I’ve always thought the service we offer at Hardwood Artisans to be unsurpassed. But I’ve recently learned that even we can improve. I didn’t experience the ultimate in service anywhere locally; I found it half way around the world in Southeast Asia and throughout the entire journey there.
My wife and I have been amassing airline miles for years, in hopes that one day we could take a dream vacation. But life gets in the way of living and we never got around to planning our trip until faced with the possibility of the miles expiring. She and I, being the products of frugal ancestors from the Old Country, could not let that happen. So we finally decided upon our itinerary that was partially based on figuring how far we could travel in first and business class. The results: Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia.
Being a working stiff, I’ve only flown economy class and never realized the level of service in premium classes was so different. We were especially impressed with the Asia-based airlines. We were greeted by name, offered drinks before we even had a chance to sit down, and served food on stylish china. I think if we’d asked to be tucked in for the night, we would have been happily obliged. The flight attendants were always smiling and acted as if pleasing us was their goal in life. For months I was dreading the longest leg of the trip, the fourteen and half hour flight between Vancouver and Hong Kong. But after being wined and dined, pampered and coddled, I felt like I never wanted to leave the plane.
Little did I know that the level of service I experienced on the flights would pale in comparison to Thailand itself, where they seem to have taken customer service to an art form. We were checked in to the hotel by smiling faces and greeted every morning by more. A special coffee request? No problem. Leaving for the airport early, before breakfast? A box of goodies was packed up to take with us. By the second day, the ladies in the dining area already knew the kind of beer or soda we wanted to drink.
People and businesses alike outside the hotel were equally accommodating. A tailor willing to make a custom suit and shirts in forty-eight hours? No problem. He even took the extra time to re-stitch two seams that I approved but he wasn’t happy with. Boxed everything beautifully for shipment back to the States and delivered the package to the restaurant where we were dining. That is service. Will I return to that tailor if I’m back in Bangkok? Absolutely. Nor will I hesitate to recommend his services to anyone I know.
This is what I strive to do with all my customers: impress them enough that they want to return and refer their friends. I try to remember names and preferences and accommodate each request, within the parameters of the furniture item they’re interested in. It’s not always possible, but I do try to do it with a smile. I genuinely want happy customers, not so much because it’s good for business (though that doesn’t hurt), but I think it’s because it’s my job, and I want to do well at it. This is what makes me happy. Perhaps there’s a little of that Thai attitude in me after all.
February. When I was a child, I always dreaded the approach of February. While I know it’s not, for me February is the coldest, darkest, most damp, month of the year. Just raw. And depressing.
Now, I can’t wait for February. Don’t get me wrong. I still think February is a miserable month in terms of the weather, but I look forward to it for one reason. Time to plant the seeds!
You see, in the past twenty years or so, I’ve become a bit of a gardening freak. When my wife and I bought our first house, one of the first things we did was put in a small 8’ x 8’ garden. The following year we doubled it, and the next year we doubled it again. In the home we currently live, the garden occupies about 50 x 50, with an additional couple of hundred feet square for fruit trees and berry bushes . We spent the better part of the summer physically in the garden.
My wife and I have gone a bit ……..insane with the volume of plantings we are doing from seed. We start almost everything from seed, more for the opportunity to see us through February. Today, she is preparing the trays that we use to plant our “babies” in. We will start planting soon. We argue about the date to begin the plantings. Last year, I set my hot pepper seeds in the second week of the month, and the tomatoes in the fourth week. They didn’t get in the ground for 11 and 9 weeks, respectively, so they were a bit leggy at the end, but the act of raising them saw me through the rough patches of winter.
None of this has anything to do with furniture, of course, but there are a lot of similarities I draw between furniture building and building a garden. Both take shape slowly, behind the scenes, starting as bits and pieces of stuff, and eventually coming together as a cohesive whole, and when the piece is finished or the first tomato is plucked, the tangible results are equally satisfying to me.
It may be dank and cold now, but pretty soon when you come to visit me on a Saturday in Rockville, I’ll have a basket or two of my fresh picked veggies for you to sample, all because I took this time now in nasty old February.
So, I hired this twenty-something, very bright, enthusiastic, and persuasive woman as the marketing director for Hardwood Artisans, and this is pretty much the net result. She convinced me that my writing a “blog” would be a good thing, that people would find it, and thereby hopefully me and the company, interesting. Hell, I don’t even think of myself as being interesting. Over the past few months, however, I have come to find that some people, for whatever reason, think that some of the things I do or say are different, and thereby interesting. We’ll see about that, now won’t we?
I guess I should have prefaced this all with a bit of an introduction, before I cursed and all that stuff. My name is Mark Gatterdam. I am one of six partners that are the current owners of Hardwood Artisans, a local Washington D.C.- based furniture manufacturer and retailer. We have been around as Hardwood Artisans, or The Loft Bed Store, since 1976. The founders, Greg Gloor and Larry Spinks, transfered ownership of the company to the six of us a few years ago. The six of us helped create the organization. All of us came up through the ranks the same way I did. We employ about 70 people throughout the organization, with about 45 – 50 actual craftsmen building the furniture. Sounds like a lot, but we still consider ourselves small, and I am proud to say I know each and every one of their names. It is still a family-based business.
I have been in the furniture industry my entire adult life. I put myself through college working at furniture retail stores in the area. The hours were flexible, and I thought the product was interesting. I decided to get out of the front end of the business, and take a shot at creation. I was making good money, managing a store, but somehow I still felt unsatisfied – the American way, right?
I have worked at Hardwood Artisans for about 21 years. I took a huge cut in pay to come here. I started by building beds. In the blink of an eye, I became a blue collar “ham and egger”. I was very straight laced, newly married, and still working on my college education. I really didn’t fit in to the hippy sort of artist scene that was in front of me. Everyone had long hair, there were amplifiers the size of humans wired from the ceiling blaring out Led Zepplin, and you were always filthy dirty. Always. But I loved it. And over time, I let the hippy in me come out a little bit, and over time, my work associates cut their long hair and started listening to country music. Go figure.
Currently, I am the Qualifications Director for the company. I handle all the service problems, warranty work, finishing and staining, as well as working in the showrooms on the weekends. I do a fair amount of in-home consults, and as a result, custom design work. I pretty much see myself as a problem solver. That is the best way to describe my day-to-day activities. I feel that my current goal is to find a way to get back into the shop with some regularity doing what I want to do – making furniture.
I feel needed on my current position. There seems to be a large amount of trepidation and downright fear on the part of the consumers I meet. Worries about sizes, fit, finish, damage, cost, value, children, all have led to a lot of correction on my part. So while I want to go off and create, I know I am needed here to help correct.
Bye for now.