Founder and General Manager Greg Gloor really wants to know. We had a marketing meeting this week about the goals for this blog, and Greg was brutally honest with me, the freelancer who writes most of the posts these days.
My services cost about a quarter of what it costs them to place their regular ads in The Washington Post. Will the blog then show a quarter of the sales results? Does increased traffic to the blog mean increased sales?
None of us can really tell at this point. (ouch)
So we set our sights on content, and what has been effective in the past. Of the times Hardwood Artisans has been featured in The Washington Post, Greg said, the stories that have produced customers weren’t those that touted the pretty furniture – the fluffy stuff, in other words. The stories that “bit” – that brought people through the door – were the ones that were printed in the business section.
This article that talked about Greg’s money management was particularly revealing. Needless to say, he doesn’t spend a nickel without being ruthlessly sure that it will help his company.
Will pictures of pretty furniture do it? Or tales from behind the scenes?
“What are the incompetencies?” Greg asks. “What are our vulnerabilities, strengths, and idiosyncrasies? This is the way it is for most companies – it’s a little big gnarly,” he adds, noting that no business is the shiny, tidy, perfect picture you see in the ads. “It is what it is.”
Then he starts talking about Metallica. The metal band’s documentary, “Some Kind of Monster,” struck of chord with Greg – who is not exactly a huge fan of the music. He loved seeing the real people in the business and creative meetings offstage, and their though process behind the music.
Same thing with Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.” We meet the man and the creative minds behind the tour that never was, rather than the tabloid version of him.
So, Greg, do you see yourself as a James Hetfield, Metallica’s lead singer, or the King of Pop? Maybe not, but perhaps we can get insights out of you that most casual Hardwood Artisans customers might not know about.
A few weeks ago, I (Jennifer Sergent) asked the good people here at Hardwood Artisans if they might consider donating a piece of furniture to a local domestic violence shelter – the original post about the less-than-beautiful conditions is on my own blog, here.
Well, not only did they say “yes,” but they decided to build an entire room of furniture for the project, and designer Katie Grech is working on the overall design and color scheme. They also asked two local artists to donate paintings for the wall, and the wife of one of the artists, who is a potter, is donating a bowl.
Owner Ricardo Berrum, Katie, and our marketer, Julianne Yurek, went on a tour of the shelter last week with organizers from Knock Out Abuse, a charity that supports victims of domestic violence. They signed up to design the biggest of the shelter’s bedrooms, which needs to accommodate a family of five.
They will build a custom bunk bed with a trundle bed underneath for the project and a few other pieces. Here are a few examples of what the bed will look like:
“We want to make sure everyone has their own bed. I really want to create a space that feels like home, that feels calm and makes them feel safe,” Julianne says.
This particular shelter houses families for up to four months, which is more than double the typical stay at most shelters, so it’s important to have a space that feels welcoming and home-like.
The beds, along with dressers they are also building, will be a light birch – a really strong species of wood that can stand up to the abuse of children and several people coming in and out. The color will also complement the blue-green colors Katie wants in there.
The color combination “is very serene,” Julianne says. “It’s perfect for a calming atmosphere, and warm enough so it doesn’t feel like a doctor’s office.”
Artist Bill Firestone is donating this 11” x 14” painting, which is in keeping with the colors of the room:
“I think this painting could work well. There are nice greens and blues. It’s calming,” Bill says.
Bill’s wife, Stephanie, is donating this bowl, which can be used in the kitchen or dining area:
In addition, local artist Romina Pereira is producing a custom painting specifically for the room.
The room already has a newly donated rug and window treatments, so Katie will be working with those. Also in the plans are a mirror and a comfy chair. At least one dresser planned for the room will be the proper height to put a baby-changing pad on top. The team is still contemplating how to accommodate all the storage needs in there, so the room doesn’t end up looking like it does now:
“Storage needs are really important,” Katie says, “because they accumulate a lot while they are there.”
The April issue of House Beautiful is out now, and the theme running through the entire magazine is wood. Not all of it is online, so you’ll have to pick up an issue to see the many ways interior designers and manufacturers make decorative use of all kinds of wood species.
But one section in particular caught my eye: “Have You Ever Heard of These Woods?” It goes on to display 20 home accessories made from exotic wood from all over the world. For fun, I put owner Mark Gatterdam to the test with a few of them that are pictured in the magazine: How much does he really know about wood?
