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Brothers, Battles, & Bounty Podcast Episode 4: How Trendler Thrived with Hybrid Manufacturing

At Trendler, we have long taken pride in offering our customers high-quality, American made furniture products that are manufactured in our Chicago, IL factory. When the Gfesser family took over Trendler, their goal was to continue to manufacture our own products as they consider themselves manufacturers by nature. They also wanted to keep the manufacturing process in Chicago, the city in which they were born and raised.

However, this became a challenge in the mid-1980s as more of our competitors offshored their operations and began importing cheaper, foreign-made furniture products.  This made our industry more competitive and to keep up, we knew we had to import some products.  Instead of offshoring our operations and importing furniture products, we adopted a hybrid manufacturing model in which we imported some materials and manufactured the finished furniture products, including chairs, barstools, and swivels, in our factory.  It is this hybrid manufacturing model that we believe helped us become the leading furniture manufacturer we are today.

In the fourth episode of our Brothers, Battles & Bounty Podcast, the Gfesser brothers discuss our adoption of the hybrid manufacturing model and how it helped us further develop our business.  You can watch the full episode here:

Trendler: A Made to Order Furniture Manufacturer

The Trendler brand has long been a made to order business since the 1960s as products were made to fulfill orders from our customers.  Customers would tell us exactly what they want for their product, and we would manufacture the products to their specifications.  Our goal has always been to create a high-quality product, offer competitive pricing, and get the product finished and delivered when the customer needed it.

When furniture manufacturers started relying on imports in the 1980s, we briefly started mass producing parts to improve our efficiency and have enough parts on hand to build the products for the orders that came in.  However, this caused us to mass produce parts without knowing if customers were going to ask for these parts in their products.  We decided that it was more efficient and cost effective for us to commit to the made to order model with the one-piece flow method of manufacturing.  With this method, our factory was set up to produce one furniture piece at a time from start to finish which helped make our hybrid model of manufacturing successful.

Confronting the Threat of Imports

In this podcast episode, the Gfesser brothers discuss how trips to China in the early 1990s influenced how they changed our manufacturing operations.  On one visit, Andreas recalled touring a Chinese factory in which every step of the manufacturing process had been automated, allowing them to produce and ship parts to the U.S. at a very low cost.  After visiting this factory, Andreas admitted that he thought this would jeopardize Trendler’s future. 

The Gfesser brothers then reevaluated our manufacturing processes to determine which steps of the process were costing money without adding value and which steps were adding value by directly contributing to the manufacturing process.  The steps that were not adding value were eliminated to help make the manufacturing process more efficient and cost-effective to compete with imports while allowing us to remain in control of the manufacturing of our products.

The Gfesser brothers also got input from the teams working at Trendler who understood the nuances of the processes to learn about the challenges they faced so we could resolve these challenges and implement new processes while eliminating steps that were not adding value. 

Another way the Gfesser brothers identified inefficiencies was by creating a flow chart that tracked the movement of every part and product throughout the production process.  They describe the chart as a bowl of spaghetti with parts and products moving all over the factory.  The factory was then rearranged to change the product flow from a “spaghetti bowl” to linear connections to cut costs and improve efficiency.

Becoming More Competitive

As Anton explains in this podcast episode, the changes they made to streamline their manufacturing process and product flow immediately helped Trendler become more competitive in a market with a growing number of imported products.  These changes lowered the cost of the manufacturing processes, which allowed us to lower some prices of our products and decrease lead times so our customers could get their products faster.  Lead times of 5-6 weeks were cut down to 1-2 weeks.  Trendler employees were also able to be more productive and work more efficiently.

One of the effects of streamlining our manufacturing process that had a major impact is that it allowed us to form stronger relationships with our suppliers.  As Andreas explains, delays in receiving materials from our suppliers would hold up production, which would increase lead times and lower efficiency.  After streamlining the hybrid manufacturing process, we were able to build stronger relationships with our suppliers and develop contracts with them that were mutually beneficial.  This resulted in more dependable deliveries of our supplies which helped us further cut our lead times.

Implementing Hybrid Production

The goal of Trendler has always been to handle as much of the manufacturing process in-house as possible.  We originally wanted to make 100% of our parts and products but when doing a make versus buy analysis, we identified what we could buy cheaper and by identifying the best quality parts, we were then had the capability to either source everything or make everything.  What we decided to do was form a hybrid model in which we would buy some of the parts while making most of the parts ourselves and keep control of the manufacturing process so that furniture products are completed in our factory.

Trendler adopted the hybrid production model for two main reasons, to manufacture the highest quality furniture products at competitive pricing, and to keep the manufacturing process in-house to create jobs in our community.  The value that manufacturing jobs add to the community is important to us as Stefan points out in this episode that one manufacturing job can indirectly create seven additional jobs, including jobs in transportation, customer service, and procurement. 

Quality Chairs and Barstools from Trendler

By adopting and streamlining our made to order, hybrid manufacturing model, Trendler was able to increase the efficiency of our process and cut costs to remain competitive with foreign markets while keeping as much of the manufacturing process as possible within our factory in Chicago.  To this day, we prioritize the efficient, cost-effective manufacturing of our products and getting these products to our customers when they want or need them.  We understand that foreign products will always be part of the furniture market and our company is in great shape to constantly adapt to the market and ensure that we are providing the highest quality chair and barstool products to our customers at competitive prices with short lead times.

Check out Trendler’s YouTube channel for the latest episodes of the Brothers, Battles, & Bounty podcast.  To hear the complete conversation about our hybrid manufacturing model, you can watch the full episode here: