Lessons learned during the pandemic…
2020 has been a year of challenges, opportunities and many lessons learned.
This past year will stand as one of the most challenging years in memory. Lives have been disrupted, families have suffered staggering emotional and economic devastation, and we have lost almost a full year of formative education for our young students. Food lines stretch far into the distance and the lines for COVID testing and now, vaccinations are almost as long. Wow, what a tough year!
Are we working on the right problems?
Very early on during the first Michigan work from home phase, our team met virtually to openly discuss economic conditions and an almost continuous stream of announcements for furloughs and layoffs with our Clients. These announcements impacted us deeply, since many of the people affected were longtime friends and trusted Clients. It was a helpless feeling and we found ourselves seeking things to work on that might help solve everyday problems in our “new normal”. Little did we realize at the time that the problems would continue to grow in complexity and impact to our business and families.
We set up brainstorming workshops to explore different problems that we could help solve. The world did not need another mask company (at least at the time) and we did not know much about the design of protective equipment or ventilators. Our team quickly developed a portfolio of different ideas for a number of applications and environments. Being designers and engineers, we launched into sketching and ideation before we caught ourselves and filtered our priorities down to a few products. A little business discipline is always helpful with creative and technical teams!
We are a family business in our second generation of leadership and management. We are also grandparents of healthy granddaughters, with the two oldest kids now in kindergarten and the first grade. We are blessed. Even with our resources, we watched our grand kids and their parents struggle with home schooling, limited social interaction with classmates and the daily stream of Zoom classes. All of this while working at tables and sitting on chairs designed for adults. There was clutter everywhere and the daily grind was exhausting.
Let’s do it for the kids!
We decided to research kids desks and chairs to see what was out there in the marketplace. Most of the products were cheaply made offshore with little consideration for durability, ergonomic fit or workmanship. At the other end of the spectrum, we found high-end desks and limited seating options. Our team ran the opportunity through our filter to determine the business opportunity to sell our products at scale.
Our next step was to write a detailed design brief including these key guidelines for development, marketing and distribution of the products:
- Validation of the problem statement and gather voice of the customer via workshops and interviews. Workshops were not easy to conduct during a pandemic, but we got it done safely.
- Develop desks and seating solutions that will grow with your children and provide many years of durable use to improve home study and organization of study and art supplies
- Design and build in Michigan and or the USA with direct-to-consumer distribution to maintain reasonable pricing.
- Apply lean thinking to minimize the number of components and leverage modularity for different applications
- Specify high quality earth friendly materials and minimize waste
- Develop business models and fair pricing for our products
- Reduce the number of suppliers to one for our products, whenever possible
Our team workflow resulted in compressed timelines…
Applying our development process, we moved quickly from research, sketches and ideation, mockups and prototypes into concept development and production launch. Our cross-functional team concurrently worked on marketing, design and engineering and supply chain interaction to compress our timeline to about 90 days from research to product in a box ready for distribution though our website This included three rounds of prototypes, workshops, patent work and branding. This compressed timing was made possible through our direct interaction with parents, kids and educators. We were able to make informed decisions on the fly and translate our findings to our turn-key local supplier.
Our work product and solutions…
Out of our countless brainstorming sessions, concepts and in-home observational research Freddy Furniture USA was born. Our desk systems are made to deliver a focused work environment that is designed specifically for children aged K-6. The height adjustable work surfaces help deliver an ergonomically correct workspace that helps keep kids stay engaged for longer periods of time. In our early observations we saw kids drawn to early marker board concepts, so we packaged as many as we could fit into our desk systems. This includes two reversible work surfaces that are removable so your child can bring them wherever they want to go. We kept construction as simple as possible to allow for quick assembly and robust products flat packed for shipping. It has truly been a pleasure to see these products help kids drained by the day-to-day strain of our current situation and we want to share this experience with as many people as possible. Our kids deserve it.
Our first products are only the beginning…
All of this work has been completed with a focus on young students, their parents and caregivers. We invested in this problem and accelerated the development of our first products with a goal of improving home study. If all goes to plan, we will continue to work on additional kids’ products for study, artwork, and play. Please visit us at freddyfurnitureUSA.com to learn more about our products. Thanks for your interest! Read the original article on our LinkedIn page here.