Why the only way forward is together

Recently I was invited to present at an event called LocalMade at the San Francisco headquarters of Gensler, the second largest architectural firm in the U.S. The goal was to introduce some of the principals' favorite Bay Area artisans to their staff and also to network Gensler’s internationally known architects and interior designers with other San Francisco designers. It was an especially rich networking event because quality and innovation were requirements for participation.

[caption id="attachment_64251" align="alignright" width="308"] Christina Amri with Charly Rinn at their recent installation of an Art Glass Donor Wall at Amberwing, a world-class mental health center for children and teens and their families, in Duluth, Minn.[/caption]

I was there to present my Amri Studio carved and etched crystal architectural art glass. Other artisans -- including reclaimed wood sawyer Evan Shively from Arborica in Petaluma, Gordon Bryan from Blue Slide Art Tile in Point Reyes Station, and Sohan Mutucumarana from Concreteworks in Oakland -- showed their tile, wood products, lighting, concrete, and metalwork. The event had a wonderful “guild” feel to it, which set me to thinking.

The original purpose of the medieval craft guilds was to ensure high standards of quality in their respective fields. Our modern-day business associations focus more on networking to find customers or suppliers, however. I’d like to see some of that earlier “guild” mentality brought to bear in our networking groups today. I think this is especially important for our area’s own “LocalMade” businesses -- the large number of extraordinary entrepreneurial and artisanal firms that call the North Bay home.

The kind of guild I am talking about would have a three-fold focus. First, it would challenge its members to maintain an extremely high level of quality in their products, no matter the economic challenges of doing so. To help them do so, it would encourage its members to share their intelligent business decisions and best practices. Finally, it would provide a much-needed source of inspiration and positivity.

Over the past four or five years, I frequently have seen clients grab companies’ low-ball bids and live to regret it. They end up with uninspiring, cheaply designed, less durable products -- both consumer and commercial-- that are built with lower quality goods and components. In order for the pendulum to swing the other way, however, we artisanal companies need to encourage strategies for making our products and their prices more attainable and model the entrepreneurial (creative ownership) spirit, even for folks who are employees or administrators. Imagine the boost in morale and quality if we all “signed” our work!

A modern-day guild mentality and many more networking opportunities could be key to accomplishing this. Every business, entrepreneurial or not, has to continually self-assess and reevaluate. I have learned that the best way to do this is not necessarily to hire a high-priced consultant, but to compare notes with like-minded business owners. In my case, that means connecting with entrepreneurs who are also creatives.

Artisanal businesses are founded on someone’s passion. But in order for that passion to take root and flourish, you have to make intelligent business decisions and find support. So for us, networking is not just about finding new clients, it’s about helping each other make decisions that will sustain our internal strength and keep our focus in tough times.

Every business owner has to make hard choices. There are times when we have to cut back, to prune. But we need to remember that the reason for pruning is to make the plant healthier. This kind of positive reframe is the third type of support a “guild” can offer.

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