Primitiques- Beth and Bill Merryfield

by admins on December 13, 2008

• Company Name: Primitiques, Ltd.
• Address: 739 Mount Road (A-2) Aston, PA 19014
• Phone: 610.459.1776
• Website: www.Primitiques.com
• Name of President/Owner/CEO: Beth and Bill Merryfield

 

 

Primitiques Vignette.

Product Description

Early American Primitive Furniture (including: Large cupboards, television armoires, blanket trunks, early Butteries, Kitchen Cabinetry, Tables, Ladder-back Chairs), Early Reproduction Wooden Smalls, Upholstered Make-Do Chairs, Upholstered Make-Do Sofas/Loveseats, Wooden Bowls, & Lighting.

How are Primitiques made?

At Primitiques, Ltd. ®, we take great care to create handmade & hand-painted, heirloom-quality reproduction home furnishings using historic painting techniques & old world woodworking methods to replicate the look & feel of Colonial America. Built to last, our Primitiques are destined to become tomorrow’s antiques. Bill & Beth, an artistic husband & wife team, skillfully attend to every fine detail of this multiple step process to create furniture that is sure to add the warmth & charm of days gone by to your home. Our reproduction furniture is hand made the old fashioned way with quality pegged joints, hand planing, wooden dowels, historic paint techniques & lots of good old-fashioned elbow grease (aka: hand-rubbed finishes). All Primitiques are available in a wide range of home-made milk paint colors with mild to heavily distressed finishes for that century old feel and look. Primitiques paints with their recipe of non toxic milk paint as well as non-toxic pigmented beeswax so all of our furniture is eco-friendly. We use new lumber and use reclaimed lumber whenever available.

We do not mass produce our pieces. Oftentimes, we make larger items one at a time because they are custom built to suit or client’s needs. We are a small, family owned business that is all handmade in Pennsylvania, USA. Since we are a small family company, some of our smaller wooden items are made by Beth’s father and uncle. We design, build, paint and finish all of our pieces at our 1690’s cotton mill location.

All of our custom pieces go through an extensive, historically accurate process to create the authentic look of true antiques. All of our pieces are constructed from a high grade of sturdy white pine. Beth & her assistant artists then skillfully & loving apply a multiple step finish process to create a museum quality reproduction. Beth has trained two individuals in application of her finish technique and every Primitiques is quality controlled by Beth and her two artists prior to leaving our mill.

How are Primitiques unique from similar items in the market place?

Primitiques have rapidly gained a reputation for being some of the most authentic looking reproductions on the market. This reputation, in part, is due to Beth’s self-taught antique-quality paint finish. In addition, Bill has developed a skilled distressing technique that also has sparked others to try to duplicate our authentic look. Primitiques are proud that antiques dealers across the country often take triple takes at our items and all remark on the authentic look we have achieved. There are many talented furniture makers in the field but we believe that what also sets us apart is our discriminating eye for furniture design. Beth is gifted with developing new pieces of furniture that are pleasingly proportioned, clever, simple and ever useful. Beth offers design consultation to all of our vendors, a service that has become more and more in demand. Moreover, Primitiques has gained respect for our original designs. Although we do replicate authentic antiques, Primitiques designs new pieces to keep our line fresh and exciting. Our retailers always look forward to seeing our booth at the order writing shows because they have come to expect wonderful new designs, color palettes and inspirational room design ideas. We believe we offer a unique experience to our buyers because we showcase other talented artisans in our booth, advertising, etc. That is, there are several companies (made in America artisans) whose lines compliment our furniture and smalls so well that we share those resources. We even put their names in our advertising and promotional material. For instance, we use Family Heirloom Weavers fabrics for our upholstery line and inserted their logo into our catalog for cross-promotional purposes. Moreover, buyers who love our line will undoubtedly love the weavers’ fabric, so we want to share that resource with them as it will help them with sales in the long run.

An aspect of our business that is worth noting is our friendly and warm disposition. We name pieces of furniture after the folks who inspired the piece. For instance, my father, Jim Smith, created a small saltbox for us and engineered a neat wooden dowel instead of a hinge, so we called it the Smithy Box. Our customers seem to like that all of our pieces have a “story” to them. This helps them sell our pieces, too, because their customers are not just buying a saltbox, they are buying a handcrafted piece that the creator (Jim Smith) put great thought and energy into. We also name the colors of our custom home-made paint and furniture after our family members and town’s communities (The Rockdale, Ella Blue and Aston Green paint). Such things, we believe, maintain our small business philosophy and help our customers get to know us (and our family and town) a little better.

