Oyster Bed Changes with the Times, and the Neighborhood
Located at the edges of a steadily changing neighborhood, Oyster Bed Company has undergone its own transformations over the almost three decades it’s been operating just south of Historic Dogpatch. There were no live/work buildings, condominium lofts, cafes or parks nearby when Glenn and Alexis McNulty set up their manufacturing facility at 24th and Tennessee streets in 1986, so long ago that their main initial product was a line of water beds.
By February 2000 — when the McNultys opened the Oyster Bed showroom adjacent to their manufacturing plant — residential projects had begun to sprout-up on surrounding parcels. New residential buildings were constructed on Indiana, 23rd and Minnesota streets, where manufacturing facilities and warehouses once stood. During that period the company morphed into a “sleep shop,” with the storage, or “chest,” bed its main product. The furniture has two functions: serving as a place to sleep and, under the platform supporting the mattress, one or more drawers for stashing household goods. We’ve seen a lot changes,” said Alexis, both about the neighborhood and the way the company designs and sells its products.
The Oyster Bed name has persisted — even though there’s no longer a connection with water — because it’s become such a well-known brand. In the 1990s and early-2000s the company advertised in the color magazine included in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. “That was the way to advertise,” said Alexis. “People saw our ads. They ran every week.”
Fast forward to today. Roughly 700 people live within a ten minute walk of Oyster Bed. The T-Third has replaced the 15-bus as the main public transit line to get Southside residents to and from Downtown. Food and beverage wholesalers and retailers, as well as clothing and accessories manufacturers, conduct business nearby. “We’re still the primary chest bed provider in the Bay Area,” said Glenn. He noted that offerings have expanded to include other kinds of storage systems, such as office furniture and entertainment centers. “The company has evolved to be more of a custom oriented manufacturer.”
Alexis pointed out that a major trend today is “individualization. It means people can have exactly what they want. Most everyone have individualized cases for their cell phones,” said Alexis. “It seems that few people want stock products. They come for semi-custom furniture for the home.”
“We listen to the customer,” said Glenn. “He may want a desk like we have in the showroom, but with the drawers on the left hand side instead of the right. Or we may have to modify the height to accommodate a windowsill or something. We can match the color of the customer’s furniture, up to 40 colors.” All items are produced in the shop. Glenn still works alongside employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 25 years.
”We start with a basic configuration and then we customize it to suit what the customer wants.” The challenge, said Glenn, is to “keep the pricing reasonable. There’s a fine line between affordability and style. That’s where we are and without sacrificing either one.“
Other challenges have been the recession, during which consumer spending plummeted, and competition with importers of inexpensive mass-produced products. Glenn cited the disappearance of furniture manufacturers — as well as textile makers — from the southern United States as a consequence of foreign competition. “Most everything is made in China now. That’s what we’re up against.”
Alexis, who manages the showroom and the company’s marketing, said the company no longer relies on newspapers to advertise. “We do some television commercials, and you’ll see our ad when you do an Internet search using words associated with our products,” she said.
Glenn pointed out that customer referrals and repeat customers “continue to bring in a substantial amount of our business. I like it when a guy who is 40, and who got his bed from us when he was 20, returns to buy a bed for one of his kids.”
Alexis said another important change has been the use of the Internet to let customers know about the company’s products. “We get orders from all over,” she explained, including a customer in Sitka, Alaska, who bought a chest bed. “She had done her homework and finally chose something from Oyster Bed. We had to ship it to Seattle and she took it from there. It went by barge up to Sitka.”
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