By Eric Peterson | May 14, 2015
North Salt Lake, Utah
Art made from eating utensils
North Salt Lake, Utah
Between jobs in the thick of the recession, Judson Jennings started sculpting figurines from silverware in his mother-in-law's garage in 2010.
His quirky creations quickly took off in the gift market, and Forked Up Art grew distribution to 1,500 retail accounts in the U.S. and five other countries. Jennings sold the company to entrepreneur Ron Lackey earlier in spring 2015.
Kunzler started working for the company in 2014, and he soon changed his plan to join the military to stay at Forked Up Art. He says he saw an opportunity to apply his knowledge in Lean processes he'd picked up working in the food supplement industry.
"Me and my wife [Camilla] have been running the company for a year now," says Kunzler. "We're working on lowering our margins and Leaning our manufacturing processes. We've doubled our profits with the same size staff."
Forked Up Art's supply chain is an interesting one. "We order our materials from restaurant surplus stores," says Kunzler. Forks and spoons are subsequently broken down and bent into various parts with plasma cutters, saws, and good old sheer force, and then welders graft the parts into, say, a humanoid stand for salt and pepper shakers, or a rooster sculpture, or a clock.
"We're continually coming up with new products," says Kunzler, describing a long waiting list for custom orders.
Forked Up artists look to the company's waste stream for inspiration, he adds. "If I'm using six spoon heads to make a flower, I have six spoon handles I have nothing to do with. That's been a focus in trying to come up with new ideas."
Happy accidents are another source of ideas. "Finding something to do with an error is something we pride ourselves on," Kunzler says.
Inspiration aside, Forked Up Art is an increasingly efficient and sophisticated operation. In the early years, the company would warehouse 10 of each of its 100-plus products. Considering that they sported retail prices as high as $300, Kunzler stopped stocking all but the top four best-selling products. "We found it very hard to have that capital investment," Kunzler says.
Another Lean-oriented change has involved "minimizing the movement" between areas on the shop floor, he adds. "The layout of everything has changed."
Forked Up Art's top sellers are the most useful products, like the salt-and-pepper stands, coat racks, and fruit bowls. "If it has a function, we sell more of it," say Kunzler.
The company straddles the line between sculpture and science, he adds. "Finding that in-between ground of how to manufacture art has been fun."
Challenges: "Exchange rates," says Kunzler. The strong U.S. dollar has impacted sales in Europe. "That's a big deal."
Opportunities: Exports. "The biggest carrot is outside of the U.S.," says Kunzler. "There's a lot of interest."
Needs: "People are the next investment," says Kunzler. "We need to continue to get trained welders in here who can be creative. There's a huge difference between industrial welding and what we do."
He says he recruits from trade schools as well as trains in-house, offering himself as living proof of the effectiveness of the latter. "I had no welding experience myself until a year ago and now I'm welding high-end pieces."