For furniture companies manufacturing overseas, maximizing profits means using cheap labor and lesser quality materials, guessing consumer tastes well into the future, shipping many container loads, warehousing the stock and waiting for buyers. Inevitably, the goods that go unsold end up in the landfill to make room for the next wave of shipping containers. That model was always a no-go for Gat Creek.
“A sustainable manufacturing model is what we have long been about, building to order and still being competitive with international businesses,” Gat Caperton said. “Our customer wants to pay for beautiful wood, finish and craftsmanship. So that’s what we invest in and get rid of everything else.”
If science fiction had its way we would all be working for robots by now. That day will likely never come, but there is no doubt that automation has profoundly changed the manufacturing landscape; almost entirely for the good and without making human beings obsolete.
Here at Gat Creek, we owe a good deal of our success to our investment in four CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines. Deploying robots strategically we can build more complex and beautiful furniture, without taxing Gat Creek’s most important asset — our people.
While it may seem like a magic wand invented by the auto industry, Lean Manufacturing is a process that encompasses a variety of practices depending on the trade. “Our business is particularly well-suited to Lean principles,” Gat explained. “With a piece of solid lumber I can make a bed, or a table or a dresser. Unlike a car manufacturer that is dealing with thousands of parts to source and manage.” Lean works for both industries, but for Gat Creek the complexity is vastly reduced.
“Really it’s as simple as listening to our customer and focusing on the things she cares about,” Gat said. “And our customers care about the finest material and craftsmanship.”
Almost 25 years ago, Gat Caperton bought the Tom Seely furniture factory in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. It had operated since the 1950s and was struggling to compete with brands that had moved their production to low-wage factories in China.
The Gat Creek story appeared in this 2018 Washington Post story. It’s an excellent portrait of Gat and the company. If you saw the story when it was first published, it is worth revisiting for the reader comments!