Some chairs are meant to be bent

When you think of making wooden furniture you usually think of nails and glue. Rarely do you consider bending the wood. Woodbender practices the all but forgotten art of steam bending solid wood. By bending wood they are able to offer their customers beautiful and durable products at a great price.

Many people think the key to being successful in any industry is staying on top of advanced technologies. High tech solutions may be helpful, but in Woodbender’s case it’s important to combine the age old craft with the supervision of modern manufacturing principles and computerised systems.

Just as its name says, Woodbender bends wood and for good reason. Wood bending is a technique used in the furniture manufacturing industry that cuts down on the use of joints in furniture by bending the actual timber thus improving strength and durability as every joint is a potential weak point. “By bending, one eliminates the need for joinery. To keep it simple, where there is a connection on a chair that would be a joint, one actually bends the corner with the wood,” says CEO and owner of Woodbender, Charles Mast.

This technique has been around for over a hundred years, started in the 1800s by Michael Thonet. The number of original bentwood chairs from Thonet factories, still around today is indicative of the durability of this method of production. Mast has built his company around this method of manufacture in the commercial furniture industry. Woodbender specifically makes furniture for the hotel and restaurant market, but its products are available on a consumer level as well. With its high level of service and dedication to quality it isn’t hard to see why this furniture company has become so successful.

Finding a Niche

While Woodbender makes many different pieces of furniture, its specialty is chairs. “We realised there weren’t that many chair makers,” says Mast. “We had shop owners and carpenters coming to us to make chairs for them. People who make bars and pubs, prefer us to make the bar stools.” According to Mast, most manufacturers in the industry don’t like to make chairs because they are such a specialised piece of furniture.

Woodbender saw the market was open and felt like this was the perfect application for its techniques. “The bending of wood, lends itself to the manufacture of chairs, counter and bar stools” says Mast. The process of wood bending gives the chairs a higher level of strength that just can’t be achieved with other techniques.

Its focus on chairs has actually caused Woodbender to expand its product line. “If you sell chairs you are often going to have to sell tables,” remarks Mast.

This has turned out to be a large contributing factor to Woodbender’s expansion.

“We are trying to provide a more complete package to the hotel or guest lodge,” says Mast. “Especially as we’ve gone into Africa more and more, they want the complete package, they don’t want to have to buy from five different people.” By expanding the catalogue, Woodbender has made it easier to supply these complete packages and attract a more diverse group of customers.

Strength in Simplicity

There are many techniques for designing and manufacturing chairs but Mast believes wood bending has many advantages that other manufacturing processes just don’t have.

“By bending we keep the inherent strength of the timber,” says Mast. “By bending we utilise a lot of the wood without much waste. The simplicity of the manufacturing minimises the number of parts in the piece. All these things together means a more profitable chair and a more durable chair.”

In addition, the process of wood bending is more eco-friendly than the processes currently used by most of the industry. The current industry standard is the use of veneers which is multiple layers of wood and glue that are laminated together. By using less materials, Woodbender maintains a manufacturing process that is far more green than the alternatives.

This focus on simplicity has given Woodbender a strong edge in a competitive market. It’s designs are elegant out of necessity, its techniques save the company money by using less resources and its products are strong and durable because it uses solid timber as its material.

Great Service

Woodbender prides itself on the high quality of its customer service. With a great level of attention paid to its manufacturing process, and fast response to customer issues, it has earned itself a golden reputation when it comes to customer satisfaction.

It terms of the manufacturing process, Woodbender strives to use the most efficient processes so its costs stay low but its turnaround time stays fast. “We work on the Japanese principle of Just in Time.” This manufacturing philosophy means that Woodbender requires very minimal warehouse space while maintaining its ability to quickly fill orders of many sizes, a manufacturing mindset also embraced by international brands like Apple technologies and Toyota.

Woodbender has become extremely versatile in its manufacturing and can fill orders from six items all the way to 100 items in a very short period of time. “We are able to turn around restaurants in a number of days,” says Mast. Wood bending may be over a hundred years old, but Woodbender makes sure the technology of its factory is always cutting edge.

Client satisfaction is a company priority and every effort is made to ensure that client requirements and expectations are met and, where possible, exceeded.

This has won the brand a glowing reputation in the industry.

A Mix of Caution and Trendsetting

While many businesses feel it is important to take risks to get ahead, Woodbender prefers to only invest itself in a situation it is fully comfortable with.
“We would rather err on the side of caution then jump into something we are not sure of, not feeling comfortable about, that may have the promise of good returns. Perhaps we could have grown much faster, but the fact is that we are still here today with a very strong foundation,” says Mast.

However, this caution only applies to the company’s expansion process. When it comes to styles and trends in the industry, Woodbender likes to be at the front of the pack. “We try to lead as opposed to follow.” Instead of waiting for trends to arrive in South Africa, Woodbender is constantly watching overseas to see what the next trend will be. By staying ahead of the curve the company can develop products that have up to the minute styles ready for manufacturing before the competition knows they are trendy.

It is this drive to be on the forefront of style and design that makes it seem almost as if the competition is copying everything it does. Woodbender isn’t afraid to be the trendsetter and it doesn’t mind the competition mimicking its style because it knows nobody can copy its quality.

Simple, elegant, and stylish. Old world techniques with modern day manufacturing philosophies combine to give Woodbender a unique edge in a difficult market. If the past 24 years is anything to go by, the company will continue to refine its processes in order offer even more affordable products while maintaining a level of quality that is far superior to the competition.