Lessons learned during the pandemic…

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.

child-on-schoolbus

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. Design and build in Michigan and or the USA with direct-to-consumer distribution to maintain reasonable pricing.
  4. Apply lean thinking to minimize the number of components and leverage modularity for different applications
  5. Specify high quality earth friendly materials and minimize waste
  6. Develop business models and fair pricing for our products
  7. 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…

fredricks-desks

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…

freddy-furniture-logo

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.

Looking Back on IAAPA 2019 With A New Perspective

Looking Back on IAAPA 2019 With A New Perspective

Field notes from Orlando November 2019…

My travels last year included numerous trips to Orlando for client visits and a few days at IAAPA, the annual themed attraction trade show. Little did I know that my travels in 2020 would be eliminated by a global pandemic. Looking back on November 2019, it seemed like a simpler, easier time…

I attended a presentation by George Walker, Creative Director with Universal Creative. George launched into his presentation with a story about his youth and the theme park he built in his backyard in upstate New York. He followed his dreams and has worked on creative projects around the world and back to join the growing and innovative Universal Team based in Orlando. 

George’s message resonated with me before the pandemic, through the shelter at home period, and even more so now as I think about the future for our business and the challenges every company faces…we are living in a dramatically changed landscape. A few of his key points are paraphrased below:

 

Key Points from George Walker at IAAPA 2019

Achieve Authentic RealityFredricks on iaapa 2019 exhibit

A theme park is a story place. Themed entertainment is built on emotion and emotion comes from experience.

An experience is an event or occurrence that leaves an impression.

“When experience is the commodity, authenticity is the currency.” Authenticity is key.

These simple principles can be applied to any business, product, service delivery, or organization. Now, more than ever, we are all seeking authenticity in our personal and professional relationships. There is now no tolerance for bullshit or shoddy delivery on brand promise. 

We all need to take a reality check on what our client’s problems are and how we will deliver a differentiated and memorable experience on every engagement. It is an opportunity to improve ourselves, our teams, and our products and services.

 

Tell Your Story From the Heart

Our work with leading entertainment companies has sharpened our storytelling skills. We’ve been really lucky to participate in creative reviews with some of the world’s best talent and we have been inspired to up our game by their work. 

The best stories are delivered with passion from the heart using simple language and high impact, clean images. 

All companies and organizations are now confronted with the reality that budgets are tight and talent will be stretched thin while working in different ways. It seems like a great time for clear thinking and straight talk. We are all uncertain, a little on edge, and curious about what the future will look like as the economy begins to ramp up. 

 

Deliver an Excellent, Emotional Experience

There is an old saying that “we are only as good as our last project”. Brand promises are kept or broken through every client touchpoint and relationships are built over time. 

Our experience with cross-functional teams has proven that straight talk communication is essential in building trust. Thanks to our clients and diverse project experience, we have developed clear and simple project management tools to track progress on creative technical and commercial issues. Weekly updates are shared with key stakeholders to ensure we are tracking to plan with no surprises along the way. 

In many instances, we act as a designated or de-facto catalyst with the creative studio and engineering team to help keep everyone aligned on the established storyline and moving towards our project deliverables and deadlines. Authenticity and delivery on our promises have been a big factor in our success over the past few decades. 

The overall experience with any firm, product, or service is a sum-total of touchpoints and the end deliverables. 

Back to the simpler and easier time of November 2019…little did I realize that so much of what George Walker shared would be applicable as we step into our new and weird landscape! Relationships, trust, and follow-through on our commitments will be even more important as we fire up the economic engines and get back to work. 

Thank you for sharing George — we look forward to working together when the time is right!

Maury Fredricks

Jim Biros Celebrates 35 Years With Fredricks Design

Jim Biros Celebrates 35 Years With Fredricks Design

Today is an epic day! 

Today, we celebrate 35 years of excellent work with Jim Biros. “Jimmy” joined our startup on June 3, 1985 after a brief interview. Our vetting process, at the time, was limited to a quick check list.

Over the decades, many of our clients have requested (demanded) Jim’s involvement on projects. Jim has made a big impact on our business and every project he has worked on, from the early days of a drawing board, to now with CAD and almost every software language known to the design world. In addition to Jim’s design skills, he is very capable at building mockups and prototypes.

I could go on and on… Jim, we could not have grown the company without your contribution to our work and we owe you a huge thanks for your positive attitude and can-do spirit! You have made a positive and significant impact through your hard work over the past 35 years! Thank you!

We are proud of the company we’ve built together and look forward to the future…wherever it takes us! 

Maury Fredricks

Team Fredricks

CES 2020 Insights

CES 2020 Insights

​I had time to reflect on my way to CES 2020 last month. My phone continued to work at cruising altitude and I toggled between emails, texts and the constant stream of content coming across different channels. I finally turned the damn thing off and used my time in the air to think about my plan for the show.

