Green Design Furniture is a highly-acclaimed company specializing in the design and manufacture of elegant, Arts and Crafts-styled wood furniture that arrives ready to be assembled. When Douglas Green, an inventor and industrial designer, started the company, he sought a computer system that would handle all aspects of business operations, be easy to use, and be flexible to grow along with the business. Green found that Apple Macintosh technology perfectly matched the criteria for his company's computer system.
- Macintosh-based business system allows for a streamlined operation, eliminating redundancy of tasks.
- Customer service is enhanced because employees can spend less time tracking furniture orders, and more time contacting customers.
- Firm can better target its marketing and plan for future furniture lines.
- Firm is able to ship furniture on or before date promised customers on 100% of orders due to tracking using their Macintosh system.
- Tight information control allows company to rapidly expand its sales nationwide and around the world.
- Firm saved on payroll and overhead costs during critical growing phase.
Green Design Furniture is a young company specializing in the design and manufacture of elegant, Arts and Crafts-styled wood furniture that arrives ready to be assembled. But unlike standard "knock-down" furniture, these tables, armchairs, bookcases and credenzas are all designed to be assembled without using fasteners or tools. The company founder, Doug Green, developed a patent approved furniture assembly system called ETA (for "easy-to-assemble") furniture, which is based on interlocking joints. Green's unique furniture design and assembly technique is causing shockwaves in both the ready-to-assemble and factory-assembled furniture industries. In 1994 Time magazine paid homage to Green Design by hailing the furniture line as "one of the best designs of the year."
Problem: When Douglas Green, an industrial designer, decided to launch his own furniture company, he set about choosing a computer system that would fulfill three major criteria. First, it had to support design and manufacturing concerns yet still primarily handle all aspects of business operations-from catalogue mailings to sales, production, and shipping-and to do so with ease. Explains Green, "There are enough things to struggle with in the course of designing and manufacturing furniture. If your computer system is also causing you stress and difficulty, it is not supporting your business." The second major consideration was that the computer system could be flexible enough to grow as the business grew. And lastly, Green, an inventor by background, sought out a computer system that would also serve as a tool to encourage his creativity. "I wanted to make running the business as inventive as the process of creating the furniture."
Solution: Green Design Furniture turned to Apple Macintosh technology as the basis for its computer system. Green was first introduced to the Macintosh in 1981, when he was in graduate school and used the computer primarily for word processing. In 1991, he purchased a Macintosh Quadra 700 and with it developed his prototype for the interlocking joining system using Ashlar Vellum by Ashlar, Inc., a 3-D CAD program. "I remember how easy the Macintosh was to use-it was very intuitive and accepting of creativity-and I was instantly sold on it ."
When it came time to select a computer system for his business, Green looked at the wide range of computers available, including workstations from Sun and Silicon Graphics. He decided against those platforms because they involved a higher level of technical expertise than he felt comfortable with. "I'm not a computer geek," he admits, "and I wanted a system that was intuitive and accepting of creativity." Green's early experience with the Macintosh and Ashlar Vellum also made him want to approach creating the business "from the standpoint of a designer, not a manager." Toward this end, he chose Macintosh technology, purchasing a Macintosh Quadra 610, Macintosh Quadra 700, a Macintosh Performa 577, and a PowerBook 180c.
Given the opportunity to design his business system from scratch, Doug Green turned to Claris FileMaker Pro, using it to create customized applications to support marketing, shipping, and inventory functions. "FileMaker Pro allowed me to get into and play with the program immediately-which is the same way I design, starting with play." What Green came up with is a fully-integrated database that handles all marketing, production, inventory, and shipping needs. The database is set up in such a way that a customer's invoice serves as the master record of information, and any changes to it are reflected on production schedules, shipping documents, etc. Because most of the "paperwork" connected to a furniture order is on the computer, and all of a customer's records are tied together, any employee can look up the status of an order or update records if necessary.
Green also finds the Macintosh to be of enormous creative benefit when it comes to designing furniture for prototypes. Using Ashlar Vellum, Green draws the furniture as 3-D wireframe drawings and is able to manipulate images effortlessly by cutting and pasting or revising without the computer getting in the way. "To me, using the Macintosh for design allows me to think freely, and to express my creativity. It is more like playing an instrument than using a computer," he says. The designs created on the Macintosh are then outputted and fashioned into patterns for prototyping in the shop.
When exhibiting at or attending tradeshows, staff members have access to a PowerBook 180c which they use to keep track of potential new customers. When possible, they simply scan individuals' electronic identification cards into the PowerBook; the information later gets downloaded into their office computer system. Otherwise they use a smaller ancillary database to record customer information along with follow-up reminders. The staff also uses the PowerBook to run presentations of furniture line photos.
Benefits: Using a Macintosh-based operations database has resulted in a more efficient, streamlined business. "Because all of us have access to customer information, and can update information as an order for a credenza, say, moves closer to completion and mailing, there is little redundancy in effort," Green says.
The Macintosh-based system saved Green Design payroll and overhead costs that could have presented a burden to the company during its early growing phase. "Working with Macintosh computers and software, we were able to work so efficiently that it was not necessary to increase our workforce as the company grew," points out Green. "By having a few people working at a level of productivity unimaginable a decade ago, has allowed us to grow without sinking into insurmountable debt."
An efficiently-run business frees Green Design employees to offer customers greater service. One of the company's major goals, for instance, is to ship furniture either on or before the date promised customers. Green Design is meeting this goal on 100% of orders- an impressive feat which Green credits to their Macintosh computer system. "Since we can track the whereabouts of any piece of furniture so easily within the system, we can keep close tabs on it" claims Green. In fact, after a piece of furniture gets shipped, employees then follow-up with a phone call to customers to see that it arrived without getting damaged.
Because the master database also keeps track of catalogue, newsletter, and postcard mailings to customers-and their responses-the company can effectively target their marketing. Customers are frequently asked about pieces they'd like to see manufactured; preferences are then recorded, and waiting lists generated. "We can then safely go ahead and create a piece of furniture for which we know there is a demand, rather than risk designing furniture and hoping there is a market for it," explains Green. A bed design soon to be unveiled is an example of a product that came about because of customer request.
Because of the "tight information and control" afforded by the Macintosh computer system, Green Design as a company has been able to extend its furniture sales nationwide and globally rather quickly. "With our efficient system in place, it makes no difference whether we're shipping down the block or to Tokyo-so why not do more business across the country and around the world?" is the winning attitude of Doug Green.