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It's all in the wood - Family-run furniture business steps into new territory

Published:Monday | April 18, 2016 | 4:00 AMChristopher Serju
Lacey-Ann Bartley, managing director of Bartley's All In Wood, shows off the products at her booth at Expo Jamaica 2016.
Racquel Bryan of Bartley's All In Wood shows off a bow tie made from wood at Expo Jamaica 2016 at the National Arena in St Andrew yesterday.
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Yesterday afternoon, Lacey-Ann Bartley, managing director of Bartley's All in Wood, was still feeling chipper despite four days of fielding questions and walking the floor with potential buyers, as well as patrons drawn to the booth by the intricate craft items on display.

Despite the hectic preparatory steps to ensure everything was in place and on time for discerning patrons at Expo 2016, the biennial four-day showcase at the National Arena and Indoor Sports Centre, the entrepreneur was showing no signs of fatigue.

Rather, she was on a high, buoyed by the response to her personally, as well as the Hanbury Road, Mandeville, company's offerings.

"I was thinking this morning that these people that come up to me and shake my hand and say, 'Oh, I'm so proud of you,' they don't know how that motivates and uplifts me, because some days, it is difficult being in manufacturing and you have challenges - from low voltage to this, that, machine breakdown. But when you think about the people that are counting on you and are inspired by you and are supporting you and want you to do well and wish you well, you say, 'You know I can't give up because I have people depending on me,'" she told The Gleaner.

At 28, Bartley has made significant strides in transforming the traditional furniture-making business founded by daddy Stanford 'Sugar' Bartley some four decades ago into much more than he could have visualised.

Her vision of rebranding the business is far advanced.

"He used to call it Bartley's Furniture, and now it's Bartley's All in Wood, and we've added a corporate structure, administrative functions and staff, and marketing and public relations arms to it. So basically, it's taking a mom-and-pop business to the next level and I'm still in the process of doing that," she explained.

What makes Bartley's All in Wood unique among woodworkers is that the waste material left behind after cutting larger pieces are used to provide a wide range of specialised products that are in demand in craft shops and hotels across the island. This is wood left over from making items such as chairs, dressers, whatnots and the like and which become valuable source material for high-end items.

These include bow ties - yes, bow ties - made from wood, as well as hair clips called Woogies, for which she has registered an industrial design with the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office.

While her daddy, mommy and younger brother are all intricately involved in the family business, it is Lacy-Ann's creative imagination that is the primary force guiding the innovative thrust of the family-owned business.

LIFE-CHANGING CONVERSATION

And but for a chance encounter with Joan McDonald some five years, the University of the West Indies (UWI) graduate might well be gainfully employed as a lawyer or doctor.

She recounts that encounter: "I was doing my master's thesis at the UWI and they were having the World Council of Churches event, and that's when I met Joan McDonald, and she was saying that Jamaica is a land of wood and water and all these people are coming from overseas and she can't find any wooden gifts to give them. So she said, 'Ask your daddy to convert the factory for a week and mek him make some (gift) products, because them will sell.' That is how all of my dreams and hopes moved to become reality."

Talk about a life-changing conversation.

"That was June of 2011, and I worked at the UWI during that period, so when I started my business, I was still working, and then after Expo 2014, I left my job. So the boost that I got from Expo Jamaica and the support and encouragement bolstered and gave me the courage to walk away from my 9-to-5 job," she told The Gleaner.

The young entrepreneur also appealed to Jamaicans to give local manufacturers such as Bartley's All in Wood a fair chance at winning their confidence and patronage.

"There is this misconception that our products are more expensive and of a lesser quality, which is not true, and also for micro producers and small producers. Support them because we are growing. We need support, and feedback is important to us. If you experience our products and they are not up to par, shoot us an email, give us a call, and most time when you call an SME, you get easier access to the owner.

"Don't be afraid to tell us, tell us and encourage us, and when you find a product that's good, spread the word. Just like how if it's bad you would say, 'Oh, this is bad' and you tell everybody; when you find a good Jamaican product, be an ambassador for your country - that's the message I want to leave to Jamaicans who experience good Jamaican products and services.

"Be an ambassador for that product and for your country. Because there is nothing that's wrong with Jamaica that can't be fixed with what's right with Jamaica."

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com