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Old Adirondack adjusting strategy for global competition

WILLSBORO Old Adirondack is trying to make lemonade out of lemons. As outsourcing to countries like China becomes more popular, local manufacturers are being forced to re-evaluate their strategies to survive. Challenged by Outsourcing
Like many industries, the business of creating Adirondack chairs is being sent overseas more and more due to lower labor costs. After Old Adirondack lost its largest client to a plant in Vietnam, the company has been working on changing its methods of distribution. Steve Maselli, president of Old Adirondack, located in Willsboro, said the company was seeking to promote its chairs as authentic versions produced in an environmentally-friendly fashion. What we pride ourselves in being is an authentic Adirondack Company, said Maselli. Traditionally, most of Old Adirondacks sales have come through catalogs. In 2006, a contract to supply Plow and Hearth was terminated, costing the company $500,000 in business. Maselli said Old Adirondacks designs were knocked off by foreign competition. It costs about 15-30 percent more to make a chair in the United States, but Maselli said quality control was higher and it saved on shipping. Nowadays the company does much of its business through online vendors. Old Adirondack employs 11 people, though the number fluctuates by season. The company makes about 12,000 northern white cedar pieces a year, including the famous Adirondack Chair. Maselli said companies like Old Adirondack were important to the region because it provide jobs with benefits for moderately skill individuals. As outsourcing increases, lost jobs may leave some workers behind. Theres some people that are left behind. As a country, we need to be concerned about it, said Maselli. Partnerships with local businesses
Brand recognition is also important, Maselli said. The company recently entered into a partnership with Lake Placid-Essex County Visitors Bureau to supply chairs for the Whiteface facility. Visitors Bureau Vice President of Marketing & Brand Management Dirk Gouwens explained the visitors bureau had an ongoing relationship with Old Adirondack. The company has designed special chairs which are sold online, as well as having designed special brochure racks for several key locations to distribute brochures. They are able to customize the products to fulfill our requirements and also have modified their chairs to use the Lake Placid logo to make it more attractive, said Gouwens. Gouwens said the Adirondack Chair has been an integral part of the bureaus marketing theme. Visitors certainly recognize the Adirondack Chair as it has been copied all over the world and is know everywhere as the Adirondack Chair. This makes the Adirondack region known around the world even if people don't exactly know where it is, they have always heard of the Adirondack Chair, said Gouwens. Chairs can be purchased online at www.lakeplacid.com. Going Green
Old Adirondack is also working on serving environmentally-conscious shoppers. A special Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chair has been designed for the Adirondack Councils online shop, and will be retailed this holiday season. The chair is available through www.adirondackcouncil.org. Its as local and as green as we can make it, said Maselli. Were putting a new emphasis on working with the environment. The showpiece of this years environmentally friendly selections is the folding, native-cedar Adirondack chair made by Old Adirondack Furniture in Willsboro, Brian Houseal, director of the council, said. It is made from local Adirondack cedar trees that were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably harvested. The chairs are lovingly crafted, one at a time, in an Adirondack workshop where the wood scraps are recycled into animal bedding and reused and even the packaging is recycled. FSC has also certified the manufacturing process. The chairs are constructed of natural cedar, which has all of the insect-repelling qualities that allow pressure-treated lumber to last so long outdoors, but contains none of the chemical pesticides and preservatives of most pressure-treated lumber. Each chair has the Councils Forever Wild logo burned into the seat back and carries the FSC-certification stamp to prove it is an environmentally friendly product. Best of all, the sales benefit both a local business and the Adirondack Councils conservation efforts, said Houseal. Maselli said there was a limit on the amount of FSC chairs available for purchase, because the wood needed to come from certified forests and there are no certified sawmills in the Adirondacks. The chairs cost an additional 5-10 percent due to more rigid standards. Adirondack Chairs: A century-old tradition
Most credit for creating the Adirondack chair is given to Thomas Lee of Westport. He designed the chair as an alternative to uncomfortable Victorian chairs. The story goes that in 1903 he nailed several pine boards together, testing the chair by trial and error with family members until it was comfortable enough. The chair had wide 4-inch arms, ideal for setting a drink or book, and a low center of gravity that made them very stable. Over the years, the chair has been called many things Southwest Adirondack, High Peaks, Muskoka or Westport since there are as many variations as there are makers. H. C. Bunnell sold mostly to rustic camps in the Adirondacks, including sales for use by tuberculosis patients who came north from the cities for the wilderness cure at sanatoriums like the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake. Fifteen years later in 1918, the architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld scientificallydesigned a chair using formulas and calculations to arrive at his chair to keep one both alert yet comfortable. His work was part of the deStijlarts movement which focused on the essential of form and design. His "Red and Blue" chair is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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