Just like a five-year-old with a new toy, I’ll talk to anybody who’ll listen about my ambitions in cabinetmaking. So it was with a dewy-eyed enthusiasm that at a recent party I listened to Nick Cooper bestow some advice on the art of sales and marketing.
Nick is Gemma’s current boss at Salt Media, a company he and his wife Jo started, which provides media and marketing services to businesses in south-west England. They’ve made a successful business from scratch which specialises in sales and marketing, so not to take some notice would be dim, at the least.
One of the people he recommended getting familiar with is Bernadette Jiwa, a woman who has made a profession out of helping businesses become meaningful brands.
Until now, I’ve been on one end only of the brand message – the receiving end, or, to use that awful term, as a ‘consumer’ – and have viewed their efforts mainly with disdain, suspicion and contempt for trying to take up my time and fool me into parting with more cash than is necessary.
I’m on the other side now … and I like it! I like it because the message I want to get across is not manufactured or hollow, it’s a genuine message that I want to celebrate.
But how to crystalise this thing, which until now was just a feeling? How to distill it out of this thick vapour of unformed ideas?
This is where Bernadette comes into the mix. When you sign up to her free e=newsletter, you’re given 20 questions to help understand the reasons your business exists and why people should care that it does.
My answers are a bit out there and sometimes take the kind of tone that you might use on a dating website, but it was surprising how quickly this exercise got me to focus. The questions look so easy, yet answering them was so difficult.
Enjoy – you’re watching the conception of Chilton Design!
1. Why am I doing this?
To make beautiful things, in form and function.
To live a creative life that is expressed through the lens of making of furniture.
To live more expansively through having more control over the way I work, my working environment and the nature of my work output.
2. Why am I the person to do it?
I want to chase the narrow intersection between my self indulgent creative pursuits and the thirst in others to connect with an idea or object that is expressive of some part of their being.
I have a determination to make things with which other people develop strong connections, and I see this by extension as a form of connecting with others in its own right. I think to do this often and intensely is the strongest measure of success.
3. Why is now the time to start?
Two personal trajectories have recently intersected. I reached a level of maturity and experience at which I now recognise what I want and I also have the confidence to risk comforts in the pursuit of it.
4. What problem am I solving?
There is an ever-expanding group of people who seek to identify themselves through ideas. As people’s identities are complex, so too are the ideas that represent them. These ideas are often represented through things such as music, art, brands and, in my case, the objects with which they furnish their homes. As with the organic, or slow food, or single origin coffee movements, people want a deeper connection with the everyday items they interact with, as a way of saying ‘this is something that speaks to some part of me’.
I also see myself as a willing part of the next evolution of the ‘Arts & Crafts’ movement, which began in Britain around 1880:
“A movement born of ideals … out of a concern for the effects of industrialisation: on design, on traditional skills and on the lives of ordinary people. […] It established a new set of principles for living and working. It advocated the reform of art at every level and across a broad social spectrum, and it turned the home into a work of art.”
5. Who is it for?
My furniture is for people who share a similar quest for that ‘sweet spot’ between form and function. These people won’t accept that one can come at the expense of the other, which distinguishes it from both art in its pure form, and plain utility. They want to see a piece as frozen music for their eyes, yet something that inherently makes senses. These people also appreciate the small details that anchor them in the moment, such as the sound of the whoosh of a piston-fit draw, the smell of cedar, the silken edge of a de-airised corner.
6. Why will they care?
They will care because all people care about something – and these people are lucky enough to be in a position to care about the finer things in life, more specifically, the beautiful things in life. As Stefan Sagmeister, a graphic designer recently said so eloquently: “I think it’s ultimately inhuman to only see things for their functionality. We want things to be more than that. The desire for beauty is something that’s in us, and it’s not trivial.”
7. What do the people I hope to serve want?
They want to be able to express some part of themselves through something I have made, through the jointly creative process of the commissioning of a piece of furniture.