Tanguile: (Silence). “That’s waay out there.”
Padouk: Yes. “It’s so prohibitively expensive that you make small items with these woods,” such as this iPhone case below, from Miniot:
Although we hate to see Alison Heath leave us as director of marketing, we will be in good hands with Julianne Yurek. Julianne, who graduated from James Madison University last spring, will be working with one of our owners, Ricardo Berrum, as she gets up to speed.
The story of how Julianne came to be with us is as interesting as any of our customers, which include her parents.
First, though – and we love this – she took a break after graduating by heading out to the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexcio. This place is like Mecca for Boy Scouts, who come from all over the country to this 165,000-acre spread each summer – 20,000 of them in all. They spend the entire summer hiking through the back country, rock climbing, logging, learning music, watching the stars, even learning about weather.
Julianne, who heard about the gig through an Eagle Scout friend of hers, worked at the trading post and hiked every weekend. “It’s really life-changing for some of those young men,” she says. And by the way she describes it, it might have had a similar effect on her.
When she came home for the fall, the interior design major found out that her parents had just ordered the Waterfall chest from Hardwood Artisans, but her mother was worried about the order. The light finish she requested might not go well with the yellow walls in the house, and her mother wanted to know Julianne’s opinion. “When I come home, I always play interior designer for my mom.”
She ended up calling Mark and putting the order on hold. Julie came down to the shop and met Alison to discuss a better finish for their chest. Here is the result, in mahogany with curly maple accents:
While Julianne was there working out the new design and finish, she and Alison got to talking, Alison asked for a resume, and as it would happen, Alison’s assistant ended up leaving fairly soon thereafter for another job. Enter, Julianne!
Now that she’s been here for five months, we asked her about her favorite pieces. “I’m still on the fresh-out-of-college budget,” she says, but: “I’ve been eyeing the platform pedestal bed – I really love it.”
She’s also falling for the Shinto Bench. “It has beautiful details in it – it’s an elegant design.”
We asked Julianne about her marketing goals for us, and she said she’s most interested in featuring the work of local artisans in the Fairfax showroom. “I think it will be neat to involve more local artists in our store and bring the community together,” she says.
She also wants to put more of her interior and graphic design skills to work. “I believe our furniture is a functional piece of art and deserves that respect. I am excited to engage more interior designers and art collectors with our company and keep up the excellent reputation it already has,” she says.
We have nothing but great expectations.
Must all good things really come to an end? Alison Heath, our marketing director extraordinaire, will be leaving us after this week. Her last day in the showroom is Sunday.
She came to us in 2007 after a career in marketing for non-profit organizations, and after a well-earned spring break, she plans to return to that realm. We’re just happy she decided to venture into our realm for a few years.
It all started when Alison was at the Convention Industry Council, but she had developed a habit for vintage and antique furniture on the side. “That was part of why, when I was looking through The Washington Post Magazine, I noticed a curly maple Waterfall coffee table” in our regular ad, she says.
She looked us up online, and loved the furniture. “Most people wonder, ‘Which piece should I buy?’ But I was wondering if these people needed any help.”
Alison called General Manager and Co-Founder Greg Gloor, and they later met for an informational interview. That led to Alison working in the showroom part time for about nine months while she kept her day job. Two years later, however, she signed on full time with us.
I asked her what her favorite parts of the job were. “It all comes down to the customers. Where in the furniture world do people just come for a visit?”
Customers – especially our repeat-customers – will often stop into one of our showrooms, ostensibly to look for something new, but end up staying for an hour just to chat.
“It’s like going to work and meeting the coolest new people every week,” Alison says. She adds that another favorite element was writing the newsletter.
“I loved it when someone would come up to me in the showroom and mention something I had written about, like the 3/50 Project (www.the350project.net), which promotes shopping at independent retailers,” Alison says. “It made me feel like I was providing a valuable service and it was fun to share some of my values, like buying local, and events that I enjoy, like Smithsonian programs and exhibitions, with other people who would ‘get it’.”
So why is she leaving? At 31, she’s still exploring different avenues in the marketing world, and she wants to make room for some “balance,” she says, such as her volunteer work with the Smithsonian, her church, and her family when they come into town from California.
