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FCC gets lean to compete on global stage

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Though a prominent player in the fast-food industry, FCC Commercial Furniture in Roseburg, Oregon, is anything but quick and disposable. The company enjoy decades-long relationships turning blank spaces into restaurants for industry leaders like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King. Before a burger or taco is served, FCC has transformed the space into its signature and efficient look.

“We provide the entire design package, from concept to idea, all the way through manufacturing and install,” said Preston O’Hara, FCC general manager. “It’s a turnkey operation.”

For nearly fifty years, FCC has provided the ever-changing look of notable operations, like southern California-based In-N-Out Burgers. O’Hara estimates the company does close to twenty percent of all new Burger Kings and 15 percent of all new McDonald’s.

“We take that building shell and we fill it with products, a lot of which is custom designed,” O’Hara said. “We manufacture everything here.”

FCC began in Oxnard, California. Founded by Robert Crowe, FCC continues to be a family-owned business with sons Scott, Mick and Gary Crowe. The Crowes moved FCC to rural Roseburg in 1993, largely for the quality of life. The business continued to thrive.

Gary Crowe is currently the CEO and Scott is head of research and development.

DSC_0499-a1On site the company has an upholstery shop, a fiberglass shop, a metal shop, and others all under one roof covering 150,000 square feet of operations.

“We have a lot of cool machinery,” O’Hara said.

When O’Hara mentions “turnkey” he means it, stressing every detail is made right there in Roseburg.

“Right down to the garbage can with the ‘thank you’ door and the trey catch… it’s all built here,” he said.

Despite the similarity of say a McDonald’s in Hartford and a McDonald’s in Honolulu, each store has its unique needs and design. FCC caters to franchise owners with urgent needs of budgets, timelines and stresses.

“It’s an interesting business to be in with a constant state of change in design,” O’Hara said.

Diversification and competition

Despite a bucolic lifestyle in southern Oregon, global economic pressures and manufacturing competition demand vigilance, O’Hara says.

“Being in this industry there’s a lot of pressure to buy things in China and outside of the U.S. We fight to stay competitive despite the price pressures we have seen.”

The company currently has 115 employees that includes a large design department of college educated professionals, recruited from around the nation.

“Expectations are also high. It’s not a company where you can go through the motions,” he says.1795520_10152360075928515_2487356907202713326_n

Despite its longstanding relationships with global corporations, FCC had to weather and evolve during The Great Recession. It was not immune to cataclysmic changes in the economy.

After “record years” in 2007 and 2008, “everything changed,” O’Hara said. “We saw a huge decline over 2009 and 2010. Access to investment dollars for our customers went away despite their excellent credit. That was certainly something we didn’t expect to see, because this is an industry that is fairly resilient to downturns in the economy. That wasn’t the case this time around.”

Though the business has rebounded in recent years, it remains highly volatile. After another record year in 2012, O’Hara said the company has seen revenue slide over the past three.

“But we’re looking towards a recovery in the year ahead and next year,” he says.

The volatility of the market has helped the second-generation family-owned business retain its competitive edge.

fcc6“Diversity makes you stronger and gives you perspective,” says O’Hara, who was promoted to general manager after rising through FCC’s human resources department. “If you survived through ‘The Recession’ you gained perspective that you need to plan a whole lot better and strive that you stay away from that spot again. For us, we’ve been resilient, we’ve been around for a while, but we’re even more resolved toward diversifying.”

Diversification includes expanding into retail markets outside of the fast-food industry. The company is close to finalizing a large contract with a major retail vendor that will significantly help 2015’s revenue. O’Hara said the company has begun to court and provides retail fixtures and displays for the likes of Nike, North Face and Columbia.

And a silver lining of the recession has been the slow shift of manufacturing back to the United States.

“I wouldn’t say that the price pressure ever goes away,” O’Hara says, “but people are frustrated by Chinese-made products. There are reasons for that. We won’t deviate from producing quality products and providing outstanding quality service. That’s what we are founded on. At the same time we have to drive down our prices.”

Concentrating on culture

Price pressure, diversification, competition. All common phrases in the business economy, but another go-to-point of emphasis sets FCC apart in O’Hara’s mind: culture.

