"How long until next Flockmen families will be born?" Is a hard question to answer precisely. In short - we're on it. But the long story is.. well.. LOOONG 🤓 Especially since we are running Flockmen in our spare time. People who have young children now the challenge. 😓
Over these months we had the privilege of being sold out several times, received kind words and pics from lots of happy families playing with Flockmen. We can confidently say that Flockmen is international, there's at least a few Flockmen families in each continent! (Except Antartica.. 🐧 But we will get there too.) Overall it has been truly great. Reassuring and strengthening. Thank you guys. We are flattered. 😝😏😎
But in the midst of all these positive vibes we got so bugged down into fulfilling orders that we barely got time for our own families. Which is not right. Obviously! 👀👀
So we pressed on the pause button to take some time to figure out - what's wrong, what is broken?
It turned out that our initial manufacturing process could not keep up with the demand. Which is kind of good news! It required us to spend evenings and weekends of non-stop work just to keep our heads above the water. At the end of the day with all those hills of effort - we still had to say "NO!"😢 to so many people wanting to have a set of Flockmen for their families.
So we came to realise that this had to change for two underlying causes:
- We are the heads of our families (me and my partner Janis) and we must lead by example. Not being available is not a great one if you ask me!
- We must take good care of ourselves first. (so that we have the capacity to give to others) Much like what they say during the safety instructions before takeoff - parents should get the air mask first so they can take care of their children. Same way we must get our heads out of blindly fulfilling orders and focus on the growth, client service and create job opportunities for others, rather than trying to swallow all the work ourselves and be mediocre.
All cool.. But what to change and how to change it?
We started to look where the bottlenecks are in the current processes and how viable it is for us to improve. With viable meaning - time and finances required to improve. But most importantly this had to happen without sacrificing the quality and not loosing the soul of Flockmen. 👻❤️⚒
The core areas of our investigation were:
- wood choice
- production concept
- quality assurance
The above are just points, rather than steps, they are all connected and need to be looked at holistically.
It sounds simple, right? Just pick the wood that looks good and go! Yeah right!
This turned out to be one of the hardest choices we had to make. (Thankfully Janis knows wood inside out) After trailing various options such as birch, pine, ash, aider, oak and various plywoods
We found the wood with attributes we wanted. It had to be well known for quality, had to feel a little warm when you pick it up, feel smooth and pleasant to hold, have the grip when you build larger structures and be light enough for children can draw on it. We settled for solid Oak. Which means that Flockmen is even more natural now:
- no PVA glue to hold the plywood together
- pure solid wood, without linseed oil and beeswax
Apart from that - flockmen is also more durable. It will last for even more generations to come! 😎⚒🗿
Changing the raw material, we had to make Flockmen thicker. And oh my - it feels great! This is due to the way fibre goes. We added few mm thickness, to maintain the durability.
We had a very old CNC machine that cut out each Flockmen separately. Even writing this it sounds slow.. And it was. The cut quality was not the best either.. (We sanded every Flockmen by hand afterwards!) We tried to replace the cutter head with a fancy "diamond knife". It did better, but still far off from working wonders. Part of the problem was the material choice too (birch plywood)
So we had to have something radically different that would do both - speed up and improve the cut quality. That led us to spending hours online and chatting with woodworking gurus.
This proved to be the most difficult part as our machinery broke down and it turned out that fixing it is like changing a gearbox to a car! (Yeah, its almost easier to buy another car!)
We are laughing as parts for our cutter are being sent directly from Italy... Like for sports cars 😍😎
Up until now, each Flockmen piece was hand sanded individually.. Sanding would have been a piece of cake, if it would have been just the flat surface (like front and back). However, due to the previous production mechanism, we had to sand the sides too. It was super tricky, especially with the sharp and tiny curves. 😭😴
Our new production system makes this a lot easier, allowing to have even smoother surfaces and edges all around. This is area where we feel very relieved as well as this was our biggest show stopper.
Birch plywood looks very tasty when coated with our natural linseed oil. Well, it tastes like chips (or fries as americans say). But it takes ages to dry. And oil being oil - it never dries completely. So we played with various mixtures of other linseed oils, beeswax and a combination of both.
Yeah, we sometimes used our oven. Never knew the oven is so durable and can operate for such long hours!! Thank God nothing burned down! ☺️We achieved good results, but as you guys know - there is a gap between good and great.
Also, we wanted Flockmen to be easy customisable with stickers. So we had to find a way.. Yeah, we love change 😜 !! But imagine how cool would it be just to download a sticker set from our website and enrich your Flockmen experience just like that?! 👀💡
With these improvements in place we no longer need to spend ages in quality assurance. We had stacked several large baskets of faulty Flockmen samples :/ not sure what to do with them now.. They are still too precious for us to throw out! 😪
We already had optimised packaging for shipping and the joy of unboxing.. But there is still lots of room for improvement. However, first things first. We decided to finalise the production related issues first before taking another loom at this step.
Hate when this happens - why can't we just do it all??! 😜🤗
There's lots to this.. But the most important thing for you guys is - WE GOT BETTER INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING PRICES! How cool is that? Stay tuned ❤❤
We are quite far now... But there are still some finishing touches we need to do before we are ready for you.
If all goes smooth, new Flockmen families will see the daylight end of July!
We'd rather not take pre-orders and give promises until we know for 100% that we can deliver. For those who are crazy enough to roll with uncertainty - drop us a line at email@example.com and we can reserve a Flockmen family for you ;)
It has proven to be very time consuming to tinker with new production technology even for seasoned wood professional like my co-founder Janis.
Despite his experience in the industry, we are still uncovering production issues. It's complicated, especially since we are pioneers in the field. But we love the challenge. 👌
For time being we have made a decision to revert back to the existing CNC production and introduce few upgrades we discovered along the way. Times again it has proven that you have to ve very careful from whom you are taking the advice... Even if it is given by plywood industry professionals saying the cut quality can not be improved any further. Well... We found a solution! And yes, it does feel epic. 😎
This means that more Flockmen are being born as we speak and will be ready for orders shortly!! ⚒⚒😜
About The Author
Kris is a co-founder of Flockmen alongside with being a husband, father and a full time employee during the day. He is the kind of person that inspires and leads by example. (that's what his wife say's, so must be true)
He considers to be very privileged, as he didn't need to work much in his life, except for a few summers in the local lumber mill before starting to earn money with his hobby - solving problems with the help of digital. Starting from tiny mom & pop shop consultation to huge firms and government institutions. All the previous experiences worked together in the making of Flockmen.