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Bobby Grajewski

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Small Steps to Revive Industry in the U.S.

Posted: 06/13/2013 8:49 am

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Growing up in the heart of what was once the furniture capital of world, I saw the devastating negative effects that outsourcing had on my native North Carolinian economy. With numerous companies moving their manufacturing operations overseas, over 50 percent of all North Carolina furniture jobs evaporated during my childhood, leaving many of my family friends struggling to make ends meet. This experience affected my outlook on life. I knew from that young age, I wanted to go into business and revive industry in the United States. I knew that I wanted to create opportunities where good, hardworking people could wake up in the morning and proudly go to a job that enabled them to provide for their families.

Though in retrospect this was a naive goal at the time, I too remember my parents recounting to me the Parable of the Faithful Servant and from this the axiom "to whom much is provided, much is expected." Keeping this in mind, I proceeded to take the steps necessary to make this lofty dream a reality. Following several years of business experience and an MBA at Wharton, I was eager to return home and give back to the community that has provided me so much.

Searching for opportunities outside of the typical finance and consulting career path, I reconnected with my childhood best friend, James Broyhill, who had recently started Heritage Handcrafted, a company that designs and manufactures handcrafted furniture and gift venture from aged whiskey, wine, and scotch barrels. A woodcraftsman since youth and the great-grandson of the founder of Broyhill Furniture, I knew James had "saw dust in his veins" and like me was eager to give back to the Tarheel State. Immediately impressed by James' design skills and diverse product line, I saw how the character of Heritage Handcrafted pieces reflects the depth of this medium and knew that we could possibly have a successful venture.

Yet in an age dominated by cheap foreign imports and technological innovation focusing on speed of production, Heritage Handcrafted -- with its handcrafted products and four week lead times -- stood in stark contrast to its competitors. How could a handcrafted company ever be successful?

This dilemma has been faced by all companies operating in the handcrafted industry. Yet from the success of companies like Uncommon Goods, CustomMade, and Etsy, it is clear that is possible. To compete against better capitalized players with cheaper offerings, the key to success has been creating processes that streamline operations while retaining handcrafted allure, creating niche unique, one-of-a-kind products, and developing a brand that highlights higher-end sophistication.

In handcrafted businesses, which are often small and unsophisticated, especially in their early stages, streamlining operations means developing consistent systems that provide for structure that allow things to run smoothly and efficiently. For entrepreneurs who often started as hobbyists, this is often a difficult transition. From the simplest: setting aside specific days for specific tasks to the more advanced of incorporating technology that aids one's handcrafted process, it is clear that having structure allows one to prioritize and ensure higher productivity. For Heritage Handcrafted, this meant recording step-by-step processes to make our products in an efficient way that maintained quality. It also meant incorporating a patented barrel stave straightening system which allowed barrel staves that once took a month to straighten manually to be straightened in a matter of minutes. These efforts have allowed our firm to create handcrafted products on a national scale.

Yet even with the highest productivity, a handcrafted business will fail if you make products customers do not want. Thus the key to a successful handcrafted company is knowing one's customer and creating products that mesh with their desires while retaining the perfect blend of sophistication and authenticity. The attention paid to design, art, and detail sets handcrafted products apart from its cheaper machine-made counterparts. This cannot be forgotten as a business scales. In a world, where people want to have one-of-a-kind, unique products; handcrafted products plays a pivotal role in achieving this differentiation while showcasing the skill and talent of the craftsman.

Finally, to compete against these national players, a handcrafted company needs to create a differentiated brand that "tells a story" and highlights the quality of its craftsmanship. You want the customer to not only purchase your product, but also purchase a piece of history. Ultimately, handcrafted items are conversation pieces, so a handcrafted company should make the retelling of their story easy for the customer. From the aesthetics of the website (colors and text) to the actual website content (copy and video footage), one's brand should be consistent and differentiated. In doing so, it will show the sophistication and high-end nature of one's products which in turn will assist in justifying the higher price point.

For American manufacturing to resurge in this competitive global market, handcrafted niche products are an essential pillar that needs to be developed. With cheaper foreign alternatives this will be no easy task, but it is not impossible. To survive and succeed, a handcrafted company must focus on streamlining processes, developing unique products, and creating a memorable brand. It has been an honor and a privilege to start Heritage Handcrafted, and I am proud to state that all of our products are made in the USA and we are employing numerous people throughout the Tar Heel state.

Heritage Handcrafted can be found at www.heritage-handcrafted.com and feel free to reach out to me via email at Robert@heritage-handcrafted.com

 
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