By J.B. Bissell | Feb 22, 2015
Owner Corbin Clay is decorating homes and businesses with handcrafted furniture while simultaneously cleaning our forests of beetle-kill pine trees.
One common facet of successful marketing is identifying societal tension points and then demonstrating how a particular product -- or entire business -- can provide a release for concerned consumers. In Colorado, home to countless skiers, hikers, campers, and general lovers of the outdoors, the millions of acres of forest decimated by the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic is the very definition of a societal tension point.
Fortunately, Corbin Clay started his Azure Furniture Company to offer a much-needed release. "I feel we're providing a solution to a pretty crappy problem," Clay says. "At least some solution. We have no delusions of grandeur that we're using every possible beetle-kill tree in the forest, but we're sure providing some creative outlet for it."
That creative outlet is in the form of handcrafted, heirloom-quality furniture that's made exclusively from beetle-kill pine trees. "Early on, I decided, we can do something with this," Clay says. "It's kind of foolish not to. Why are we cutting down live trees when there are some four million acres of these dead ones?"
Turns out, one of the reasons is because there was a pretty strong stigma attached to them. So Clay got in touch with various experts, including the forestry department at Colorado State University and the U.S. Forest Service, to be sure the wood was sound.
"We asked if the color change would affect structural rigidity, or if we were going to find out 10 years from now that something else was wrong," he explains. "They all said, 'No, it's fine.'"
"I will say, though, that it's very temperamental to work with. It requires a different form of drying, and it's just a much more tedious process from the beginning because they've been standing dead for so long. But we built our entire production process around beetle-kill pine, so we really know how to work with it."
Currently, production includes a 28-piece standard collection that runs the gamut from coffee tables to bar stools to media carts to a big farm table, with another five to 10 items on the way. And Clay is still happy to take completely custom orders, too. In other words, whatever your particular furniture-related tension point might be, The Azure Furniture Company can provide a release for it.
Challenges: Figuring out the proper ratio of marketing to volume -- and trying to increase both. "With a non-existent marketing budget, how do we get the word out?" asks Clay. "Because once we do, it's usually really good."
"The tricky part about our situation, though, is that we have been on the receiving end of a lot of good press," he adds. "So when people do hear about us, they say, 'That's great, where's your showroom?' Oh, well, we don't really have one; we have a dusty woodshop. So I feel like we'd almost be shooting ourselves in the foot if we launched a proper ad campaign without the infrastructure and volume behind it."
Opportunities: To vastly increase that volume by connecting with various industry partners. "Think about all the resort towns," Clay explains. "Hotels need furniture. We make furniture. What a public relations goldmine it must be for a hotel in Breckenridge to say every single piece of furniture in this building was not only crafted from Colorado-sourced beetle-kill pine, but it was crafted from trees within 50 miles of this property. All those dead trees you see when you go skiing, that's what we used to make this."
Needs: A seat at the table. "When we can get someone's ear, we can usually make our case, and our product certainly makes its own case," Clay says. "If given the opportunity, I'm very confident that we can get a lot of these trees out of the forest and into the marketplace -- in whatever wooden product people want."