Telescope focuses forward, adapts to stay ahead
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, June 1, 2008
A long-time steward of natural resources, Telescope Casual Furniture continues to adjust to changing market conditions, respond to the green trend and focus on the future.
The 105-year-old Granville, N.Y.-based manufacturer is adding recycled plastic rockers with sling seats to its broad offering. It also will offer a percentage of its director’s chairs with Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, catering to environmentally minded consumers.
“It’s the right thing to do,” CEO Kathy Juckett said. “There are a million things you can do to support a greener, better environment without hurting yourself. The personality of our business hasn’t changed since 1903, and now in its fifth generation.”
She cited Telescope’s ability to adjust as a key factor in overcoming challenges. The innovative spirit and strong work ethic of its 300 employees also help it survive as one of the few outdoor furniture makers still producing in the United States.
“We try to be a one-stop shop for our customers, and we have a lot of dealers who just sell Telescope,” Juckett said. “By being diversified, one area can support the other as it comes and goes in seasonality.” She and other company leaders expect FSC certification to spur new interest in Telescope’s classic director’s chairs.
“Telescope was 'green’ long before it was popular,” President Henry Vanderminden IV said. “Most of our logs come off of our own land. We don’t clear-cut, we selectively thin our forests.”
To sum up the manufacturer’s philosophy on forestry practices, Juckett referred to an analogy often repeated by her father Bob Vanderminden Jr. “He said we have to treat the forest like a garden and keep it weeded for it to grow healthy and strong or it will become overgrown and die.”
Tim Waite, a forester from a long family line of woodsmen, manages the approximately 83,000 acres Telescope owns. “We cut our forest based on sustained yield, for the viability of the land and we sell what we don’t need,” Waite said. “It’s not what we need, it’s what the forest needs.”
Logging crews that once resisted Telescope’s inspection and oversight learned to comply with rules designed to protect the forests’ future growth and surrounding water quality.
Gaining FSC certification is “extremely burdensome from a paperwork point of view,” Juckett said. “We did very well on our FSC audit, actually they’re not really used to people being this far into how well we manage what we do already.”
It relates to the family’s ethics of protecting and preserving the environment. During gasoline rationing in 1979-80, Bob helped design a boiler system for the plant that operates on wood waste rather than oil, keeps the temperature consistent and burns without polluting the air.
That boiler still heats the original plant, built in 1921 by the Granville Development Commission to lure the company to relocate there from West Pike, Pa., where it made folding wood chairs, camp stools and canvas cots. Before that, Henry J.W. Vanderminden Sr. operated Telescope Cot Bed & Novelty Co. in a New York City loft. The folding cots Telescope produced in its early years served U.S. troops in both World Wars and Korea.
Its headquarters now are nested with 61 other Telescope plants, measuring 50,000-80,000 square feet or 10,000-20,000 square feet to fit specific purposes. Relocating to be closer to wood and labor supplies put Telescope in a remote part of New York state. Although difficult in the beginning, isolation forced the company to become its own supplier and “made us become who we are,” Juckett said. “If we hadn’t dealt with the hardship of being isolated from certain advantages other manufacturers have, we probably wouldn’t be so vertically integrated.
“It’s hard for a big manufacturer to have the ability to change rapidly,” she added. “You have to build that culture into your organization. If I’ve said it once to the entire organization, I’ve said it a thousand times: 'The one thing you can expect is change, and the big problems come when you resist change.’ Obsolescense can kill you.”
Innovation, technology, ability to change and work ethics rewarded by ongoing incentives are components of the system Telescope built. Governmental trade interference resulted in changes in what the company manufactures, starting with its folding cots, then wooden slat chairs and folding aluminum furniture. When Telescope started feeling competitive pressure on its folding aluminum products, it began a powder-coated finishing process that changed the overall industry.
“We’ve never sacrificed our principles of quality,” Juckett said. “That’s a family value and it’s a corporate value, which are sometimes difficult to distinguish.”