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Tuesday July 18, 2006 Edition
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Perfection in Vermont


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Tuesday July 18, 2006

By Brian Bauer

     It was one of those Vermont hot and humid July days. I had an appointment to talk with a fellow by the name of Jim Geier. I had often passed the sign for his business, Vermont Folk Rocker, located in Starksboro just off of Route 116 but had dismissed it as just another craft shop. I was to be surprised.

Jim, in his early sixties, is a study in contrasts. He is a perfectionist with a multitude of things going on around him all at the same time. His home is in an expansion phase. He is supervising his employees. He is answering the phone taking orders. He is getting ready to cleanup an adjoining property he has recently purchased. While all these things are happening, he is reviewing new furniture designs in his head.

Jim was raised in East Greenbush, New York, not too far from the Albany area. He is a product of a father and grandfather who were artisans in their own right. His grandfather was a stone mason, but also a painter, sculptor in cement, and inventor. He was the head mason during the creation of the stairs for the capitol in Albany, New York. Jim gives much credit for “where he is today” to doing what he calls “an apprenticeship” with his grandfather.

Jim went to St. Michael's College, with a major in Biology. He indicated to me that his study of Biology has helped him progress in the making of furniture. It did not occur to me immediately how this could be, but I think that I understand it now. In Biology, we learn that there are many different kinds of cells. Different mixes of these cells come together to form tissues (such as connective and muscle). Different tissues then combine to form organs, such as the heart. Select appropriate organs to work together and you have an organ system, such as the Circulatory or Digestive systems. Finally, if we take our systems and put them together in a coordinated fashion we have an organism, perhaps a Bald Eagle or a Pileated Woodpecker.

So much for the Biology lesson, what does this have to do with Jim Geier?Well, Jim has an idea for a piece of furniture. He translates that into hard copy using pencil and paper; decides what woods to use in the construction; constructs any special jigs  or other equipment required in the manufacturing, decides what steps/stations will be required to build his prototype, prices out his costs, determines his selling price and how he will advertise. All these steps need to be in an appropriate order and well thought out in an organized and coordinated fashion. If not, you wind up with a piece of furniture looking like a Platypus, functional yet dysfunctional. Biology and furniture construction make use of a very similar process in order to achieve success. Think also in terms of function determining form, well known in the world of Biology. Compare this to the design of the Vermont Folk Rocker. Lastly, evolution fits in here also. Change over time is a standard in the living world as well as that of furniture making.

Jim employs a number of young people in whatever he needs done. I asked him whether it was difficult to find young people willing to put in the time and effort that furniture making requires. His answer was a qualified no. It was qualified in the sense that at first, he was not always able to choose people who would fit. Now it is easier because the word has gotten around that his are not just jobs, but training experiences. The perfect employee, according to Jim, has the following credentials: positive attitude, team player, and product oriented. Oh yeah! I almost forgot. Jim does multiple inspections of his product as it is being produced. So a good employee must be able to take “constructive criticism” and move on. Jim is a perfectionist and is the quality control for his business. Its not all work and no play though, since Jim serves everyone tea and snacks at 2:50 everyday.

Jim advertises largely by word -of-mouth, one satisfied customer creating many others. You will also find him @ vermontfolkrocker.com; in the” Watershed”a Connecticut periodical plus his furniture is on display at rest areas on Routes 89 and 91.

I asked Jim where the name “Vermont Folk Rocker” came from. He told me that he had taken a course where the term “folk” had been explored. He explained its meaning this way: Folk refers to a local product (design); made from local materials (New England hardwoods such as maple, cherry, and oak); made for local conditions (market). It fits for me; there are plenty of homes in New England where a “rocker” would fit right in.

The Vermont Folk Rocker was designed in 1974 by Jim. The design has been well tested throughout the years, resulting in a handcrafted rocking chair with rich wood texture of the highest quality. The all-wood frame and seat feels like a quilted cushion because of its flexibility and lively support due to the blocks which are suspended with nylon rope in an interlocking pattern. As a result, you relax in exquisite comfort. Your back will love it! The arms are designed with knitting and holding babies in mind. The placement of the arms makes getting up easy.

As we were finishing up our conversation, I commented to Jim that I thought his business was self-limiting due to his supervision of all phases. And he agreed. There can only be so much perfection in Vermont.

 


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