From adversity to opportunity – how two local businesses have joined forces to meet a crucial need in today’s market; presenting the story of the Puzzle Desk.
What happens when you pair the owner of a design-savvy construction and shopfitting company, with a couple of design-obsessed retailers whose businesses have both been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis? A tonne of ideas and innovation born out of the necessity to survive!
When Sarah Ryding, owner of i4 Design & Construction approached Nat Wheeler and Kristy Sadlier from Norsu Interiors two weeks ago to share a prototype of a product she had just designed with her clever team, the girls literally squealed with excitement at the knowledge that this was the item every home needs right now.
The announcement of Term 2 remote learning had just delivered a big reality check for these three families with young children.
“Running a business from home while simultaneously homeschooling my son was somehow manageable when I believed it would only be for a matter of weeks,” says single-Mum and Norsu co-founder Kristy Sadlier.
“However, when the news hit that remote learning was going to be extended for another term, it completely tipped me over the edge! I was doing ok until this point – despite the general ISO challenges and wearing a few more hats than normal, I held the belief that it was only temporary and once my son was back at school (initially scheduled for 20 April), life would return to ‘normal’.”
With the news also came the panic that dedicated at-home work stations were suddenly a necessity.
“I couldn’t handle the takeover of my dining room table any longer. Fighting for space to eat meals between my computer and paperwork and my son’s half-completed puzzles, drawings and board games, it became very apparent that a desk was needed for both of us to keep some of our sanity in check” claims Sadlier.
After jumping online to find several major retailers were virtually sold out of desks, with lengthy restock delays, the panic set in even more. This story seemed to be all too familiar amongst other households.
Enter Ryding and her brilliant idea for the Puzzle Desk! After Coronavirus shut down her booming shopfitting business i4 Design & Construction, leaving her 100 shop fitting and factory employees out of work, she was at a true loss. After a period of grieving, she turned to the one thing she does best – designing fit for purpose and practical furniture!
“The creativity still flows. We’ve got a full manufacturing facility here in Melbourne and we’ve got skilled staff that were eager to continue working,” Ryding says.
She saw the need for affordable desks that can be used at home along with the spike in popularity of puzzles. She then rallied together with her talented team, harnessing their combined skills to design a desk that slots together like a puzzle.
“Kids can use the desks for homeschooling or adults if they are working from home. It slides together with no need for tools or screws. And when you are done, it pulls apart and can be stored under a bed.”
After a meeting through the Business Chicks PowerPlayers network, Ryding approached the ladies at Norsu believing they would be a good fit to sell the product. Norsu, who have also been hit by COVID-19 after closing the doors to their Malvern East concept store several weeks ago, instantly jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve partnered with Norsu to exclusively sell our desks. I’m harnessing their skills to complement my own. It’s no longer about end-to-end production, it’s about working together,” she says.
Within 24 hours, the team had tested, styled and photographed the desks, and pushed the product to market on social media and www.norsu.com.au – all while still remaining isolated in their own homes.
“This is the beauty of a small business in a crisis. We have the ability to think and act fast! We were in overdrive, spending every moment of that 24 hour period brainstorming and strategising over What’s app and late-night calls once the kiddies were in bed” states Norsu co-founder Nat Wheeler.
The trio had a strong belief in the product, but nothing could have prepared them for the response they received.
“We launched on Friday evening with an affordable price tag of $279, and had sold out of our first production run by Saturday morning! The manner in which our community has embraced this product has been truly overwhelming. There’s such a strong desire to support local business right now, which has certainly helped, along with our ability to supply stock quickly thanks to local manufacturing” claims Wheeler.
After smashing their initial target in only 12 hours, the team kicked into gear to secure more materials over the Easter weekend to manufacture at scale. They are now poised to deliver hundreds of units by Friday this week.
“We are so proud to partner with our friend to meet an immediate need in the market, but the sweetest thing of all is knowing we are helping provide an opportunity to keep her factory staff employed during this challenging time” Wheeler and Sadlier both admit.
About the Puzzle Desk product
Cut from sheet MDF using CNC machinery in the Thomastown factory of i4 Design & Construction, the Puzzle Desk consists of seven individual pieces that fit together like a puzzle in just two minutes without the use of tools. It can be easily assembled and packed away as required for effortless storage under a bed. It is sturdy, yet lightweight design means it can be moved around the house as needed, and enjoyed by all members of the home. It’s available in two finishes, white laminate MDF and raw MDF (to customise with your own DIY painting project), and above all, it looks great!