As Marshall Furniture begins the new year, they look back at our successes not only in 2016 but during their past 30 year history. As some of you may know, last year they celebrated their 30 year anniversary. This milestone was marked by several celebrations throughout the year, including a selfie contest where prizes were given to some of their supportive customers and dealers. Marshall Furniture had great success last year, introduced a few new products and had a lot of interesting custom projects leave through their doors. Now that they begin their 31st year, their President, Dick Mangione, sat down to talk about his experiences throughout the last several decades and what he hopes to see in the forthcoming years.
In 1986, Marshall Furniture started out making fancy carts and monitor cabinets. The demand was simplistic but soon customers and dealers “were asking us to make things they couldn’t get others to make” says Mr. Mangione. As a response to customer demand, Marshall Furniture set out to make a name for themselves as a completely custom shop, doling out designs and products that clients would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. According to Mr. Mangione, this is what has continued to separate Marshall Furniture from its competition. “Everyone else is trying to sell a product with an SKU on it but we’re selling 100% custom, even when it’s a lower cost item. Our complete customization of literally everything we do is certainly what sets us apart.” It wasn’t a quick progression, however. Although the company did eventually transform into a fully custom wood shop, it wasn’t without hitting a few brick walls. The problem, Mr. Mangione explains, is building a brand to differentiate from other custom shops, including individual, contract millworkers. “We are (and have been) in competition with everybody in their basement with a table saw. And every other millwork shop.” In order to build brand awareness, Marshall Furniture set out to ensure they were manufacturing “a high quality product,” along with “presence at tradeshows” and a physical image in print and online through their annual catalog and website.
Investing in a brand image was just the beginning. Although Mr. Mangione stresses that his company’s ability to offer a complete custom experience is key, he is also adamant that their short 4-6 week custom lead-time and 10-30 day Quick Ship line are crucial to their continued success. At first, this wasn’t the case. Only with time and technology was such a feat possible. Early on, Mr. Mangione admits, it wasn’t always easy to keep up with customer demand, “We attempted to never have to say no to anything mechanically reasonable. For years and years, we were at a 12 week lead-time. The first few years were very hairy because of the expansion demand that we had.” However, improvements in machinery have helped. In fact, when asked whether there was a specific product line or manufacturing change that helped propel the company’s growth significantly, Mr. Mangione felt that the adaption of robots and computer aided design was paramount to their success. He says, “We couldn’t possibly do as much work as we do…without it.”
In fact, thanks to developments in wood working tech, Marshall Furniture has been able to take on some complex projects that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Within reason, the company takes on almost any project, utilizing their quality standards and employing skilled wood workers to ensure a high level of craftsmanship. These custom and sometimes difficult projects are what Mr. Mangione enjoys the most. As he puts it, he likes to see the “strange ones” come through. His favorite is when “we get something that you know is going to look really cool.” Offering customization does sometimes contain drawbacks. “Sometimes we finish and do well (on cost) but we don’t always make a lot of profit. At some point though, that’s the risk you take being in business.”
In conjunction with aesthetic customization options, Marshall Furniture products are all AV integration ready. For the past 30 years, the company has been working alongside AV integrators to ensure each product is compatible with a project’s equipment specifications. In return, Marshall Furniture has relied on their trusted dealers to mitigate customer concerns on-site. This process whereby “we take care of the AV people and the furniture simultaneously” has been integral to their process. Although there has been an increase in customer knowledge of and interaction with technology recently, “they (customers) still don’t know much about furniture” says Mr. Mangione. Combining forces on both fronts has been integral to the company’s success, especially as technology trends shift. Being able to keep up with these changes is important. As Mr. Mangione explains, working alongside integrators has helped Marshall Furniture keep tabs on the latest equipment to hit the market. They are able to keep up-to-date on customers need within each application.
On a more personal note, I asked Mr. Mangione what he enjoys most about coming into the office every day for the past 30 years. His response? “The dogs. No question, the dogs.” As some may know, Marshall Furniture has been a dog-friendly environment for its three decade long existence. A few pups roam the offices and one or two grace the shop. He admits that his dedication to the dogs wasn’t always his number one concern. “Now that I’m semi-retired, of course it’s different. When I was running things directly, I had to know every part of the business.” During the company’s early days, Mr. Mangione admits that he most enjoyed the many hats he was able to wear. “When we started, there was just me and then two and then five and so on.” Now that the company employs 30+ workers, he has less running around to do. However, he feels his early days dabbling in almost every position has helped sharpen his business skills, “I worked in the shop, in the office, I collected the money. All of that has helped.”
Looking forward, Mr. Mangione does have some hopes for the future of his company. First and foremost, he tells me that he’d like to physically see the next 30 years, “though that would put me right at 100 (years old)” he says with a laugh. He moves on to emphasize the importance of Marshall Furniture’s role as a customer service engine. In fact, he describes Marshall Furniture’s vision as “taking care of people, filling in design blanks, getting people what they want.” These essential features, all of which he feels are at the root of the company’s success, are what he ardently hopes to see continued throughout the coming years.