Behind the Scenes at Shell Lake Woodcrafters

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“The character of a company is based on the top,” said Dan Ringwelski, co-owner of Shell Lake Woodcrafters. Shell Lake has been a Room & Board vendor since 1992 and makes our longstanding Linear collection of cabinets, in addition to Delano storage, Fisher kitchen islands, Graham media consoles and accent tables, and Whitney cabinets.

Dan was referring to his company’s longtime partnership with Room & Board. Heads from each of Shell Lake’s various departments, from the front office to the production floor, had stopped to meet us – four Shop From Home Design Associates who had made the two-hour trip up north to the town of Shell Lake, Wisconsin.

Of course, at Room & Board, we knew what Dan said to be true. We’d seen firsthand our own leaders’ involvement, commitment and passion for great design and quality furniture. “One of the biggest thrills in working for Room & Board is the consistency; the beauty of working with the same people through the years,” said Craig Hanson, Plant Manager. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. “

Hanson has been with Shell Lake Woodcrafters since its beginning in 1991. “I’ve done everything. There’s nothing I can’t do. I feel most comfortable out here in the plant.”

At every point, from the mill room to assembly, to sanding, finishing and inspection, we were awed by the human component that went into each and every Room & Board piece. We saw Scott, who gave us a quiet nod as he milled the lumber, his skilled eyes hand-selecting boards with special attention to color and grain. We saw the beautiful curved corners of the Whitney collection being hand-sanded. Each Room & Board piece was being made one at a time.

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We met Mark, the Production Supervisor, another veteran employee, whose daughter Emily works in the drawer department. Emily is married to Andy in the building department, the son of Lori, who has worked there since the 1990s. Another family had three generations currently working at Shell Lake.

“It’s about the people, not a piece of machinery,” Craig told us. By the end of the tour, where the finished pieces were being packed up for the journey to Room & Board, our pride over these cabinets and accent tables was amplified tenfold because of just that – the people at Shell Lake Woodcrafters.

Dusk was just setting in when we left Shell Lake in the late afternoon. When we arrived, we liked these pieces of furniture. We admired the beauty and had great trust in the quality. We left with deep respect for the craftsmanship that goes into each piece, for the artisans – the people – behind the scenes in quiet Shell Lake. Seemingly small, meeting and getting to know makers like these has a profound, lasting impact.

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Photos courtesy of Zachary Herbst, Shop From Home Design Associate

Our Customers’ Patterns

Now that the days are short and the weather colder, the migratory patterns of our customers is starting to emerge. Returning to the nest and settling in. I think that in the great lakes area, last year’s winter has us being a bit more humble and thoughtful as to what this year may bring. Perhaps winter instills in us a tendency to take the long view when it comes making decisions regarding our homes.

For Oakbrook, this is the time of year when custom orders seem to reign supreme. I often tell customers that they will start their new year off with a design that was built just for them. A fresh start, a new piece that can signal a change forward in their home. Completions, beginnings, endings, the seasons and the nesting process continues with us. Defining, and redefining home and what it means to us through a handmade bowl, or a custom sofa, a beautiful rug or a vibrant piece of art. Like swallows continually feathering the nest, our migratory and homing patterns continue.

 

Preparing for Floor Change

Floor change has been on our radar for a while now. Every employee of Room & Board is engaged in some way in the process of our march to a new catalogue, a new series of products, new inspiration and new showrooms. It is a process that involves intricate planning, inventory management, floor planning [for a 50,000 square foot store], selling down of clearance rugs, lamps and furniture, painting and sometimes major renovations. Once all the preliminary steps are complete, it is then time to figure out the logistics of the physical move.

The actual night of floor change we assign our co-workers to teams who are then responsible for the execution of the movement. There are only a few rooms in our showroom that are not affected. The move involves lighting, accessories, furniture, rugs and props for each room. The teams are assigned to each one of the categories. For instance, there is a bedding team and all they do for a couple of days is make beds throughout the showroom and make sure they look beautiful.

It really is an amazing show of teamwork because we have help from our corporate team during the process. Every store in our company is affected because every store undergoes this same process within the first 2 weeks of the new year. It is definitely a time of renewal.

Continuing to Explore the Retail Merchant Role

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As I probably mentioned a few weeks ago, we are currently in the thick of planning our showroom layout for 2015 here in Seattle. I’ve been transitioning into the Retail Merchant role for our store which has been a steep learning curve, but still a really valuable experience. What I enjoy about this role is that I get to combine my love of creativity along with my love of research and analysis. From a creativity standpoint, I get a sneak peek at all of the changes and new products that are happening with Room & Board’s collection in 2015. I also get to work closely with our Visual Associate in helping to ensure that we have proper representation of products and finishes to support our business.