And we admit it – a seven-day retail operation has a way of invading every pore of your life – but in a good way, right?
At any rate, it will be hard for her to forget us, as she is the proud owner of two pieces by Hardwood Artisans – a file cabinet she helped design (“sort of a combination of the Linnaea and Essentials styles”), and the pièce de résistance: A platform bed with floating headboard.
“Once you get accustomed to a certain quality of furniture, it’s hard to go back,” Alison says.
We all hope she’ll keep her word and continue coming back to visit. We wish her the best of luck!
P.S. From Mark Gatterdam: Alison’s leaving is very hard for me to get used to. Since almost day one she and I have worked to update the look of Hardwood Artisans. We agreed and fought and settled with each other. We completed each others sentences. She has done a lot of good for this company, and I for one am a much better person for having known her.
I remember when I lived in Florida several years ago – with a roommate who hated air conditioning.
Picture it – No air conditioning, in July, in South Florida. Feel sorry for me?
Beyond my personal discomfort, my beautiful vintage walnut dresser was the one that really paid the price. Before I finally moved out in search of better climate control (and a better roommate!), the drawers of my poor dresser had swollen to the point where I couldn’t open them without a significant amount of elbow grease.
The opposite, of course, is true in drier climates, like Washington, D.C., in the winter. Wood furniture can shrink the point where it can crack or become visibly smaller.
Dining room tables can lose almost an inch of their length this way.
Mark Gatterdam recounts the tragic tale of his own house – we’re talking the framing here, which is a bit more consequential than mere furniture. There was a ton of rain on the construction site while he was building his house in Orlean, VA, which caused the framing to swell. The first dry season he and Erika were living there, the framing dried and shrank, causing a spider-web of cracks in his walls that were as much as 5/8-inches wide.
“I had to jack my house back up because the wood framing dried,” he says.
Humidification can be an awfully dry topic (so to speak). But for those of us in the business of hardwood, it’s pretty much what we think about all the time.
Our shop and showrooms have even harsher climates than homes, due to the constant forced air and the multitude of bright, hot lights everywhere.
That’s why, if you visit our shop in Woodbridge and look high into the rafters, you’ll see what look like large rectangular boxes spritzing mist into the air every couple minutes – just like you see in the produce department of the grocery store.
When the system doesn’t work at times, we know immediately, as our lumber piles start to crack.
Our Rockville and Fairfax showrooms are also humidified. Before the system was installed in the new Fairfax showroom three weeks ago, some furniture panels shrank, so they showed an unfinished ring around the edges that once was hidden inside the frame. The birch cabinet doors in our design center also warped a bit, but everything should be back to normal in a few weeks, thanks to the new, higher levels of humidity.
While the concrete floors in the new showroom are really cool, furthermore, the concrete is a thirsty substance that sucks all the moisture out of the air, so the new system will offset that effect, too.
Mark says that once you take a piece of furniture home, it should be fine, unless it’s in an area of extreme moisture (such as a basement) or dryness (if you move to Arizona).
For the most part, he says, wood that is sourced and built in this region is used to the climate, but if you bring it out to the dry West or down to the wet South, there could be issues – just as there were with my nice dresser in Florida.
“It’s one of those things about solid wood that you have to anticipate,” he says. “There’s an awful lot to be said for buying furniture regionally.”
If you’re really feeling geeky, and want to know even more about the effects of humidity on wood, check out this informative article, right here.
Because so much of our furniture is known for its Arts & Crafts style, we like to complement that look with other objects of the same genre. Go into any of our showrooms, and you’ll find beautiful lamps by the William Morris Studio, framed decorative tiles by Motawi Tileworks, pottery by Ephraim Faience, and clocks and bookends by Schlabaugh & Sons.
Interestingly enough, all these companies were formed in the ’80s and ’90s, exactly one century after the movement that inspired them. Let’s learn more about each one:
William Morris Studio:
William Morris, an artisan in Benicia, Calif., makes Arts and Crafts lamps that would make the original William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, proud. The contemporary Morris says the two share kindred spirits, but he has no idea whether they share any blood relation. “I’ve never been interested in figuring it out,” he says. Growing up, he adds, the connection “never even crossed my mind … It doesn’t matter. I have my own voice.”