8. What do they believe?
They believe that some of humans’ most desirable virtues come from things that are not concerned with those of mere survival or everyday navigation. They believe that objects can sometimes represent ineffable qualities. They recognise the intangibly wonderful but subtle effects that beautiful form and function have on their everyday experience.
9. What do they do — where, when, why and with whom?
They, like all of us, are surrounded by furniture for most of their lives. They interact with furniture, often more than they interact with some of the closest people in their lives. They seek a form of security and responsiveness from furniture and when they are with people who they care about, they want their furniture to add to the experience, not to detract.
My customers come from a broad church. They like and do too many different things to care to mention, but all have an eye for the sublime and take joy out of pausing briefly to appreciate something well made, well designed and beautiful.
10. What will customers say to their friends to recommend this product or service?
My customers will use my furniture as a way to enrichen conversation or as conversation pieces in their own right. Compelled by their care to see their friends as satisfied as they are, and their desire to connect more through telling the story of their furniture, it follows that they will be my biggest advocates.
11. What am I really selling, beyond the utility of the product or service?
I’m selling a unique idea that materialises itself as a piece of furniture. I’m selling a companion that does not speak but rather tells a story.
I’m selling a promise of interaction. I’m selling a relationship in the form of a legacy as my furniture will last for generations. It will long outlive me and it will take on new meanings and symbols as it moves through time.
12. How can I add more value?
I will turn beautiful wood, using traditional craftsmanship, into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Something that goes beyond the immediate visual aesthetic to a deeper level. This will be done both through traditional woodworking techniques and using the latest technological advancements available. Through design and artistic merit, the furniture I create will be more than just a table, or chair, it will serve as a statement, a story and as a symbol of beauty.
13. What happens because my business or project exists?
People fulfill the practical need to furnish their homes but more importantly they fulfill the need to surround themselves with things that reflect the qualities they find important.
My business also helps to recalibrate our current wasteful approach of disposable consumerism where things have a short lifespan, as it makes the item important beyond its immediate utility. My business will also help to raise awareness of the sustainability of furniture production.
14. How will people find me?
People will find me through word of mouth and networks – if I am successful in my aim of making furniture with a story that people want to share, this will be my most powerful form of advertising..
15. What’s my greatest strength?
My recognition that this will be a lifetime journey and that the emphasis is on the journey, not the destination. This recognition helps to provide the ongoing satisfaction that is required to sustain the energy needed to give this business the best chance possible.
16. What weakness might get in the way if I don’t address it?
A tendency to succumb to the mantra “she’ll be right mate’’. It’s the temptation to get to 90% and be done with it. When it comes to both designing and making, only the best will do. Only when I can look at something I’ve designed or made and stare it in the face and know that it really is my best will I be happy that I’ve confronted my most insidious weakness.
17. What does success look like, today, this year, next and five years from now?
Success today looks like the raw energy of a loose hose on full bore, snaking from one direction to the other, testing the boundaries. It’s setting it free and seeing what it hits and what it misses.
Success this year sees a loose structure of language and ideas start to whirl about a vortex of identity. It sees a realisation of the identities of my clientele that will be necessary to help shape the business.
Success in five years will be a consolidation of the character of the business through an evolution of design ideas and philosophy. It will also be a further narrowing in on the clients that enable the deepening of the character of the business.
18. What do I value?
I value authenticity and genuineness. I value the ‘human’ in things and the eternal quest for expression and expansion of the mind.
19. What promises do I want to make and keep?
I want to make the promise of being true to the original flicker of light that brings the client to the point of commission – to eep that as the beacon to which I must always aim.
20. What’s my difference?
My ideas, my interpretations, my life experiences, my subconscious are different to any others, so by definition this is my point of difference. My response to a client’s brief will always be unique to the next person. My clients will see some common ground with my expressed ideas in my furniture and hear about the stories that ground the design’s vocabulary and want to create their own special piece of furniture.