PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT IN LARGE FURNITURE COMPANIES: ADESCRIPTIVE MODEL WITH IMPLICATIONS FORCHARACTER-MARKED PRODUCTSMatthew S. BumgardnerResearch Forest P1,oducts TechnologistUSDA Forest ServiceNortheastern Ikesearch StationPrinceton, WV 24740Robert .J. Bush?Associate Professor and DirectorCenter for Forest Products Marketing and ManagementDepartment of Wood Science and Forest ProductsVirginia Polytechnic 1ns:itute and State UniversityBlacksburg;, VA 24061andCynthia D. West?Department HeadForest Produ tsLaboratoryMississippi State UniversityBox 9820Mississippi State, MS 39762-9820(Received May 2000)ABSTRACTPrevious research has shown that substantial yield improvements are possible when character-marksare not removed from hardwood furniture parts. Attempts to promote increased use of character-markedwood in fumiture should be based on an understimn&ing of how design concepts originate and movethrough the stages of product development. Howzver, very little has been published concerning theproduct development process in the furniture industry. This study sought to expand knowledge of theactivities involved in furniture product development and to explain character-mark decisions in termsof the product development process. Data gathered from in-depth interviews and a follow-up mailsurvey of large furniture manufacturers were used to develop a 14-stage product development model.While decisions concerning use of character-marks occurred throughout the development process, suchdecisions were more common as the process protseeded; few companies considered character-marksin the earliest stages of product development. Certain stages in the model emerged as particularlyimportant to character use, such as those involving mock-ups and evaluation of designer sketches. Byidentifying the activities that take place in these important stages, baniers to acceptance of charactermarked fumiture can be better understood and adt-lressed.Keywords:Character-marks. hardwood furniture, product development, product design, triangulation. NTRODUCTIONProduct design has become a topic of increasing importance to product developmentmanagers and marketing researchers in recentt Member ofSWST.Wood and Fiber Scrence, 13(2), 2001, pp. 302-3 130 2(HI hy the Society 01. Wood Science and Technologyyears (Bloch 1995). Good design can add value to a product by enhancing appearance, easeof use, comfort, and safety (Walsh 19831, andcan be critical to a product's success in themarketplace (Nussbaum 1990). Good designalso can be used to help define corporate iden-

Bumgardner ef a1.-CHARACTER-MARKSIN FURNITIJRE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT303tity and help firms differentiate themselves in sire to extend the hardwood resource (Buckleyhighly competitive markets (Kotler and F.ath 1996; Wilhelm 1994).1984). Product design plays an especially imGreater use of character-marked wood byportant role in fashion-conscious industries furniture manufacturers represents a new kindsuch as wood household furniture. Calantone of material input into an existing design mamet al. (1995), for example, found that furniture agement process, and thus should be viewedexecutives rated design quality/innovation as in the broad context of the product develolphighly important among product development ment process. Firms demonstrate a resist change, especially those that haveThe design of a product does not exist in a been built around standardized manufacturirigvacuum. Consideration of product design is processes. Design changes are not always perpart of a broader product development process ceived by company personnel as beneficialthat encompasses all activities involved in and may therefore be met with resistanceconverting new product ideas into products (Oakley 1984; Kotler and Rath 1984). In a dsuitable for market introduction (e.g., Black dition to manufacturing considerations, suchand Baker 1987; Oakley 1984; Oakley and Pa- as defining and implementing acceptable charwar 1983; Topalian 1980). With furniture, de- acter-mark standards, furniture producers facesign is a critical product issue that must be decisions concerning the marketing and salesconsidered throughout the product develop- potential of character-marked products. It isment process as it relates to such attributes as therefore useful to investigate how characterwood species, style, finish, intended price- marked furniture products might come into expoint, and the manufacturing capabilities of istence at large furniture companies. This rethe company. Furniture is a complicated prod- search was designed to expand understandinguct with many possible feature combinations, of the furniture product development process.serving both functional and aesthetic considerations (Tierney 1995; Bennington 1985).BACKGROUNDAn example of an issue that can affect furniture design during the product developmentThe product development processprocess is the use of character-marked wood.There are numerous models of the productAccording to the National Hardwood Lumberdevelopmentprocess (e.g., Souder 1987;Association (1994), character-marks are anyCrawford1983).Most of these models