Close Up of Beth's antique quality paint finish

Paint Finish

Competitively priced merchandise

Price points are very important to our success. We often consult with our retail distributors when developing new products to see what they believe to be the price point of a product. We are always trying to offer our pieces at reasonable prices and often take into account the “quick nickel, slow dime theory”. That is, we often opt to price a product a bit lower in exchange to sell more of the product as opposed to pricing high and selling less. The flip side of this dilemma is our high standards and unwillingness to compromise on the authenticity of our finish and quality of our craftsmanship. As such, our products, although competitively priced, are “higher end”. At the same time, we offer a wide range of product options, therefore, various price points, so we do not exclude smaller shops from having opportunity or interest in purchasing from us. That is, we may only sell small wooden candle accessories and bowls to a small gift shop that does not carry bigger pieces of furniture while still being able to fulfill the needs a larger furniture shop.

We do test the market with new items and remain in touch with our distributors to gain feedback from their customers on the quality and pricing of our items. This feedback greatly aids us in pricing. If we cannot make a good quality piece for the price point that retailers believe they can get, then we will likely phase that particular piece out of production.

Marketing
Currently we advertise in Country Business Magazine, and have gained much attention from our products being featured in various magazines and books. We participate in wholesale trade shows several times a year, which helps us gain the majority of our buyers. We also have a good portion of referrals made from shop owner to shop owner. Therefore, word of mouth continues to be a wonderful marketing tool for us.

We give a free picture color DVD’s to customers which depicts a slideshow of our furniture and smalls. Many customers have a laptop on hand in their shops and run the DVD on a loop near our furniture to help customers see what else we have to offer (which they love because they do not have to inventory all of our pieces, yet they can still sell pieces based on photos and the DVD). We have a free color catalog that we send to all of our customers as well as qualified prospective customers. Bill and Beth are always willing to take photographs of items in inventory and email to customers.

Ordering Process

We participate in two major Wholesale Order Writing Trade Shows (through Market Square Inc.) a year where we take orders in person. We have plenty of color samples to show our customers and offer design consultation at shows, on the telephone and via email for customers ordering our furniture and smalls. Outside of shows, if we are uncertain of the qualifications of a person, we ask for the following information to become on of our distributors:
- Store Name
- Contact Name
- Business Name, Address, Telephone Number
- Tax ID Number
- Photo of Store

It is our policy to only sell to retail store owners who have brick and mortar storefronts. At Primitiques, Ltd., we are strong supporters of retail shop owners and have set forth these criteria to safeguard small business owners. We believe that small business owners work extremely hard to discover new and exciting products. We believe that a wholesale-retail relationship is just that, a relationship and we do our best to support them.

Customers can complete an online order, can telephone their order in to us, can fax an order in to us and can US mail an order form in to Primitiques. We try to cater to all modes of communication as some shops prefer email while others feel more comfortable talking to us on the telephone. I even have some customers who like to send me text messages. While some others like to fax in an order so they have a copy and verification that it was received by us. Therefore, we try to make the ordering process as diverse as possible.

We also offer a great deal of personalized guidance during the ordering process, especially to those who are unfamiliar with our products, especially our custom color palate. We offer custom paint samples to our clients, which is especially helpful when their customer wants to order a larger piece but is struggling with color options. I recently made 7 different paint samples of various browns for a customer! Since we make such large pieces, we offer customizations in dimensions, as well. We encourage our clients to let their customers know that almost anything can be changed, enlarged, shrunk, and so on, so they are getting a customized, heirloom quality piece of functional American art! We really try to have an “easy-going” attitude when it comes to meeting our customer’s needs. We never pressure our customers into purchasing an item.

Ways Customers can View and Order Primitiques

1. We attend about 8 Cash-and-Carry shows along the east coast throughout the year. We bring sufficient inventory as well as pre-ordered merchandise to save shop owners on shipping costs.
2. Attend an Order Writing Show (Trade only)
3. Request a copy of our color catalogs (Wholesale only)
4. Visit www.Primitiques.com
5. Visit The Heartland Exchange in Indiana (open to the Trade only).  The Heartland Exchange is created and operated by fellow furniture makers, “Cabin Creations”. We see Cabin Creations about 4 times a year and send a lot of our inventory back with them so our product can be viewed, purchased and/or ordered in the Midwest without the added cost of having to pay for freight.
6. Visit one of the stores that currently carry us.
7. go to www.YouTube.com and take a visual tour of our mill:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReCFjjrQ_M4

We maintain a link to our current UTube video on our website’s homepage.