My research skills come into play when looking at sales numbers to gain a better understanding of how a specific product or collection is performing for the company, or for our store. I normally will track along with our sales throughout the year more generally, and then dip into categories as needed. When when we are doing bigger projects like planning for our new CYH department, or our current planning for floor change in 2015, it becomes essential to take an even deeper dive into categories. I’m spending a lot of time right now working in various spreadsheets, looking at numbers, and gaining an understanding of what new pieces we will be showing next year. This is illustrated by my pile of blue folders in the picture above, so that I have the numbers I need at my fingertips. This part of the role has really been where I’m gaining a lot of new skills, and the support from our Retail Market Manager along with the Leadership Associate, who has been filling this role since our store opened, has been invaluable.

The end of November will be my two year anniversary with Room & Board. Looking back, I’m so grateful for being able to work with such wonderful people, and for everything I’ve been able to do here to support our showroom in that time. I’m super excited to continue my transition into the Retail Merchant role!

 

“What Kind of Retail Store Does This?”

It’s been a busy October here at our store. Lots of change and lots of things happening. And not just when the store’s open! We’ve held one to two evening events on our fourth floor space each week since we reopened our new reimagined top floor as our Complete Your Home department. As Brand Liaison I get to interact with each organization, usually a non-profit, as they plan and finally execute their event.

As a store, it’s an unusual thing that we do. We open our space with no fee, not to sell our product, but to provide an elegant venue in the city without the pricey cost that usually accompanies that city venue. For most organizations, this price break can make the difference between a successful fundraising event and just breaking even.

I’ve been in the Brand Liaison role for a little over a year now and with any job, if you do it long enough you may take for granted some of the more unusual aspects of the job. The unusual becomes the normal.

And so I was struck at a recent fundraiser for Community of Hope, a wonderful D.C.-based organization that provides hope and stability for low-income and homeless adults and children throughout the D.C. area. They’ve been holding their Fall Gala at our store for the past several years. On this particular evening, they held a live auction to sell “Hope” to the evenings participants. In a half hours’ time the group had raised $41,000! Such an accomplishment!

One of their main sponsors for the evening, Bill Conway, Jr., a local philanthropist, stood up soon after and pledged to match the amount raised during the auction. This group had just raised an amazing $82,000 in the course of an hour! Mr. Conway thanked everyone for their participation and generosity. He then made some very gracious remarks about Room & Board.

He thanked Room & Board for hosting the event and was very complimentary to us. He then went on to say, “What kind of retail store does this? What store opens up their showroom to a bunch of strangers for a few hours AFTER they close?”

I have to say, it really did take me back. Here was a noted philanthropist – a man who had just given $41,000! – calling out Room & Board for OUR generosity. I had become slightly immune to the out-of-the-ordinary way in which Room & Board provides support for our community. It made me humble and proud at the same time. I was reminded of how different Room & Board is from other retailers….and how good that can feel.

And So We Say Goodbye…

Dear Readers,

This is my last blog post for Room & Board. When I leave the Skokie store tonight, I’ll be walking into the next phase of my life as a full-time writer. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded here, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and homes I’ve had a part in filling. This has been a great job — the best to tell you the truth. Everyday brought something wonderful and unexpected. It’s difficult to leave so much behind, but I have to follow my heart. I’m leaving with a deeper love of design, a stronger sense of myself, and a cherished collection of meaningful friendships. Thank you so much for reading.

Cheers!

Rachel

Accessory (& CYH) Launch Party!

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I’ve posted previously about the installation of our new Complete Your Home (CYH) department here in our showroom. Last week, we partnered with Seattle Magazine to hold an event celebrating the Fall additions to our accessories collection and the new CYH space.

Some highlights were:

  • Four local designers each “reworked” one of our room settings in their personal style using new Room & Board accessories along with pieces they brought in on their own.
  • Delicious snacks catered by Ravishing Radish served along with sparkling wine, cider, and beer.
  • An Instagram contest to win a gift card for showroom photos posted that evening and were tagged #roomboard2014sea.
  • One of our Design Associates (Anthony Toledo), who also is a DJ, provided a soundtrack for the evening.
  • There was also a tower of Room & Board branded cupcakes made for us by Trophy (pictured above) that were quite a hit!

Our brand team along with other members of our staff worked tirelessly to organize and pull off the festivities. We had over 200 customers join us for the event and a good time was had by all!