arenatural characteristic of wood such as knots,presentedinastepor stage-wise manner, andburls, swirls, bird pecks, color streaks, spots,areoftengeneralizationsthat can vary suband light stain. Studies have indicated thatsubstantial yield improvements are possible stantially among companies and industries.when character-marks are not removed from Moore (1984), for example, presented calsehardwood furniture parts (Buehlmann et al. studies of four companies in different indus1998, 1999; Araman 1979). Although knots tries that revealed four somewhat differentare often visibly present in pine furniture, the versions of the product development process.inclusion of character-marks in hardwood fur- Rochford and Rudelius (1992) found thatniture is uncommon. Tradition and manufac- many of the medical products manufacturersturers' perceptions of consumer acceptance they surveyed did not participate in all 12have been suggested as potential reason:; for stages of a proposed model developed fromthis lack of character-mark use in hardwood the product development literature. Pagefurniture (West 1999). Use of character-marks (1993) found that nearly half of a broad-basedin hardwood products has experienced in- sample of companies had no well-defined,creased interest due to uncertainty concerning structured product development process, alhardwood lumber quality and cost, and a de- though most reported participation in a pre-

304WOOD AND FIBER SCIEINCE, APRIL 2001, V. 33(2)determined list of seven general activities related to product development.Many models of the product developmentprocess are similar, however, in terms of themajor steps or stages included. The structureof many models includes a starting point suchas idea generation or initial market research,followed by product design or developmentactivities. Following such activities are prototype production and market feedback, concluding with introduction of the product intothe marketplace. The product developmentprocess can vary among industries and individual companies in terms of the stages involved, time length of each stage, stage sequencing, and the total time span involved(Moore 1984).Given the variability in product development among differing industries, it is important to understand product development activities specific to furniture. Very little empiricalresearch has been published concerning theproduct development process in the furnitureindustry. Bennington (1985) offers one of theonly published models, a step-wise cycle containing nine steps. While Bennington (1985)is frequently cited in published research as areference for furniture marketing (e.g., Smithand West 1990; Ozanne and Smith 1996; Michael and Smith 1996), his discussion of theproduct development process is essentially anoverview, with few details concerning the specific activities occurring at each step. However, these activities could contain valuableclues concerning barriers to development ofcharacter-marked furniture products.Product development in thefurniture industryThe 9-step Bennington (1985) model provides a framework for a review of what isknown about the broad stages of the productdevelopment process for furniture manufacturers, as presented below.Step 1. Product planning committee meetings.-Mostfurniture companies reach newproduct decisions via committee. Often, theproduct development committee includes thecompany president, as well as senior representation from manufacturing, design, finance,marketing, and sales (Tierney 1995). An important activity for the committee in the earlystages of product development is considerationof new product ideas. There are numeroussources of new ideas for furniture manufacturers. Such sources might include feedbackfrom salespeople, designers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers. Manufacturing capabilities, competitor's products, the need to increase or retain market share, and attraction ofmedia attention are also factors that can stimulate new product development (Tierney 1995;Black and Baker 1987; Bennington 1985).The triggering factors that initiate searchesfor new designs have important implicationsfor character-marked furniture, since suchproducts are uncommon. Companies that tendto rely on cues such as popular styles in themarketplace may be reluctant to consider inclusion of character-marks in their products.Bloch (1995) and Solomon (1988) point outthat many of the product designs within a given industry tend to exhibit considerable conformity since nearly all companies are usingsimilar market research data.Step 2. Designers prepare sketches.-Oncenew product ideas have been identified, designers are called upon to render initial product sketches. Often these drawings will be thedesigner's interpretation of the new ideas thatare passed on from the product developmentcommittee. Most furniture designers bringboth their design expertise and industryknowledge to bear on a new design project(Tierney 1995). Companies vary in the extentof information that is given to designers fordeveloping preliminary designs. If new product ideas are initially over-specified, the creativity of designers can be hampered (Oakley1984; Topalian 1980).Step 3. Designers prepare mechanicaldrawings.-An extension of the preparation ofsketches by designers is the preparation of mechanical drawings. Mechanical drawings aregenerally nude from the best ideas emerging