We are constantly asking others for feedback and we heard time and time again that our website was slow and we were likely frustrating our customers and losing potential customers due to our sluggish site. Knowing that a great portion of shop owners like to shop online (especially with the ever rising fuel costs), we knew we had to undertake the daunting task of restructuring our website. We wanted to update our graphics (make it less “cutesy” and more professional), show more room vignettes with our items (to give shop owners and customers decorating ideas as well as idea of the size/scale of pieces) and a general overhaul of the flow of our website. As such, we have just completed our website remodel and are receiving wonderful feedback from customers and colleagues. It is important to us that our customers have a smooth online shopping experience while visiting our website so we undertook the immense task of revamping our site. We streamlined the online catalog, greatly increased the site’s speed, and added a user-friendly search engine for our site and one-click contact form.

Minimum order, return policy, back order and shipping process

We have struggled with the minimum order question and have still yet to find the “right” answer. We believe that shop owners often place “feeler orders”, which gives them the chance to see how our company works, how our product sells for them and if they, overall, enjoy working with us. As a result, we have had many experiences when a small order (less than $100.00) has turned into our best customers. On the other hand, we want to be responsive and supportive of our shop owners and small orders that people make for their personal use can interfere with production, hence, our ongoing dilemma. The bottom line is, when we attend a show, we do not have a minimum order. In fact, we find that only a very small percentage of shops buying from us at a show place “small orders”. We find that once they get ordering, they keep ordering. When we take orders online, we have an opening order of $250.00. There are times when we wave this opening order if the store owner explains s/he is “trying us out”. If a shop owner cannot or does not want to place an opening order, we encourage them to visit our booth at the various Cash & Carry shows we will do throughout the year. We regularly post our schedule online. Rather than emphasizing a minimum order, we offer price breaks for buying items in quantity. We offer stores blanket discounts for the following year, depending upon how much they have spent with us.

Primitiques Return Policy (as quoted from our website & paperwork): At Primitiques, Ltd., it is our goal to assure complete satisfaction as we strive to provide you with the most beautiful, “imperfect” primitive furniture and smalls around. Although, try as we may, there will be times when a customer is not satisfied with an item, for whatever reason. It is our policy that a request must be made within 7 business days of receipt of the item and we will issue you credit towards your next purchase(s). While it is important to have such policies in place, it is equally important that we maintain an open mind, respectful attitude and be flexible in our approach to problem solving with our customers!

How do we remain innovative in product design?

We are excited about product design and always, always look forward to launching a new line or product. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be able to follow through on all of our inspirational whims. In addition, we reside in a 215 year old federal style home and we decorate our own home with primitive and country design. Living with primitive furniture offers us an ongoing “experiment” with how our pieces wear- the practicality of pieces, which easily leads to product development and enhancement. Moreover, we have a two-year old daughter who “tests” the durability of our furniture everyday! In fact, being parents, we have developed a few products that we believe are kid-friendly and creative. For instance, we made a “mini” hutch table to use as a coffee table/kid activity center as we painted it in a chalkboard top. This table can be flipped up and utilized as an art easel. We marketed/advertised this piece as being perfect for shop owners since they can prop it up & write messages to their customers! Customers send us photos of our pieces in their shops and tell us how thrilled they are to carry our line.

We are students of life and always learning ways to enhance our product line. There are so many amazing antiques, however, they are cost prohibitive and we believe that we offer an economically smart alternative to having the “real thing”. When we were first married and furnishing our home, we could not afford a $20,000.00 chimney cupboard that I (Beth) fell in love with. However, with our new company, we were able to design our own Chimney Cupboard (which we named “Beth’s Chimney Cupboard) and you bet that we have one in our own home!

New 2009 ITEM!!!

New 2009 ITEM!!!

Customer Service

At Primitiques, we definitely cater to our customer. Everything we build and paint is completely customized to the customers’ needs. Beth spends a great deal of time walking shop owners through the process of choosing colors, coordinating patterns and reviewing regional trends (especially for color). Oftentimes, we are asked to develop custom colors for our clients, which we gladly do and file the recipe in the customers’ file for ease of re-order. It is funny because many of our order forms will say (for color choice) “In that drab custom brown Beth made for me”, or “my special blue”. It is so wonderful that our customers have developed a sense of pride and ownership over the pieces they purchase from us. This enthusiasm and connection to Primitiques most definitely helps them sell our pieces to their customers, too.

We are cognizant of returning emails and phone calls in a timely manner. When our customers want to come to the mill to pick up their order or go “shopping” at our mill, we will come meet them here on weekends and evenings, whatever is most accommodating for them. We believe customer service starts with the manner in which we answer the telephone, too.