“The thing you will hear us talk about more often than not has to do with our culture and our people. It’s something we hold near and dear. It’s special. It’s amazing how much you can get from people when you promote excellence. We don’t tolerate negativity. We believe in having fun at work. It’s one of our core values.”pics (11)

If you can have fun during a recession while facing stiff competition from Chinese manufactures, that’s saying something, but O’Hara says despite the challenges, the company’s optimism and workplace environment has remained the gold standard of how it operates.

“Most companies have to have the basic benefits, wages, retirement, but what separates you from others is your culture. We have flexible work schedules, free gym memberships, we have a lot of company parties and barbecues. We stock free ice cream and soda all year long.”

Owners are hands-on and approachable. The management team works together and set a tone of allowing employees to be creative. An entrepreneurial culture is encouraged.

“So even though it’s a manufacturing facility we don’t micromanage,” O’Hara says. “Be unique and do it different. That’s what we’ve tried to do. Create things that separate you from others. It’s a relationship. If you know you are valued and appreciated as a person, you generally give a hell of a lot more.”

Getting lean

Change is inevitable, O’Hara says, despite the company approaching its 50th anniversary in business. Change is disruptive, which can be both positive and negative. O’Hara understands that, but insists that FCC will remain on the cutting edge.

pics (29)To that end, FCC has invested heavily in shifting its processes to Lean Manufacturing, a new trend that changes the ‘batch and queue” mass production process that has dominated for decades, in favor of product-aligned “one-piece flow” pull production, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

“This shift requires highly controlled processes operated in a well maintained, ordered, and clean environment that incorporates principles of employee-involved, system-wide, continual improvement,” the EPA writes.

O’Hara says the shift is a significant investment in both machinery and employee training, but one that will help the company be more efficient, greener, and more cost-effective.

“Any time you implement change it is not easy,” he says, “and it comes at a little bit of a disruption at first. But at the same time it will be productive at the end. Any time you empower your workforce to make things better it’s positive.”

The bottom line for both FCC and for its customers is that they will benefit, he insists, by the company’s relentless pursuit of reducing cost.

“That’s how you deal with the price pressure, because it’s always going to be there,” he says. “You meet it head on through efficiency, engineering, and creativity.”

In short, you never stop changing. FCC will continue to evolve in order to compete, O’Hara says, while reaching outside of its core business model to diversify revenue.

“This place needs to look different. It better look a heck of a lot different in ten years,” he says. “If you aren’t changing and growing you’re probably not going to be around.”

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For more information, please visit www.fccfurn.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter

 

An overnight success, 20 years in the making

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It’s rare to use the words “hot tub” and “great idea” in the same sentence. But those two seemingly incongruous terms came together on a pivotal day in August 2010. Lem James relaxed in the hot tub with his son discussing business and life, which wasn’t unusual for the pair.

Lem had spent the last several years seeking the perfect startup idea—a niche idea to be exact, so the conversation focused on startup ideas to opportunities. He had watched and compared businesses inside very competitive markets and niche markets. But nothing had quite fit the mold.

All it was needed was a spark.

“Hey Dad, why don’t you build those concrete ping pong tables you saw in Germany?”

And that was all it took.

Lem recognized a viable product and innovative idea.  Permanent, outdoor table tennis tables took something familiar and turned it on its head. Lem liked the purposeful creativity of combining ping pong and concrete—two things that didn’t seem to mesh—to create a new outdoor experience in public places.

But this would be more than a niche market; it would be wide open without any competitors and an immediate customer focus; Parks & Recreation.

From a fleeting idea, a permanent table

Normally, “outdoor” ping pong tables need to be set up every day and put away at night. This, combined with play, causes them to wear out every few years. Left outside, table tennis tables deteriorate rapidly.

A concrete table, however, can stay outside through harsh weather and doesn’t need to be set up and taken down at all. This was the key.

Concrete tables could save money for parks, military bases, community centers, and even home owners. Using concrete completely redefines where table tennis works. Instead of backyards and garages, tables can be installed in parks and outdoor school yards.

Forming a business as sturdy as its product

Within a week, Lem had AutoCAD sketches and plans to build forms. As he shared his idea, however, others raised concerns. Who would buy these concrete tables? Wouldn’t shipping costs eat up any profit? Who would even think to search for a product like this? America just wasn’t familiar with the idea. It was a luxury item and, in 2010, we were in a recession.

