Industry: Built Environment
Foregoing automation and utilizing traditional hand woodworking techniques helped Newport Cottages carve a niche in the high-end child and baby furniture market.
The personal quest of Pockets and Cristina Alvarez to outfit their home with stylish, high-quality furniture for their children led them to start Newport Cottages back in 2000. "We just couldn’t find the quality we were looking for, as well as the variation of colors and finishes. We found those things in adult furniture, but when it came to the nursery, there was really not much there," says Alvarez.
At the time, the Alvarez’ were already in the business of importing furniture from Mexico and were just starting to manufacture their own products. Cristina suggested they start a baby and children’s line to fill the niche they had found to be so lacking. They knew they couldn’t compete on price with cheaper imported juvenile furniture, and initially had doubts about their potential success with the idea. After building some sample pieces, however, Alvarez recalls it was a success. "We took them to our first trade show, and they were a hit," says Alvarez. "People loved it, and they really didn’t squawk at the price. The retailers that bought from us saw that there was a need, and we just gravitated toward the baby and kid’s industry."
Newport Cottages produces a variety of furniture for babies and children, with cribs being their hottest selling item. "It just seems that it’s harder to find that crib that really speaks to the new parent", Alvarez says, "If they really want to bring something special into their nursery, they want to have furniture that is unique."
Prior to his importing business which he started in 1996, Alvarez had been in the grocery trade, so he learned the furniture industry as he went, hiring carpenters, finishers, and putting out the kinds of products he saw a need for. The husband and wife team designs the furniture they manufacture in addition to their other responsibilities in the business. Ideas and feedback from customers, including a number of celebrity clients including Halle Berry, Kevin Jonas, Emily Blunt, and Victoria Beckham, help them constantly improve and broaden the scope of their products.
Automation is not a part of the building method here, as well as cheap materials like particle board or synthetics. Instead, Alvarez relies on centuries-old techniques of woodworking to provide customers with durable, premium quality pieces intended to be passed down from generation to generation. Expert artisans handcraft each item from start to finish using primarily poplar and maple woods sourced from around the country. "Everything is bench-made by hand." says Alvarez, "It’s really done with all hand tools and assembled literally on carpenter benches."
To promote the products to a wider audience, Newport Cottages has their own retail outlet in Newport Beach and sells through various specialty and boutique stores around the country, Europe, and Asia. Additionally, their products are also available through interior designers and via their website. "We can customize finishes, offer different fabrics and really personalize each piece, and that’s something a lot of furniture companies are not able to do because they don’t manufacture locally. Every piece is really done per customer specs," says Alvarez. "We have a strong competitive advantage because we’re made in the U.S. You feel proud when you’re buying from a U.S. manufacturer in California. You’re confident that the quality is there, and with the baby industry, there are a lot of safety concerns with the construction and the finishes."
Challenges: Newport Cottages strives to provide an enjoyable, welcoming experience for their workers and most have long track records with the company. But as the business grows, Alvarez expresses his concern, "When we do need to hire more people, it is a challenge. The younger workforce, the Millennials, you really don’t see them in manufacturing facilities so it’s extremely thin." On a more general note, Alvarez says, "Manufacturing in California has its own challenges with the environment and restrictive regulation, and the expense of California, but it’s worth it, because we get to live here, so we can’t complain too much."
Opportunities: Branching out from the juvenile market, the company plans to expand into the home furniture field with items like occasional tables and master bedroom pieces. They plan to keep the same customization options and hand craftsmanship that has made them so successful in the children’s lines. With the much larger market for adult-sized furnishings, Alvarez feels this move will mean a big boost for the company’s business in 2018. Newport Cottages will also begin importing a line of less-expensive, quality youth furniture, which will appeal to more budget-conscious consumers, further expanding their potential customer base.
Needs: With the aggressive expansion plans, finding experienced artisans to craft superior furniture is a necessity, despite the dwindling pool of quality woodworkers. By having a supportive work environment and a willingness to pass on the required carpentry skills to younger generations, Newport Cottages should be able to continue producing the high-quality products they’ve become known for well into the future.