Moving an entire furniture-manufacturing workshop and showroom into a new premises with less than one week’s notice would have seemed impossible in pre-earthquake Christchurch.
But in these ‘new-normal’ times, learning that your building does not come anywhere close to meeting the building code due to earthquake damage and having to vacate almost immediately, simply means you begin to think outside the square and do what has to be done.
Davies Furniture found itself in this position after receiving its detailed engineering report in mid June – less than a week later, it had entered into a formal business collaboration with another furniture manufacturer, Southern Creations.
While circumstances beyond anyone’s control forced this collaboration, from it has come The Design Workshop – a manufacturing space where the three quality brands – Southern Creations, Davies Furniture and newly launched bespoke brand Tréology are made.
Andrew Davies, managing director of the more than 50-year-old Davies Furniture, says it opens up an entirely new world of opportunities for both businesses. When the long-established family business received the engineering report – it just had to get out and get up and running again as soon as possible. “It just had to be done; we had a duty to our staff to get them out of there immediately. While it was a totally unexpected curveball, we just had to forge on.”
The report, placing the building somewhere between five – 10 percent of code arrived on a Wednesday. On Thursday, Andrew called Blair Quane, director at Southern Creations – another furniture manufacturer he had met several times at industry functions.
“By the end of that meeting we had agreed that we would enter into a joint venture and merge our operational processes and create the Design Workshop which would become the factory for the three brands we produced between us.”
On Friday, each business shared the news and re-structuring plans with their teams and the move began the following Monday. Over the week, the majority of the specialist machinery from Davies Furniture was moved into the modern and structurally sound Bromley workshop already occupied by Southern Creations. By the Friday, the Design Workshop was in full production.
Establishing and entering into a business arrangement of this sort and merging two teams and factories is normally a complex and lengthy process. To call what these two astute and forward-thinking business owners achieved in only days, impressive, is an understatement.
How did they achieve so much in so little time?
We just did not have the luxury of time, Blair says. “When Andrew came to me with this idea, from the outset we knew we had to be totally transparent and honest with each other. There is absolutely no room for smoke and mirrors.”
Andrew says it was about finding a solution that worked equally for both businesses. “We are both open-minded and mature enough in business to understand that losing control over some areas is a strength. It was vital to get a balance between what was important versus what was urgent.”
While the two businesses retain their individual identity – Blair takes operational control of all manufacturing and Andrew assumes the role of sales and marketing across all three brands.
“While we had to make the time to talk through the issues and find the best path forward, we both still had businesses to run. Keeping up continuity of supply to our customers was vital,” Andrew adds.
While the move came as a shock to both teams, Andrew and Blair comment they have been impressed with who has stepped up within the teams and taken on greater leadership roles.
The Davies Furniture team is now employed directly under the Design Workshop model. While two of the team opted to leave the company due to longer travel commitments, the remaining staff were offered a position under the new model.
For more than a year, Davies Furniture has been working at empowering its team and encouraging each person to grow their position into one of increased independence. “We have a strong culture, shared values and a dedication to excellence. As a team we have worked together to ensure every person is valued and contributes to the growth of the company.
“The work we have been doing has really paid off through this move. Every one of the team has immense pride in their work, our products and the company. Through this move, we have allowed everyone to play their part. The set-up of the workshop was left entirely to the guys who would be using it. The craftsman from both companies worked together to figure out how everything would come together and work best.”
Again both business owners recognise their experience and confidence in their teams to collaborate and turn a difficult situation into one where they had control. “This sense of inclusion and empowerment gives us a great base to further build our businesses. If we were micro-managing our respective teams – this could have been a nightmare,” Blair adds.
The third brand now being produced under the Design Workshop collaboration is Tréology which produces high-end, sustainable bespoke furniture and timber art from 100 percent New Zealand timber.
The brand is positioned to sell into the American and European markets and was launched in the US in June. “We had only just got off the plane from America after a hugely successful trip, when we learnt about the engineering report. That sure brought us down off our high in a hurry.”
While this was not what either business saw for its future, both men are confident and excited at what the future holds. Throughout the process, and as they continue to smooth out the bumps in the road, each recognises the importance of having solid advisors to help with the process, total transparency, regular review periods, an open mind and the desire to embrace change. “Oh and a sense of humour helps,” they both quip.
“This amalgamation and pooling of resources and the mixing of cultures of two businesses is challenging, but it is an opportunity and everyone is passionately committed to making it work,” Andrew adds.
Post-earthquake Christchurch is a different place; business is done differently, people think differently and the creativity and embodiment of the Kiwi “can do” spirit has never been more obvious – Davies Furniture and Southern Creations are a living testament to this.