Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hickory Chair Illustrates Value Driven Management--and It Works!!

A. Hoke Ltd. of Charlotte kindly sponsored Dovecote Decor for Hickory Chair University. Forty designers congregated in Hickory, N.C. for 2 days of education demonstrating how our clients' furniture is assembled, finished and upholstered. Steered by president Jay Reardon, we were treated to much more than nuts and bolts. Christine and I were awed by the level of leadership, sense of community and the outright pride and happiness at all levels of this organization. We witnessed highly diverse individuals sharing a mission that is focused by a constantly fine tuned process.

Hickory Chair is like very few organizations I have ever experienced. At the 100th anniversary party I told Jay: "Hickory Chair is not an institution--it is a movement!" That is true for so many reasons. Trying to articulate this phenomena, I found two books on opposite sides of the spectrum which express this dichotomy as a universal best practices for teams that attract a community of raving fans: Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity and Marketing Lessons of the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.

The Cistercian Order is dedicated to Spiritual Growth through work, community and creating the highest quality products to support their monasteries and convents. The 48th chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict states "for then are they monks in truth, if they live by the work of their hands".  For example,   Trappist Westvleteran 12 is considered to be the best beer in the world. 

Bear with me, but what do the Trappist Monks, the Grateful Dead and Hickory Chair have in common? Quite a bit actually! All three work with complete reverence to produce the highest quality product while creating a work environment that nurtures their communities. Counter intuitively, Hickory Chair has survived and created a broad designer driven line that can be completely customized while building 90% of their product in the U.S.A! They have accomplished this with only three price increases in the last decade. Hickory Chair management sees themselves as facilitators and communicators at every level of the organization, from the artisans who build the product to the designers who conceive the product. Everyone is encouraged to share improvements and ideas in a constant dynamic process with concrete systems in place to execute these changes.

Dedicated to the premise that this company will be different tomorrow than it is today and creating a process called EDGE (Employees Dedicated to Growth and Excellence),  Hickory Chair thrives in a notoriously difficult industry. Constantly seeking errors and communicating concrete solutions forms an enabled  and accountable team that works together smartly as a unit.  August Turak shared in his book this interesting point: "Louis Mobely of the famed IBM Executive School discovered what great executives share are not skills or knowledge, but values and attitudes. Great leaders thrive on ambiguity." Respect, empowerment and trust at all levels cultivate a work place where the human spirit thrives. Jay was not going to be the guy that padlocked the factory doors and fired his workers. He did not know the answers to his dilemna so he assembled his artisans to devise solutions.

When a competitor exactly replicated (knocked off) one of their products, Hickory Chair investigated and made a side by side comparison. The  competitor's chair (on the left) was made more cheaply with a higher retail price. Consumers get respect too!. When market opens in  High Point, Hickory Chair's showrooms are universally lauded as the most exciting experience at market. Like the Grateful Dead and the Trappist Monks, Hickory Chair creates an experience that translates into  community and culture. The scene is shored up with complete authenticity.

We all love bantering with Alexa Hampton, Thomas O'Brien, Suzanne Kasler and Mariette Himes Gomez--all Architectural Digest top 100 designers. There's no micromanaging their showrooms--the designers "do their thing." Like a Grateful Dead show, they never play the same song the same way.
Because the furniture is bespoke, followers and designers love to see the infinite possibilities at each market. Here are some spectacular room arrangements of Alexa's line over the years.

We love to see the mood boards throughout the showrooms.  It is fascinating watch the disparate visual cues that inspire the designers from conception to final product.

Hable Construction illustrates their textile design process at the Hickory Chair showroom. 

Artisan Boards in the Factory
The print is hard to read, but essentially the notes explain why even small steps in the process are of paramount importance, graphically demonstrating the difference when something goes right or wrong. Over 1,100 hand-worker ideas are implemented each year at Hickory Chair! The details are evidenced by the immaculate floors that are constantly swept, the sawdust that is vacuumed into the electrical system to generate power and save electricity. So what do Hickory Chair, the Trappist monks and the Grateful Dead have in common?

 *Quality Products--Trappist Beers are the only beers that improve with age.

*Commitment to a constantly evolving process--short cuts are in efficiency--quality is never compromised

*Dedication to keeping humanity in the equation while creating a more beautiful world includes quality of life at every level

And...There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert!!
*All disperate products united by the will to create an innovative culture and community of raving fans!!
See Jay Reardon on the Daily Show
Click Here
For an in-depth discussion of the unique approach of Hickory Chair's management and production innovations:
Click Here 

Please call us if you are interested in buying 
Hickory Chair Products! 
We can work with you to create furniture made in America to last--reflecting your unique style.



  1. Liz an enlightening post and I loved seeing these processes. Hickory Chair will always represent that quality and bespoke pieces rarely found! Love the branding analysis.

    2013 Designer Series

  2. Hi Liz, This is a fascinating post. These very topics are what have been rolling around in my head lately. The importance of quality and commitment in everything single endeavor. Thank you. Glad to see you posting again.

  3. Liz-
    The chair back knocked me out! Actually, I have always loved Hickory Chair, and one of my first pieces of furniture was a HC chest, and I wouldn't think of another sofa.
    Thank you for again sharing a great post.

  4. Well, I like the Hickory Chair, but what I also wanted to see was a picture of you in the audience!


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  6. I've tried some of those Trappist beers pictured above on a business trip to Brussels. The Chimay is absolutely divine!

  7. Holly, I was just looking at that lineup of Trappist beers! I love them, but they are a little too expensive for me! Anyway, thanks for sharing the designs from Alexa Hampton. I've always found her style to be tasteful and chic at the same time.

  8. Some great pics here...really like the Hickory Chair.I agree with Karen, is great to get an insight into the entire process =)

  9. We at Hickory Chair are honored to be included in this group of innovative yet artisinal creators! We strive for heirloom quality in a lean manufacturing environment that is collaborative, innovative and respectful. It is an honor to make custom pieces to order for homes and businesses. It is support like this that have helped us celebrate 102 years of making fine furniture to order. It is this support in the future that will allow us to continue our humble craft for the next hundred years! Thank you Dovecote Decor!

  10. You certainly have given me alot of ideas! I love the Alexa Hampton designs.

  11. Amazing photographs! I am truly impressed with your selection for wedding location venue. Do share more photographs.

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