Growing your family’s business in a tough economy

Nestled in the hilly interior of Jamaica in picturesque Mandeville, Manchester we find Bartley’s All In Wood, a family-owned and operated business. For the past 40 years,  Bartley’s has made its reputation crafting traditional and contemporary furniture pieces using Cedar, Mahogany, Blue Mahoe, Pine, and other woods. It’s fitting when you consider the country is known as "the land of wood and water".

Since 2011, Lacey-Ann Bartley, a young and dynamic entrepreneur and UWI graduate, has been on the journey of expanding her family’s business following her participation in the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean. Not only has she introduced an almost closed-loop recycling and fair trade as managing director, but she’s also designed and patented a unique hair clip called a "woogie".

Thomas Watson Sr., the former CEO of IBM once said, "To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart." This rings true for the Bartley’s, who put their heart and soul into every piece made from authentic Jamaican wood. Operating a business in a country ranked 90th out of 185 economies in 2013 with the top three obstacles being tax rates, electricity, and access to finance is no easy feat. How has Bartley’s All In Wood managed to keep growing in a country with a challenging economy?

Here Lacey-Ann shares five tips that can help to improve your business.

1. Differentiate yourself from the competition

Lacey-Ann revealed that Bartley’s unique selling proposition (USP) is that they are "one of the only companies that do everything from sawdust potpourri all the way to cupboards."

Ensure that quality products and personalised service are upheld to boost your business’s reputation by investing in quality raw materials and the right tools. Lacey-Ann also insists that sharing your company’s story helps with positioning. "I’ve told our business story about the people behind it; my family, my staff – the young men that we train in the community," she said.

2. Define roles by playing to your family’s strengths

It’s important to play to your family’s core competencies. Lacey-Ann explains that its management team and family all have roles that reflect their strengths. Her mother, Carlene, for instance, "is very detailed-oriented" and a homemaker so is put in charge of the Bartley’s home collection and quality control. For the rest of the Bartley family, Lacey-Ann’s strengths is marketing and organisation; her father, Stanford is technical expertise in carpentry; and her brother, Carlon who studied engineering covers industrial engineering and design. This has allowed them to make world-class products.

Read: The ups and downs of running a business with your sibling

3. Craft a brand and identity for your company

"Bartley’s is a brand from the heart," said Lacey-Ann, who grew up in the furniture business. The name Bartley’s actually means Birchwood. In crafting their brand, Lacey-Ann examined the fundamentals of her father’s brand combined with her own aspirations of making Bartley’s a household name in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Bartley’s logo exudes elegance, eco-friendliness, and pays homage her father’s craftsmanship using colour, typography, and visual details. Always remember to visually communicate your company’s ethos to your target audience.

4. Embrace social media and technology to level the playing field

"As a small mom and pop business, the resources that we have available to us is very limited," explained Lacey-Ann. Social media has made a big difference with customer relations, promoting one-on-one feedback; discovering buyer patterns and buyer needs all in real-time. Bartley’s uses Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to interact with customers and increase customer penetration. They create short videos when doing a shipment to a client, so the client can see the process. Video content is created and posted to platforms like Snapchat and YouTube. Lacey-Ann is a practitioner of using the resources you have at your fingertips such as a smartphone.

5. Use crowdfunding to raise funds for growth

When you lack the collateral to secure a bank or development loan, Lacey-Ann suggested crowdfunding as one of the best alternatives. Bartley’s crowdfunding campaign dubbed "Create Wood, Support Wood" was launched on May 31st via ISupport Jamaica and will run for 60 days. The goal of $10,000 USD will help with purchasing new machines (engraver and chipper-shredder) and the expansion of their skills training initiative.

This will ultimately contribute to improved products and the creation of new jobs within the community. It has also been another chance to tell their company’s story, bring attention to youth unemployment (28.20 percent in 2015), and carbon sequestration (and tree planting).

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