Bumgardner et (11.-CHARACTER-MARKS IN FURNITURE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENTfrom the initial sketches, as determined b j theproduct development committee. These drawings form the basis for production of furnitureprototypes.Step 4. Mock-up or prototype construction.-From the mechanical drawings, mockups or prototypes are built and presented tothe product development committee for evaluation. Mock-ups are furniture samples, containing fronts, tops, sides, but no workingparts (Bennington 1985). An important consideration when dealing with prototypes is thatthey are produced in a customized fashionrather than in situations resembling full-scaleproduction (Oakley 1984). Sample makers often have their own shops away from the actualproduction line (Bennington 1985). Full-scaleproduction feasibility must therefore no1 beoverlooked when evaluating prototypes.Step 5. Product planning committee review.-Mock-up evaluation generally entails areview by the product development committee. The committee determines from the mockups which pieces are most salable, and determines an initial price (Bennington 1985).Since companies generally specialize in production of furniture at specific price-points(i.e., low, medium or high), new furnituregroups are designed and produced at a targetedprice-point. Retailers' acceptance of the product at the selected price-point will be determined at later stages of the process (Sinclair1992; Skinner and Rogers 1968). Since furniture products tend to be grouped into pricepoints, product differentiation becomes veryimportant within any given price-point category (Sinclair 1992; Bennington 1985).Step 6. Premarket reviews.-Most large furniture manufacturers participate in a functionknown as premarket, an event where major retailers are invited to come to manufacturers'showrooms and view mock-ups of proposednew products. Retailers provide feedback concerning the new products and might place orders for finished shipments (Bennington1985). Retailers place about 6% of their yearlyorders during premarket activities (Michaeland Smith 1996).305Step 7. Display of new product at market. Showings at a furniture market are the nextstep in the Bennington (1985) model. Furniture markets are a type of trade show wheremanufacturers exhibit new products in showroom settings to retail buyers. Manufacturersgenerally maintain permanent showrooms atthe market sites. There are several major furniture markets held throughout the UnitedStates, most occurring biannually. Major markets are held in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, SanFrancisco, and High Point, North Carolina, thelatter being the world's largest (Sinclair 1992).Approximately 5 1 % of retailers' yearly ordersare placed during and within six weeks aftermarket (Michael and Smith 1996).Step 8. Evaluation of orders after market. Retailer response to new products is evaluatedafter showing at a market. Individual pieces orentire groups that generate little interest duriingor immediately after market showing may notbe manufactured due to a lack of profit potential (Bennington 1985).Step 9. Full production.-Ifnew productsamples generate adequate interest at marklet,full production is scheduled. Case goods cornpanies can vary, however, in their productionand warehousing strategies. Some companiesmay choose to produce a certain number ofcuttings of a new group and then sell fromwarehouse inventory, whereas other companies may produce cuttings only to fill orderswith little or no warehousing (Bennington1985).The preceding review portrays a generalpicture of furniture product development. Theobjective of this work was to expand knowledge of the specific activities involved in theproduct development process for large casegoods manufacturers. Of particular interestwas a determination of how these activities affect the development of character-markedproducts.METHODSData collectionPopulation of interest and sample frame.The population of interest for this study was

306WOOD AND FIBER SCIEINCE, APRIL 2001, V. 33(2)large case goods manufacturers in Virginiaand North Carolina. Large companies werechosen because such companies offer thegreatest opportunities for large-scale use ofcharacter-marked wood. The study region waschosen because of the concentration of majorcase goods manufacturers located in this area,in proximity to the influential High Point furniture market. According to Furniture Designand Manufacturing (1997), approximatelyone-sixth of the 300 largest (based on sales)North American furniture (e.g., residentialwood and upholstery, office, contract) andcabinet companies have their headquarters inthe two-state region of North Carolina andVirginia, and this proportion is higher whenonly case goods are considered.The sample frame was generated from theFurniture Design and Manufacturing (1997)list of the 300 largest North American furniture manufacturers. The smallest company inthis list had sales of 12 million in 1996.Companies appearing in this list that produceddining room and/or bedroom furniture (i.e.,case goods) from hardwoods and that were located in North Carolina or Virginia served asthe sample frame. The initial sample frameconsisted of 31 companies. In the process ofarranging interviews, it was determined thatfour companies did not belong in the sampleframe, resulting in a final sample frame of 27companies.On-site interviews.