April 1, 2004
A Colquitt County manufacturing facility goes against the grain of modern day business thinking, and it thrives.
Not many people go to work hearing birds chirping, with roosters crowing, but Bill Suber and his son, Lester, hear the sounds frequently, including the sound of a young goat on occasion. "Twenty-five years, plus, "says Bill Suber when asked how long he has built outdoor furniture.
"It's a family business," says Bill, and business that includes his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandson. He hopes the grandson will one day follow in his father's and grandfather's professional footsteps. Bill proudly says his grandson is the next swing maker, pointing to a picture in the shop.
You could describe their enterprise as a backyard business, as well. Bill and Lester spend their workdays in a building with no windows to deter break-ins or air conditioning a few feet from Bill's house.
Their small manufacturing facility looks more like an old, wood box. It frequently gets 100 degrees inside during the summer, and they take the low-tech way to stay cool. "Just turn on the fan and keep working," says Lester, as he assembles a swing.
Their business doesn't measure up with others when it comes to high tech equipment. "We don't have a computer," says Bill between cutting parts for a chair. And, no set working hours. "From can to can't, six days a week," says Bill.
They use ordinary woodworking equipment many people have in their hobby shops. "We got what we need," says Bill proudly. More fans than light bulbs. "You can see pretty good, can't you?" says Bill with a laugh.
He says he could have afforded a modern manufacturing building years ago, but didn't, preferring to keep it in his backyard, so he could keep an eye on his business. The Subers got into the outdoor furniture market literally by accident almost 30 years ago when a swing he and his wife were in broke.
Right then Bill saw the need for a better product and he could make it, and he started making them. It caused him to swing into action, designing his own, much improved swing, using only cypress wood that he air dries in the backyard.
Why just cypress? "Considered a more decay resistant wood," says Bill. He tried other woods like pine and oak, but, in the end, he stayed with cypress. Bill looks at his products differently than many manufacturers. "Right," says Bill.
Some would say he overbuilds, putting six staples, five screws and one bolt in a chair, explaining how he wants his customers safe when using his products, even though many of them will never notice the extra craftsmanship. It makes you wonder if their accident years ago prompted him to include an extra margin of safety.
Many companies would put in one bolt and leave it at that, a cost cutting measure. "Yes," agrees Bill. He might be old fashioned with his manufacturing, but he listens to his customers, changing his furniture's design based on customer research. "You'd be surprised at how little changes can make people more interested in it," says Bill.
He does his own research anytime he is around potential customers. "I listen to people," says Bill, giving them what they want, and he wants happy customers. "I don't want them to buy the same thing again. I want them to buy something else," says Bill, who remembers a repeat customer who bought one of his swings 18 years ago.
The Subers have customers in three states, with one customer, in particular, carrying one of Bill's pieces to Washington state. He doesn't have a formal showroom, but a show house with many of his finished products sit ready for sale and a storage area of cypress boards.
Bill sells his products in an unusual way, at community festivals. So, don't be surprised to see his work at a show near you.
Bill Suber's business is: Swing 'n Things, 229-985-1005 or 229-985-5774.