And what a clear, bright voice it is:
Morris and his wife, Renee, debuted their collection of lamps at the Baltimore Craft Show in 1994. Before that, he had been a precision shop machinist for 17 years, and was looking to do something more artistic. He works with glassmakers and potters such as Ephraim Faience Pottery on lamp vessel designs; once they send him the vessel, he creates the wooden base and caps. Renee crafts the shades from translucent mica and parchment, using leaves from their own backyard.
Because of his background, Morris says, “I have that skilled eye” to create his varied designs. “There’s no formula. I just know — it’s one of my gifts.”
Besides the owners’ saw-cutting at the grand opening of our Fairfax showroom last weekend,
One of the highlights of the afternoon was the auction of 30 hours in our Woodbridge shop with general manager Greg Gloor.
Of 15 bidders, Matt Donohue placed the winning bid at $1,650 – a real bargain, he said, since few finished pieces of Hardwood Artisans furniture cost so little, and on top of that, he gets shop time with one of the masters to build his own piece.
Matt is a budget analyst for the Army by day, but in his free time he loves to do woodworking in his basement shop in Burke, VA. Keep reading for a full interview on what he wants to do with his prize.
If the folks here haven’t seen hide nor hair of co-owner Mark Gatterdam in the last several weeks, there’s a reason. He and his wife, Erika, conveniently used their points to take a first-class airplane ride to Thailand. For three weeks. During the worst snowstorm we’ve seen in decades.
So: while you were out shoveling 20 inches of snow, here’s where Mark was:
Yes, while we were complaining of backaches and sore arms from all that shoveling, Mark and Erika were complaining of sunburn on the blog they created for the trip. As for aches, those got kneaded away by the 12 massages Mark got during the trip. His only complaint? That he didn’t get more.
From his perspective as an artisan, though, Mark was able to share a few observations that didn’t make the rest of us snowbound losers gag ourselves.
Bangkok is known for its tailors, so Mark and Erika both had clothes made for them while they were there – bespoke service for less than what you would pay at Nordstrom’s for a nice suit, can’t beat it.
They also visited a Thai Craft consortium, which showcases saori, a weaving technique. Sales benefit women affected by the 2004 tsunami by keeping them employed by their craft.
Next, they visited the White Temple in Chiang Rai. You thought our people at Hardwood Artisans were talented? We’ve got nothin’ on this:
Erika also saw a notice in a local paper for an art fair of master craftsman who are skilled in the Japanese bamboo basket weaving technique, known as beppu. They wouldn’t let Mark take any pictures, but we found some representations here:
Mark’s fondest memory is of going to Myanmar, and riding down the Mekong River into Laos. “Sitting on this long tail boat, scooching down the Mekong River, I’m thinking, ‘How did I get here?’” he asks. (That’s the David Byrne in you, Mark. But rest assured, that is your beautiful wife!)
And finally, a note on cutting trees. We have a huge shop filled with big, powerful machines to cut the wood for our furniture. It takes mere seconds to cut through big, long slabs of it.
But as Mark was sitting by the pool one day, he saw someone truly dedicated to his task, with nothing but a dull blade:
Here’s what he said about it: “We spent an hour watching a man pruning the coconut palm tree by the pool today. Everyone was watching. He climbed the tree barefoot, and proceeded to cut the fruit and lower it by rope to three men below. He was using what was obviously a pretty dull hatchet, chopping repeatedly at his task. These people are really very industrious.”
Watch out, artisans – run for the hills if you now hear Mark telling you that you need to be “more industrious.”
We’ll exit this post now with one last bragging right from Mark. You see, while we were staring out the window at a blizzard, here’s what Mark was looking at:
Not too shabby, eh?
Bill and Dru Vodra have so much of our furniture in their Alexandria home that when I went to visit the other day, he laid out one rule for the tour: “The default position here is, it’s Hardwood Artisans. We’ll tell you what’s not.”
The Vodras are among our dearest customers who keep coming back for more, and it’s with their constant support, input, and ideas that our lines have evolved from just loft beds to any imaginable case good for the home.
That’s why, when they walked into one of our showrooms recently and a sales associate who didn’t know them approached, co-founder Larry Spinks waved off the associate. “Oh, don’t bother with them – they’re family.”
Keep reading to get the full house tour.