Followed by a few more stray shouts. "Thomas!" "Hi, Thomas!"
I wave ambiguously and yell hello to the room. I can’t help but smile.
I’m here to try and pinpoint what makes this place special. In a city teeming with creativity and opportunity in industrial design, machining, and handmaking, how does this company attract and retain such talented and vibrant people? How do they stay so small, while producing at such a high level? And, most impressively, how do they continue to advance their brand, and maintain their place in the elite of handcrafting merchants? I’m about to learn that it’s not an amazing company yielding a brilliant staff, it’s the opposite.
Not long after I arrive, Ken walks in the front door, bundled against the cold in a stocking cap and scarf. He’s sick—out today with a head cold—but he stops by to check on the team.
The shouting is back. "Ken’s here!" "Ken’s here!" "Hi, Ken!"
Ken stops by his desk, an unassuming station near the center of the room, and I make my first observation: the actual layout of the Grovemade workshop is symbolic of the culture. It’s open, it’s cohesive, everyone works together, and everything is closely connected. It defies the standard for what a company should look like.
Turns out, this is no coincidence.
It’s really nice that design and production can flow together. Maybe production is doing something and it doesn’t make sense and we need to talk to design about it, we can literally walk across the building and get an answer.
We’re able to make these very tight loops of design and prototyping; we can go through these cycles really fast. That enables us to do polished products. We can keep making little revisions—even after a product launches we can keep making little improvements.
The company’s origin story goes back to Joe Mansfield, one of the co-founders of Grovemade, purchasing a laser-engraving machine in 2007.
We went out for drinks one night. He was like, “I’m gonna buy a laser. This is my life now.” A week later we were in his house screwing around with a laser. It was like, “mess with the laser until stuff doesn’t catch on fire.” You know? This is something I really like—we make up a lot of stuff from scratch, and I think it makes our flavor really unique. We didn’t buy the starter package.
We had this very small space with the CNC and a table that we sanded cases at. We were driving cases over and taking them up the five flights of stairs.
Everything truly is done here. I talk to the designers a lot; I watch the whole design process beginning to end and get to know it intimately. And that lends itself well to writing about these products. That’s really different. It’s a really special thing.
"We can always walk over—ten steps away—and say, 'Hey, what do you think about this.' We don’t have to drive a couple miles, or run up and down ninety-nine stairs."
(I interrupt—is that an embellishment, or did you actually count? Galen responds with a deadpan gaze.)
"It was literally ninety-nine stairs.
This space is in direct alignment with how much more integrated and focused our values and principles are. Physically we’ve come together, and mentally—what we focus on and who we are has come together into a really tight focus and understanding as well.
I started working here in 2014, with hand sanding; it’s now been about four or five months that I’ve been in lasers. We do all different things, every day.
As a company committed to staying small and nimble, they always have to operate at maximum efficiency. If one person is out sick, that might be the entire order fulfillment department. That could be a disaster for most businesses, but not this one.
You understand the process, and with that you can close the loop between design, engineering, and production. You have a better understanding of how things run, you understand the price of materials, and you’re not designing things that are impossible. That makes everything more fluid.
That’s something you can’t fake, and you can’t manufacture. That’s as real as it gets.
One last chorus of shouts as I hit the front door.
“Thomas is leaving!” “Bye, Thomas!” “Thanks, Thomas!”