CLASSIC DESIGN/TABLELEGS.COM—CASE STUDY

Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com by Matthew Burak/Tablelegs.com offers furniture and architectural components to wood-workers on a just-in-time, semi-custom and custom basis that are hard-to-find or hard-to-make. Hundreds of different designs and eight standard wood species result in over 9,000 unique table legs, kitchen island legs, columns, bun feet, table base kits, corbels & architectural components.

Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com customers include over 34,000 active furniture makers, cabinetmakers, kitchen designers, interior designers, architects as well as a whole host of hobbyist and DIYer woodworkers who demand only the highest quality in terms of materials, workmanship, and timeless, principled design. The company employs 26 full time staff.

Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com was founded in 1995 as a division of Matthew Burak Furniture. In that same year, Matt outsourced manufacturing and warehoused 100% of the product that sold. On December 2, 1999 the division was incorporated and became its own entity. In 2001 Mark Desrochers, Matt’s longtime friend and marketing consultant, bought into the business as a junior partner. Matt’s 30 years of experience in furniture design and assembly combined with Mark’s direct marketing experience pole vaulted Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com ahead of all the competition. Today, 98% of what they sell is produced in their St. Johnsbury wood shop with typical lead time of only 5 days.

Situation
Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com has been engaged with VMEC for three years, mostly in the Lean Manufacturing and Strategic Planning areas. Beginning as a warehouse/ catalog/ direct marketing operation, they outsourced their manufacturing operations. As the company began to integrate into the manufacturing arena, their inventory grew rapidly. Working with VMEC, they cut lead times and inventory, as well as greatly improved their cash flow. As the housing market declined, however, Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com business was negatively impacted with a dramatic drop in sales. In January 2011, VMEC discussed innovation-driven growth with Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com ownership and the executive leadership team.

Solution
VMEC held their second Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute in Woodstock, Vermont in February 2011 with 110 plus business leaders from across Vermont and the US. Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com was represented with six executive management team members including two owners; this 3-day, 40 hour session was immediately followed by an intense one day Innovation Engineering Jump Start session where 14 Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com team members gathered to create and communicate new ideas for growth. The company also contracted with VMEC for twelve months of ongoing monthly coaching through Fail Fast, Fail Cheap cycles of learning. The Jump Start created over 100 ideas; two were selected to move into discovery mode for further learning and exploration. Over the next three months, those ideas evolved into products that are now commercialized. Thermo-Ash, a thermally modified wood suitable for outdoor use and preservative-free from sustainably harvested hard woods, is the first-to-market product in applications of its type, which expanded Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com into other markets. They are also working with another local woodworking company as a supply chain partner to commercialize an off-shoot of the second idea that went into discovery.
In addition to these two ideas and their successful growth, Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com has seen cultural transformations, where 19 innovations have been identified and implemented across product, process, and marketing messages. 100% of the workforce has been introduced to the Innovation Engineering (IE) tool set.

Results
The IE tool set turned into the hiring of two team members at Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com. With 1% growth in new customer base (over a two month period), the company anticipates as much as 20% of their revenue in 2012 from the new customers/ products alone. In the next year they will be putting metal legs, metal tips, paints and stains into the innovation pipeline for discovery & exploration. All three of these, if brought on-line, would require partnerships to accomplish. Depending on the numbers, they would like to send another four – six team members to the IELI in March 2012 in Woodstock.

Testimonial
According to Rick Rose, Classic Designs/Tablelegs.com Director of Sales, Marketing and Design, “Innovation Engineering has resulted in a meaningful unique and significant cultural change in our company. It has increased our ability to move a process, product, or marketing improvement along ten-fold. The four most important words on our minds…what did we learn?”

Case Study Source: Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center