My goal was to focus on the vehicle technology exhibits, to meet up with old friends, network with new contacts, and absorb as much as possible about new trends and technologies. You know what they say about well-laid plans…

The North Hall of the Convention Center is located, of course, on the north end of the strip. Travel from point A to point B takes more time every year. Things will get only get more congested with the opening of the new NFL stadium and the 1.5 m square feet expansion of show space at the Convention Center. There’s no such thing as too big in Las Vegas! I digress…

This year, there were multiple companies showing urban helicopters for last-mile transportation. In addition to well-established Bell Helicopters, Hyundai (Hyundai S-A1 electric Urban Air Mobility concept) is moving into this evolving space. Many of the automotive brands and suppliers highlighted autonomous vehicles geared towards comfort, entertainment, and human interaction and communication. These two trends will continue to point out where we are able to leverage new modes of transportation. This new day, in my opinion, awaits us in 2025 and forward. 

The biggest challenge to the real-world application of autonomous vehicles and air transport is the lack of infrastructure and practical safety guidelines. As described in my post from CES 2019, collaboration on a vast scale with government, large corporations, and innovative thinkers and startups will be required to begin to solve the significant challenges of infrastructure. I am encouraged by the risk-taking and scaled investment on display at CES every year. We are on the right path with lots more work to do.

I was very encouraged by the number of EV concepts on display. Henrik Fisker never gives up and he was at the show with his Ocean concept and taking orders for a nominal downstroke of $250. I’m not sure how the path to production will play out for Fisker. The car business is unforgiving, hyper-competitive, and capital intensive. 

Rivian’s RT1 was displayed in the Amazon exhibit along with numerous products designed to work with integrated Alexa, smart home, and communications platforms. There was even a motorcycle helmet with Alexa inside! I just want to get on my motorbike and ride!

Sony, yes that Sony, introduced their own EV concept car. My initial thinking is they invested in the concept to draw attention to the audio and video offering. It worked in spades since the concept was a highlight of the show. I was surprised, maybe shocked, to learn that Sony intends to enter into the EV space fully loaded with technology. The point of Sony’s concept is to show what it can do inside and outside a car, so there are 33 sensors, including radar, lidar, and cameras. The car also integrates Sony’s immersive 360-degree audio technology, 360 Reality Audio, which features speakers in each seat. Sony also built the capability for continual over-the-air updates into the car.

“This prototype embodies our contribution to the future of mobility and contains a variety of Sony’s technologies,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said at the unveiling.

Wow, who would have envisioned this future?

Mid-afternoon through day one at the show, the thought occurred to me that all this technology is being developed to make our lives easier, to save us time, and to improve our quality of life. This is not a new thought, of course, and the key is to be able to turn off our gear, think, talk with another human or just read a book — preferably a bound, printed book. The more gear we bring into our lives, the tougher it is to turn the stuff off and think. It’s a big-time dilemma!

We were fortunate last year to embark on and complete a kitchen renovation in our home. We’ve lived in the same bungalow for the last few decades and the renovation was long overdue. Early in the project design phase, I was asked by the general contractor if we wanted to integrate smart home technologies into the kitchen. I reflected on this big question and my recent visits to CES and responded with a measured “it depends on how we define smart home”. 

As we developed the design, we decided to apply LED lighting with dimmers and a NEST thermostat. We decided to hold off on the Ring doorbell and any other app-based functions. We can always add technology in the future. For now, we are happy with manual light switches and a fridge that simply preserves our food and makes ice with no problems.

Last week, I decided to commit to a digital fast for either two half-day blocks or a full day every week. This simple and rebellious act has already resulted in more time to think, reflect and work on things that really matter. We’ve become so reliant and expectant of the immediate response to every text, call and email that we’ve lost sight of the importance of meeting people face to face. Technology should be leveraged to help us live better lives and engage more fully with each other, as humans.

Darren McIntire Joins The Fredricks Design Team!

Darren McIntire Joins The Fredricks Design Team!

We are thrilled to introduce Darren McIntire, the newest addition to the Fredricks Design team! We’ve worked with Darren on various projects and assignments since 2003. As a highly sought after Mechanical Designer, we are lucky to have him join our group here in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Darren McIntire joins our team with a focus on design engineering for our creative product solutions. He has diverse business experience from R&D product engineering to mechanical engineering design and automotive interior experience working with Tier One suppliers and vehicle build companies. With his deep design experience, technical knowledge using Solidworks (and some CATIA) we know Darren will approach every project with a technical and analytical viewpoint, which is one of the great skill sets he brings to our core team.

Please join us in welcoming Darren to Team Fredricks! We are delighted to continue building our team with amazing talent like Darren, and are excited about our future together!