers at various points and really, truly enjoy working out.

To be honest, I don't so much mind that my gym focuses on selling cheap memberships, locking people into long-term contracts and banking on the fact that most of them will work out for a month then never come back. It means that the gym isn't crowded (yes, the resolution crowd has already dispersed), but it's also not terribly honest. The gym knows they make more money when people don't come back.

But VIDA does the opposite. By basing optimal profit levels on a certain (lower) number of memberships sold and focusing on giving those members great experiences, they have created a tremendously loyal following of people who love to go there and increasingly put other aspects of their lives under VIDA's control (nutrition, laundry, spa services). It's called the "lifetime value of a customer" and it's something that not enough businesses focus on.

Even though the reporter focused on the business aspects of VIDA's model, there's a moral aspect as well. When you sell to someone who you know isn't coming back, you're not doing that person a service. When you sell a membership (or a product) to someone with the express purpose of making sure that they love it so much that they absolutely have to come back, you're adding something to that person's life.

We do the same. When a customer who has come to us before comes back, not only are we able to provide increasingly good service, we're developing a real, human relationship. And what's great about working here is that I can sit around all day thinking about how to offer better service instead of how to make more money. That's good for everyone.

Now, off to the gym!

On A Whim

Imagine my surprise when catching up on my blog reading over the weekend, when I saw the post on Pure Style Home about On A Whim, an antique mall in Lucketts, Virginia.

This picture is the booth of our very own Glen Redmon, who does presentation and sales for Hardwood Artisans in addition to being the proprietor of the best looking antique booth in the area.

He's got a bunch of cute things out there so next time you're out near Lucketts, definitely take a look.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I read a very interesting article in The Washington Post by Jason Wilson about the origins and evolution of the martini. While the subject of martinis is not top of mind for me, I found this all very insightful and so, so true.

My father is one of those who began drinking gin martinis in college, you know, back in the 1950’s, smoking a pipe, wearing a coat with the patches on the elbows. It was the rage of the time. Later, when I was becoming of legal age, I fondly remember mixing him drinks where I would splash vermouth over the top only, or just say the words over the glass.

I remember sitting around with my father on one of the many fishing trips to Chincoteague Island, VA. The day was done, and we were regaling in our daily pack of lies, otherwise known as the fish stories of the day. He and I sat around drinking “martinis” made his way…no vermouth. I thought I would die. Talk about harsh.

In the article, Derek Brown says “when people finally experience a martini with unique and artisanal ingredients, it makes a world of difference”. The whole point of the article is that we Americans have somehow managed to stray from the original composition and intention of the martini.

I think that the furniture world has managed to stray from tried and true practices. When I show people a dovetail or mortise and tenon joint, they are just amazed this sort of joint is still created. The concept of wood from the trees stops people for a moment. When I say walnut, I don’t mean a walnut color, I mean a walnut tree – as furniture makers for centuries have intended it to be. So mix a real drink, and get some real furniture.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Etsy Love for your Valentine

If you’ve already gotten her a Hardwood Artisans jewelry box, check out some other handmade gifts.

DreamsandJewelry from San Ramon, California

Block Party Press from Baltimore, Maryland (LOCAL!)

Lawn Fawn Cards from Los Angeles, California

hijirik studio from Brooklyn, New York

Remember to make it a handmade holiday!