Dan Valmadre, Director of Renowned Furniture just recently came from a week long trip to China visiting manufacturing facilities and furniture outlets.
Here’s what he brought from his trip.
Why did you go to China?
I thought it was about time we took a look at what’s happening over there. Over the years, the quality of what came out of China in the furniture market here in Australia was really not a threat or even in the same league of what our master craftsmen produce here.
You did not need to go to China to see it either, there’s plenty of low, medium and so called high end furniture stores right here in Australia that can show you exactly what can come out of China. It seems to me that greed or the demands for massive profits here drive a real disparity between value and quality and this is through no fault of the manufacturers in China, they simply build to order including to scope and specification.
What did you see?
To the unsuspecting public, a poorly made piece of furniture is like anything: Well hidden floors & shortcuts will only reveal themselves long after you’ve taken delivery. We refer to this kind of furniture as: “two move furniture” Meaning: You move it more than twice and it falls apart.
Renowned pride themselves on “making tomorrow’s antiques, today” using traditional methods and master craftsmen. The saying is trying to point out that a piece made by Renowned Furniture will still be as good as it was the day you took delivery of it, 100 years later. A big statement but given that we’ve already been around for 40 years and we see furniture from time to time that was made by us in the early years and it’s still going strong, I think we can say it with some good degree of confidence. What I did see in the better facilities there is a heartening degree of recycling, almost zero waste and production efficiencies in manufacture that would need a separate book to fully explain. Let’s just say that when you have a factory the size of a small suburb, there are lots of areas where you raise efficiencies to very high levels and gain big cost benefits.
But back to the point or the question, why travel to China to visit furniture stores and manufacturing facilities?
Well, the time has come to better understand the global market and be ready to do business within that arena, or battle as the case may be. Know your enemy or understand and align with your friends. There is always a bottom line nipping at your heels, make a reasonable profit to remain viable and in business and then there’s the moral and ethical issues that challenge you every day. What to do? Sink or swim, join the masses if you can’t compete or carefully select some middle ground with all the issues addressed as best as one possibly can under the circumstances.
I went to find the master craftsmen, I went to see if their living and working standards were good, bad or indifferent. What did you find? Pretty much every extreme. What did you do? I made friends with a group of companies that had an ethos that was relatively aligned. How? I looked at Workplace Health & Safety, I looked at environment, Quality & finish, I saw recycling and waste reduction in process and then I looked at price. At the better factories I visited, I saw, work standards in line with Australian standards. It is quite possible to find and work with likeminded folk there and bring about change that’s mutually beneficial for some products.
It’s getting more interesting. A few more on this next week… so watch this space!
Where to from here?
As Renowned Furniture grows and we spread our marketing, we are being asked more & more to tender on larger projects. In the past, these invitations were few & far between but always turned down by the previous directors due to the business’s size. These days, we are submitting and starting to win significant projects. (multiple pieces for commercial and public spaces). We can continue to grow and we will, however, there’s another factor at play. Tenderers and Specifiers are almost always price driven, so we have to find the middle ground where business here remains viable and product is deliverable on time and to the right quality level.
Is it possible to be both?
I believe we can do both and that would actually make the best sense. To maintain our standing of Australian bespoke craftsman built furniture and be able to cover larger projects by sharing our quality, design & systems with external supply contracts. Meeting with the guys over in China gave me enough confidence to say that the future is bright so long as it’s approached with eyes wide open. The concept of maintaining our manufacturing capabilities as well as working with others on larger projects means that we can provide a very wide scope of offering to our ever growing client base. We can also avoid at the same time, the more painful aspects of growth such as cash-flow and HR by simply shrinking & growing with demand. The world is getting smaller every day and if you look at with that in mind, the global village is your oyster. Engaging contractors to assist with larger projects is nothing new, doing it with an offshore supplier isn’t either. It’s all in the way its managed.
Are you worried about being copied?
Ha! We’ve been copied since the day we started and in truth, we’ve copied too albeit to improve a particular design. How can you claim that you designed a chair, a bed or a table? They’ve been with us since the dawn of time in so many forms. Any direct copies are viewed as flattery, if we saw a product out there that stated it’s a “Renowned copy”, I’d probably post it on Tumbler, Pinterest, Twitter and anywhere else I thought it might get some airplay because it just means we’re leaders and innovators as well as bloody good designers and craftsmen.