-Data for model development were gathered during on-site, semistructured, tape-recorded interviews with representatives from 14 of the companies in thesample frame. An additional interview wasconducted via telephone, and another was conducted on-site, but was not recorded. This resulted in a final sample of 16 companies, mostof them representing nationally prominentbrands. Persons targeted for interviews included vice-presidents and managers of marketing,sales, or product development, and were nearly always members of their respective company's product development committee. Table1 shows the titles of the company representa-TABLE1. Number of company interviews by position.PositionVPManager of MerchandisingVP SalesISales ManagerVPlDirector of Product DevelopmentVP of MarketingAssistant-Product DevelopmentDesigner (in-house)Number ofinterviews54321Itives interviewed. The average length of therecorded interviews was 38 minutes.A broad range of product price-points wasrepresented among the sample companies,ranging from low-medium to high. Most firms,however, were in the middle to upper-middle.There was also variation among the samplecompanies regarding the primary type of furniture construction used in their respectiveproduct mixes (i.e., companies with all solidwood product lines, companies with all veneerproduct lines, companies with a combinationof solid wood and veneer product lines).Mail survey.-A mail survey of the entiresample frame was conducted once the interviews were completed and analyzed. A questionnaire was developed to provide quantitative measures to supplement the primarilyqualitative interview findings. Respondentswere asked:to rate the extent to which their companyparticipated in the stage-specific productdevelopment activities that emerged fromthe interviews;to indicate which stages in the model generally included character-mark decisions;to indicate which stage was the most critical when deciding whether to use character-marks in a new furniture group; andto indicate whether the marketinglproductdevelopment function or the production1manufacturing function had more influence over product development issuesfound in the interviews to be associatedwith use of character-marked wood.

Bumgardner et a1.-CHARACTER-MARKSBoth interviewed (n 16) and noninterviewed (n 11) companies were included inthe mail survey sample frame. The interviewee at each company was targeted for the rnailquestionnaire. For noninterviewed companies,the original contact person was targeted. Thirteen responses were received from the 16 interviewed companies; 11 were usable and 2were unusable (in one case the original contacthad left the company and in another case thecompany had gone out of business since thetime of the interview). Five responses werereceived from the 11 companies that were notinterviewed, and 4 were usable. In sum, 15usable questionnaires were received.Data analysisNonresponse bias.-Acheck for nonresponse bias was possible since questionnaireswere received from both interviewed and noninterviewed companies. Three measures, including number of employees, operating pricepoint, and total number of designers employedand/or retained, were used to compare interview respondents to interview nonrespondentsusing nonparametric Mann-Whitney U-tests.None of the tests was significant (P 0.34 fornumber of employees, P 0.71 for pricepoint, and P 0.1 1 for number of designers),suggesting that respondents did not differ significantly from nonrespondents.Model development.-The base interkiewquestion for development of the model askedrespondents to describe the steps involved inmoving a new product from an idea to a tangible good at their respective company. Additional information regarding the process wasgained from related questions involving suchissues as design strategy, sources of new product ideas, and the internal structure of thecompany. The companies' experiences regarding character-marks and physical distressingwere also discussed in the context of the product development process.When dealing with qualitative data, it isuseful to provide a clear explanation of theprocedures used in analysis (Kvale 1996). InIN FURNITIJRE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT307the present study, a base model of the productdevelopment process was developed afterreading and becoming familiar with the datacollected during the interviews. To accomp1ir;hthis, a data form was developed to keep trackof companies reporting participation in specific product development stages and stage activities. Only the most salient stages and activities were initially recorded. Qualitative dataare advantageous in that research questionscan be studied in depth with no predeterminedcategories of analysis-such categories oftenemerge from the data (Patton 1990). No reference was made to the Bennington (1985)model during the interviews.Once the base model was developed, eachcompany case was carefully compared to thebase model, with "hits" to existing stages andstage activities being recorded in the form {offrequency counts. If a company case revealeda stage or activity not included in the basemodel, that stage or activity was added to themodel. Then subsequent companies mentioning the added stage or activity were countedand recorded. This process continued until thedata from all 16 companies were analyzed.Triangulation.