podcast | Apr 20, 2020 |
Manufacturing in a pandemic

For some, it was the news that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had contracted COVID-19. For others, it was the shutdown of the NBA. For Jonathan Glatt, co-founder of Warren, Rhode Island–based handmade furniture company O&G Studio, the moment he realized how serious things had become was the postponement of the Architectural Digest Design Show in early March: “I think it was absolutely the right call, but it was difficult—for a few weeks there, we were having to weigh [whether] it was going to be smart for us to go even if the show did go on. Thankfully, that choice was made for us.”

Mandatory shutdowns, disrupted supply chains and a rattled marketplace: The design industry’s makers and manufacturers are facing unique challenges wrought by the spread of the coronavirus. On this episode of the Business of Home podcast, host Dennis Scully speaks to three business leaders tackling the challenges of the moment head-on: Glatt, Schoolhouse Electric president Sara Fritsch and Chaddock CEO Andrew Crone.

Fritsch, who oversees a large lighting and home goods manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon, took a proactive approach. Though Schoolhouse had had its best February ever, she quickly changed course once the seriousness of the situation was evident. “I will never regret taking an unprecedented global pandemic too seriously,” she says. “I’d rather do too much too soon than too little too late.” Early on, Fritsch and her leadership team instituted a simple three-point framework: Health comes first, stay on top of the situation, and acknowledge that COVID-19 will impact the business.

In response, she’s paused any initiative that isn’t critical to the company’s core operations, furloughed or laid off a third of her workforce (with the intention of hiring them back) and revamped Schoolhouse’s marketing strategy to address the realities of the moment. The challenge is real, but Fritsch is optimistic that Schoolhouse will emerge from the crisis more relevant than ever. “We’re going to get really lean for this period so we can thrive on the other end of it,” she says. “When you have so many constraints, the priorities become so clear.”

Crone, too, was coming into the COVID-19 era on a high. His Morganton, North Carolina–based furniture company was in the process of rolling out a potential blockbuster collection in conjunction with designer Mark D. Sikes. The postponement and then cancellation of High Point Market threw a wrench in the works, but Crone is optimistic that Chaddock can make a splash with a digitally focused release, and hopes that the company’s recent prioritization of quick lead times will serve it well in the days ahead.

“This will push the industry to move forward in terms of digital and improvements to make that user experience even better,” he says. “The industry has made several strides in the last couple of years, but we’ve been behind other industries, and I do think everybody will be reevaluating the importance of making that digital experience just as welcoming as walking into your showroom.”

This episode was sponsored by Rebecca Atwood Design and Universal Furniture. Below, listen to the episode. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast (free of charge!) to get a new episode every week.

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