P1020652With his work experience, Lem knew parks across the country and beyond would be interested, and he knew the channels to reach them. As for shipping, that’s a normal cost of doing business. Even when others shared their concerns, the passion grew.

“Every once in a while, we had to do a gut check because they were putting out a few quotes but nothing was selling yet,” said Lem. “We had to hone in on our product and our marketing to put our products out there to our target markets without traditional advertising. We began selling a table here and there. Then, once we could put enough story and photographs together to show tables in parks, schools and nice backyards, sales started rolling.

“It’s frustrating to watch potentially good businesses start and poke around, and then evaporate before they even get the traction to move forward. I’ve watched several businesses fail to launch in this manner. Many times so much time gets spent on making a perfect product that marketing and sales get ignored.

“A lot of these businesses get launched by very smart successful people, but people who don’t need the business to succeed. They have other successes that are easy to fall back on. Early on, a friend asked what my back up plan was. I said plan A was to succeed wildly, and plan B was to succeed mildly. There was no backup plan to fail. If we ran into failure, we would plan around it and continue. Don’t quit.”

During the first year, the company focused on developing and improving the tables, adding steel nets, integral concrete dye to offer color options, and making other refinements. Concrete chess tables were a natural addition to the product line, and these weren’t as foreign to the American market. The playing squares are marble inlaid tiles in a background of polished, exposed aggregate concrete in an array of color options, including recycled glass.

Why Oregon?

The entrepreneurial community in Oregon supported Bravado from an early stage, including the Roseburg Small Business Development Center and Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), a Roseburg group that supports new innovation.

These groups provided the cross pollination of ideas, which has been central to Bravado’s product development and marketing. In addition, they provided crucial support to a founder with a unique concept. Lem was able to pitch ideas and get feedback from a unique cross section of business thinkers and fellow entrepreneurs.

Oregon is also home to an array of groups, like Portland based City Repair, who are great supporters of the placemaking movement. City Repair builds community projects—like turning an intersection into a public park. They describes placemaking as “a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.”Permanent outdoor games—especially table tennis—fit in perfectly with placemaking by providing the community a gathering point where everyone can play.

Best of both worlds

As Lem perfected the engineering and production of the ping pong tables, his mind began to turn to other product opportunities based on the company motto, “Everybody plays!”

Cornhole, a simple, but not very well known game immediately came to mind. The bean bag game was easy to adapt to concrete and place as a permanent feature in parks, while also creating a more entry level product line. Foosball was added to the product line after a table tennis fan sent a picture of a similar table in Paris. While the actual forming and production took some fine tuning, the actual game itself is to pick up and learn.

Foosball and cornhole allow almost anyone to begin playing and then develop mastery over time—just like the sport that inspired the original product.

Work that inspires activity

Lem shares a contagious enthusiasm for his products and the games they facilitate. it’s not just about selling something and making money. These tables are on the cutting edge in concrete work, the placemaking movement, and the sport of table tennis.

Bravado Outdoor’s table tops are recognized in the concrete industry for design and finish work and have been featured by different suppliers. The tables are another example of combining two different disciplines: concrete engineering and concrete countertop finish work.

These publicly available tables support the developing of ping pong in America, and integrate into the urban placemaking design movement; where sidewalks, corners or small urban spaces are turned into an oasis where people can gather. Where an old empty lot can become a miniature neighborhood gathering spot with ping pong and chess as the focal points.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.25.47 PMThe sport of table tennis, in particular, has been a second tier sport in North America, usually played in garages and basements. But Bravado is taking table tennis into the outdoors and public places, putting the sport front and center and giving more people across America and the chance to hone their skills. The Bravado team strongly believes that by making table tennis more accessible, the level of play will be raised—ultimately helping the US become more competitive on the international scene.

Lofty goal? Sure. But the accessibility of basketball courts in parks and urban areas has definitely played a central role in the development of many top players, and while there is a big difference between basketball and table tennis in regards to the idea of being a competitive sport, accessibility and awareness are still critical development steps.

And once in place, these tables will be around for years to come. No nets to replace or backboards to repair. No play structures to fix. No swing chains to replace. Just hours of enjoyment by kids and adults alike.

And much like the products they have developed, Bravado has created a solid company, firmly grounded in the community that supported them from the beginning.

For more information, visit http://www.concretetabletennis.com, follow Bravado on Twitter, or like Bravado on Facebook.