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Can Brian Boggs change the world for pro furnituremakers?comments (13) November 6th, 2010 in blogs
The ever-inventive Brian Boggs—not satisfied with re-inventing the ladderback chair form and every tool and technique used to produce it—has turned his attention to the biggest problem of all, one that has dogged him and other professional woodworkers for decades: how to make a decent living while producing top-notch work.
When I first met Boggs in 2001, he was in his spacious shop in Berea, Kentucky, surrounded by chair-making innovations: his Rube Goldberg contraption that sliced hickory bark into thin strips for his traditional chair seats, a huge custom steam tank, light-bulb kilns for super-drying tenons, slat-bending forms shaped like a human back, his improved version of the classic shaving horse, a sharpening method that involved diamond dust, and a host of other machines and jigs all customized for the unparalleled precision that Brian’s chairs require. And he was beginning work on a new line of spokeshaves (at left) that would fulfill the tool’s great potential. Those are sold now by Lie-Nielsen.
But when I asked this larger-than-life guy how he marketed and priced his work, he visibly deflated. He had no good answer, he said. How do you charge for a chair that was the result of 20 years of evolution in design and engineering, and the only chair that Sam Maloof bought from another maker?
Nine years later, Boggs might have the answer. He explained it at a recent seminar I attended in Kerrville, Texas, at the annual Texas Furniture Makers Show (check out some pieces from this great show). When the economy tanked in 2008 (and Boggs' marriage ended), he saw an opportunity to start over, to change his location, reshape his career, and revolutionize his business model. "I wanted to build something bigger," he said. He also wanted to break away from the stigma of being a ladderback chairmaker, he said.
He had outgrown the quiet hamlet of Berea, Kentucky, so he set up shop in Asheville, N.C., a growing center for fine craftsmen and a perennial draw for wealthy vacationers. But he was confronted with the same old challenges: wood sourcing, marketing, attacting skilled employees, and finding time for the design work, tool development, and joint testing that had been indispensable to his progress as an artist and maker. Plus he had new challenges: local wood sources and word-of-mouth.
Since Asheville has a strong Arts & Crafts legacy, and lots of homes in that style, Boggs began to design contemporary pieces loosely inspired by that style. But he needed to be able to have others build his designs, so he could design more pieces and evolve more quickly.
The breakthrough came when he hired business consultants to help him make a bold new strategic plan. Together they came up with The Boggs Collective.
posted in: blogs, chair, business, pro, professional
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