We also believe it is important to follow up with a telephone call to customers a month or so after an order is completed to be sure they are satisfied with their items, to be sure their treasures arrived safely, to see how their customers are responding to our line and if there is anything we can do to improve our product and/or service.

Lead times are very important and we strive to maintain the time frames we tell our customers. If we are unable to meet a customer’s deadline, we are in close telephone contact with them trying to resolve the matter so they are satisfied. We do not set unrealistic timelines and are very honest with our customers about how long an order will take to complete.

We believe strongly that great customer service is as important as quality of product. Most of our customers have talked to Beth directly when they call. Beth offers honest advice on what products and colors would suit their needs. There are times when ordering a particular piece may not make sense for the customer and we explain why. We believe it is best to be honest rather try to sell someone a piece they will have trouble selling or a piece that would just cost too much to ship. Beth has earned the respect of most of our client and they often defer to her opinion for colors, design and so forth.

Many of our store owners have met our family members and feel a sense of connection to us as individuals, not just vendors. In fact, Beth’s father works for Primitiques (he IS our wonderful shipping department) and attends the trade shows. He is retired and loves meeting and talking with the shop owners and they, in turn, enjoy talking with him. We are very, very enthusiastic about what we do and that just lights up all of our faces and seems contagious to our shop owners!

Customer service also extends to our shipping department. We strive to find our customers the most cost effective shipping method. We have become quite expert at safely packaging all of our furniture (even the big pieces). We have modified the way some pieces are made (i.e. instead of one large piece, we can make it in several pieces for ease of shipping, ease of getting into a shop’s/house’s doorway). We have several different shippers (as well as Fed Ex) and call around to obtain shipping quotes to be sure we are getting a good rate for our customers. We try to keep our customers “in the loop” on the status of their order, we call them when we are planning to run their credit cards (as a courtesy), we coordinate the pick-up of orders and make notes to the shippers of the days and times the shop is open for delivery. We put in special requests for the drivers to call the day ahead of a scheduled delivery so the shop owner is able to get assistance if s/he needs help unpacking the order. We ship around the United States and Canada and our furniture must arrive safely so we put a great deal of effort into packaging. We receive numerous telephone calls a week praising how well our items are packaged.

How does Primitiques Help Retailers Grow their Business?

On our website, we offer “coordinating suggestions”, which are design tips on what other pieces accentuate our furniture and what type of room settings really help them sell. Also, we strongly believe in cross-marketing and have utilized fellow artisan/vendor items in our booth displays, marketing photos and open houses. For instance, Primitiques has developed a business relationship with Stephanie Monahan of Samplers Country Collectibles after having sent her 100 plus customers due to having her grubbies, candles and other pieces of folk art displayed with our furniture. Our pieces are a wonderful compliment to each other and we believe in telling our customers about other talented vendors.

Beth and Bill of Primitiques also developed a friendship with Katie’s Light House and now paint a line of Primitiques’ Lighting for their company. We include their marketing material in with our shipments as a way to cross-promote other made-in America artisans.

At Primitiques, we only sell wholesale (except during our community holiday open house) so our success is directly linked to the success of our shop owners’. On our website, we have a list of distributors as well as a list of stores that purchase from us at Cash & Carry shows. Every day, individuals contact us for us to sell directly to them. We take the time to find out where they are from and then use the internet to map-quest how far our distributors are from them. We provide the retail customers with the shops information and oftentimes, ask permission to pass along the individual’s information to the shop keeper. A recent example is: We received an email from a woman wanting to purchase our upholstered make-do chair. We recently began selling to a new shop and since we get to know all of our retailers, we knew she purchased a chair from us a week prior at the show. I forwarded the customer her contact information, along with directions to the shop. That night, I received an email from the retail customer thanking us for referring her to her new favorite shop and she purchased the chair! We then received a wonderful phone call from the owner of the shop, thanking us for the referral and placing a re-order for a new chair! We receive “thank you” calls and emails from our shop owners frequently for referring new customers to their shops. Also, when we do the Open House, we distribute literature to the community that points them to local shops that carry our line.

My, how Primitiques has Grown over the Years…

Bill & Beth "Primitiquing" in our driveway in 2005!

Bill & Beth

Our company, Primitiques, was born out of our self-prescribed “therapy”. Beth has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology and was painting furniture as a hobby. Bill holds his masters degree in psychology and became a self-taught woodworker. Beth would spend her free time (pre-parenthood) in the basement mixing milk paint and painting wooden smalls. Here’s a photo of Bill & Beth “Primitiquing” our own design (Early Settlers Peg Rack) in our home’s driveway (before we moved into our historic mill).  Beth nagged Bill to take up woodworking so they could decorate their home. Bill eventually started making wooden smalls in their one car garage and began consigning items in a local antique shop.