-Results from the interviews were compared to results from the mailsurvey to provide a measure of validity for tliemodel. The use of triangulation, or dissimilarapproaches of investigating the same phenornenon, provides a means of overcoming thelimitations inherent to any single type of methodology (Singleton et al. 1993; Patton 1990;Jick 1979). While the method of qualitativeinterviewing can result in data that are subjective and difficult to analyze, it allows for indepth understanding of specific experience and perspectives. The intent was to discoveras much detail as possible about the productdevelopment process for a limited group ofprominent companies. The model thatemerged from the interviews, rather than bleing the end product, was converted into aquantitative questionnaire format and testledwith the sample frame members, many ofwhich were involved in development of theoriginal model. The extent to which the find-

308WOOD AND FIBER SCII?NCE, APRIL 2001, V. 33(2)TABLE2.Stages in the product development process with number of companies reporting, and comparison withBennington 's ( 1985) model.Stage number and descript onNumber ofcompanies reportmy.Identification of opportunitylneed for new productsGeneration of new product ideasNew product information given to designersDesigner activitiesInitial new product reviewAdditional designer activities (e.g., specs for approved designs)First intermediate new product review (based on designer specs)Mock-up construction/manufacturing issuesSecond intermediate new product review (based on mock-ups)Remaining group pieces sketched by designersFinal new product review (i.e., premarket)Prepare for market (using feedback from premarket)13. Market14. Product manufactured/orders .11.12.ings were similar was an indication that themodel was valid and that the interview datawere correctly interpreted. The result was anin-depth account of product development forlarge furniture companies.RESULTSA model of the product development processTable 2 presents a 14-stage descriptivemodel of the product development process forlarge furniture manufacturers, based on datacollected during the interviews. The numberof respondents reporting a stage during theinterviews indicates the extent of support forthe stage. Several of the stages confirm thosediscussed by Bennington (1985), but a fewadditional stages emerged, and the organization of the two models is not always identical.With the exception of Stage 12 (Prepare formarket), the new stages suggested by the present research seem to be relatively minor inimportance based on the number of companies reporting the stage. The model presentedhere also tended to break out the early stagesof product development into finer units. It isimportant to note that the stages presented inTable 2 represent categories that emergedfrom interview situations where respondentswere provided with no preconceived modelas a reference for discussion. In this context,Corresponds toBenninyton'sStepstepStepStepStepStep1I1223-Step 4Step 5-Step 6Step 7Steps 8, 9the resulting consistency with the Bennington(1985) model suggests converging evidence.Table 3 shows the mean scores, based onthe questionnaire data, for activities includedin the investigated stages of the overall model.' Most of the means were relatively high(i.e., 5.0 or greater on a 7-point scale), suggesting that the stage activities developedfrom the interviews were indeed o m m o nIf. an activity with a high mean also had a highfrequency count from the interviews, therewas evidence of convergent validity betweenthe two measures. The extent of associationbetween the interview and questionnairemeasures was estimated with Spearman'srank correlation coefficient. The correlationTo reduce questionnaire length, a subset of stages wasselected for further investigation. Since many of the activities most relevant to character-mark decisions occurredin the earlier stages of the model (based on the interviews), only the first nine stages were included. Stage 9was selected as a cut-off because of the drop in the number of companies reporting Stage 10, and the shift in focusto furniture markets that begins at Stage 11. Also, Stages6 and 7 were excluded due to their relative unimportance.Only stage activities that at least three companies reported in the interview data were considered. Althoughthis criterion was established somewhat arbitrarily, it wasviewed as indicative of a common activity based on theopen-ended nature of the interview questions. Using thiscriterion, 26 activities were included and 8 were excluded.The average activity was reported 5.4 times.