Our 1st Show Booth!!!

Our 1st Show Booth!!!

 

Our booth just a few years later...

Our booth just a few years later...

In 2005, we did our first trade show and although it wasn’t great, we were not discouraged and continued our perspective hobbies. We gave it one more try that summer and were overwhelmingly popular. We were so excited, yet terrified, because we both had full-time jobs and about 75 orders to fill. We are blessed with a supportive family, friends and neighbors and soon, we were to put our parents, aunts, uncles and neighbors to work. In the summer of 2005, all of our orders were created right in our driveway! On rainy days, we worked in the garage but most evenings and weekends, we were working outside. Our neighbors would also “clock in” for driveway work. After the first summer, we knew pretty quickly that we needed space! We were blessed yet again when our neighbor suggested we take a ride “down the hill to the mills” (old, historic cotton mills where there is an art gallery with 30 artisans and other businesses). We did but thought, “there’s no way we can afford that!” Fortunately, the owner of the mills is married to an artist and has an affinity for helping artistic people start a new business! What a wonderful space we grew into- 4,000 square feet of loft space with brick walls looking out over a babbling creek. We were, and still are, in heaven there. A bit of irony about our mill is that our neighbor (Dr. Anthony Wallace) is a historian and wrote a book about our neighborhood Rockdale. In this book, he has detailed descriptions of the old cotton mills and their significance in American History. We are so fortunate to be part of this mills’ history. We keep a copy of Dr. Wallace’s book in our gallery for our shop owners to peruse when they visit. 

 The photo below is of historic Chester Creek, which babbles right outside our mill. It is easy to see where our sense of history and inspirational ideas come from when you visit our 1600′s cotton mill and take in our hillside views and neighboring tranquil creek and waterfall.

Creek at Primitiques' Mill

Creek at Primitiques

In order to make our business grow, we both retired our professions in mental health and went full force developing our beloved company, Primitiques. We created our company’s name as a blending of Primitive-Antiques. Our enthusiasm for what we do is evident when you meet us and we believe that dedication to our business is also what draws our customers to us.

We have remodeled several kitchens over the past few years and proudly display pictures of these remodels on our website, in our catalog and in a photo album at shows.  Below is a photo of custom cabinetry designed by Beth of Primitiques for a kitchen refinish.

Kitchen Remodel

Kitchen Remodel

In spring of 2008, we renovated an additional 4,000 square feet to accommodate our growing business. This expansion paved the way for us to venture into making larger pieces, too. We are currently creating custom kitchens, large armoires, cupboards and other pieces that are a lot larger than what we could ever dream to make in our driveway!

Beth has always loved make-do chairs and sofas and it was her vision to expand our company to offer upholstered goods. In 2007, we hired a talented upholsterer and have developed a full line of upholstered make-do chairs and sofas. We are always creating new products and are in the process of developing a new sofa to introduce at the 2009 Order Writing Show.

Inspiration for products comes from many directions. We have been fortunate enough to have developed such close relationships with our buyers that many of them email us or mail us photos of antiques from their own homes that they would permit us to reproduce. In summer of 2007, our friends, Allen & Evelyn Ludy were featured in Early American Life magazine. They have a breathtaking collection of early primitive furniture. There was one piece in particular that we fell in love with so we asked the Ludy’s if we could reproduce it. They graciously permitted us to be the only “authorized” company to reproduce the piece, although may other furniture makers simply “knocked it off” from the photos in the magazine. We drove to the Ludy’s home and were able to make an exact replica of the piece, which is one of our most treasured pieces! We aptly named it “Ludy’s Tavern Cupboard”. We believe integrity is exceptionally important and our forthright approach, we believe, is what the Ludy’s responded to when they permitted us into their home!  Below is a photo of our proud reproduction, “Ludy’s Tavern Cupboard”.

Also, Bill and Beth live in a very, very historic area of Pennsylvania and find inspiration with every walk and drive they take! We reside near historic Brandywine Valley, which inspired Beth to take up photography as a hobby. Through this hobby, she and co-editor, Stephanie Monahan, have developed a BLOG for readers to take a “ride” with Beth throughout her day and see the beautiful sites of PA. Beth posts photos of old covered bridges in her area, historic homes, nature photos and other pleasant images that are intended to inspire others.  The photo below was taken while standing under a covered bridge in the Brandywine Valley on Smithbridge Road in the fall.

View through a Covered Bridge

{ 0 comments… add one now }