Bumgardner ct a1.-CHARACTER-MARKS3019IN FURNITURE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENTTABLE3. Product development activities and character-mark decisions, by stage.Charactermarkdecisionsoccur atMean' (SD) this stage2Stage and stage activi ymostcriticillto useof charactermark\'-Stage 1-Identify opportunitylneed for new productLearning of popular style categories in the marketplace (8)4Determining voids in existing product lines (5)Looking at competitors' products within targeted style categories (5)Formation of basic product concept or theme (4)13%0%Stage Generation of new product ideasTravel by product development or marketing personnel (9)Feedback from retailers/dealers (6)Seeking input from designers (6)Feedback from sales representatives (5)Reading various forms of printed media (4)47%0%Stage 3-New product information given to desigl ersDesired style category given to designers (8)Desired finish given to designers (5)Desired geographic market region given to designers (5)Desired wood species given to designers (4)Desired price-point given to designers (3)73%1341Stage &Designer activitiesSketchesldrawings of proposed designs prepared by designers (12)Product characteristics suggested by designers (7)Manufacturing capabilities of the company considered by designers (4)87%20%87%27%93%33%100%7%Stage 5-Initial new product reviewProduct development committee reviews designers sketches ( I I )Determination of product characteristics by product development committee (8)Manufacturing representatives review designers' sketches for production feasibility (8)Stage 8-Mock-up constrnction/manufacturing iss8uesMock-ups are built (13)Manufacturing feasibility determined during mock-up construction (6)Manufacturing alterations made to new designs to increase ease of manufacture ( 5 )6.5 (0.8)5.9 (1.4)4.7 (2.1)6.7 (0.7)6.4 (0.9)6.5 (0.6)Stage 9-Intermediate new product review (basecl on mock-ups)Product characteristics visibly reviewed by producl. developmentlmarketing personnel (8) 6.9 (0.4)6.7 (0.5)Product alterations made to enhance the desired look of the group (4)5.2 (1.7)Price established for the new group(3)A' Based on the following questnonnalrc scale: I-lncluded st this Stage" to 7 "always included at thls Stage."Proponmn answering "yea" on the questionnaire to dichotomous cuestlon asking whether decis onsconcerning use of character-markslphyaical d stressingwcrc generally rnvolvcd at the Stage.Proportlnn indlcatlng on the questionnaire that the Stage was the ' ,nost crit cal"when deciding to include character-marks in a new furniture group.-'Number of companies mentioning the activsty during the intcrvle*s. "never'between the number of times an activity wasmentioned in the interview data and its average rating from the questionnaire data wasstatistically significant and moderately high atr, 0.48 (P 0.01, two-tailed). This suggests that the model developed in this studyprovides a valid framework for discussion ofcharacter-mark usage in the product development process.Character-marks and the productdevelopment processOn the questionnaire, respondents wereasked to indicate, for each stage, whether the

310WOOD AND FIBER SCII:NCE, APRIL 2001, V. 33(2)stage generally involved decisions concerninguse of character-marks, and to indicate whichstage was the single most critical when making character-mark decisions. The occurrenceof decisions concerning character-mark use increased monotonically as the product development process proceeded (Table 3). By thetime designers were involved at Stage 3 (Newproduct information given to designers), 73%of the companies indicated that character-markdecisions had occurred, increasing to 100% byStage 9 (Intermediate new product review).Regarding the most critical stages to characteruse, 33% of respondents indicated that Stage8 (Mock-up constructionlmanufacturing issues) was the most critical to character-markdecisions, while 20% and 27% indicated thatStage 4 (Designer activities) and Stage 5 (Znitial

furniture industry The 9-step Bennington (1985) model pro- vides a framework for a review of what is known about the broad stages of the product development process for furniture manufactur- ers, as presented below. Step 1. Product planning committee meet- ings.-Most furniture companies reach new product decisions via committee.