Chasing Down Barnwood – A Chilling Design Detective Story

Dec. 9, 2020

The story you are about to read is true, but some of the facts have been changed to amuse you and keep this thing under 1000 words. 

Steve Orlando got the call while on his way to visit his family in Rochester, New York. There is no rest for a micro market design detective, not even during the Holiday season.

Tough assignment

The assignment was a tough one. An operator client of Fixturelite had a request from their customer, a very large Michigan company that had very specific needs when it came to the material used to make their micro market. It was a perfect job for Orlando, Co-Founder of Fixturelite, the leading supplier of micro market retail displays, equipment, design tools and product source sleuthing.

They want what?

The Michigan company wanted their micro market to be partly built from a sustainable, eco-friendly, repurposed, reclaimed material - avoiding anything new, or especially plastic. They also stressed the importance of the products and materials having a story behind them – ideally, a Michigan story.

Back at HQ in Phoenix, Orlando’s partner, Troy Geis, began providing support. “I got patched into a call with the client by Orlando, who was walking to his connecting flight in JFK” Said Geis. “After that call, we researched a dozen different possibilities for solutions, ordered them without knowing if the customer would ever buy them, and shipped them to our customer so that they had a design pallet, if you will, to choose from and to help them pull a few things together” said Orlando. Along with Orlando, Geis sourced a number of products that had a farm element to them or a metal and wood combo element to them.

The big idea – “barnwood”

There was no response from the client or their customer and for Orlando, the stress was building. As he chomped on a cigar in the office (or maybe it was an organic celery stick) Geis came up with a breakthrough idea. “Barnwood, the wood of a busted up old barn,” said Geis, “That’s the answer.”

Detective work takes tenacity and a little luck. Since tenacity requires a tremendous amount of work, Orlando chose to go with luck. In minutes, he found a source in Phoenix that had two large barnwood beams in their warehouse. Orlando flew back to Phoenix and was at the door of the supplier the next morning, needing some answers.

The shakedown

“Where did you get the barnwood?” he demanded of the astonished receptionist. Turns out, he was at the wrong address, a plumbing supply business - the barnwood was next door. Mistakes happen.

The barnwood dealer wanted no trouble. The answers he provided left Orlando and Geis stunned. The barnwood was from Frankenmuth, Michigan. This was exactly what the customer was looking for. When Orlando heard that Frankenmuth was famous for cheese, chicken dinner, and their town Christmas store, he insisted on visiting immediately. Of course, he also had to find that special story that the client was looking for.

It was cold and getting dark on the frozen tundra

Orlando arrived in Frankenmuth in the dead of winter with only one clue in his pocket – a picture of the barn before it was torn down. Again, luck trumped hard work. While showing off his photo and downing a beer at the local tap, (it might have been a hot green tea at the town historical museum), Orlando hit the jackpot.

A local who worked at the Historical Museum named Colin identified the barn and helped Orlando find it on a map. "It used to stand right there, and it was owned by a family who's been here since the mid-1800s and one of the roads here that you are going to take to get there is named after that family," said the local.

Orlando asked, "How much daylight do I have left?"

"About 20 minutes, are you going to go out there?" asked Colin, the town historian (or incredibly knowledgeable Museum Retail Manager). “Be careful. It gets mighty dark.”

"I'm on my way. I'll come back tomorrow and let you know how things went," said Orlando.

Clues and answers

After traveling to the site of where the barn once stood, Orlando found himself surrounded by clues. He met with several locals who knew the history of the barn, the farm that it was on, when it was torn down and that the barnwood had been distributed to several states.

When he sat down for “chicken dinner,” the bartender asked, “Are you the guy asking all the questions about the old barn?” Word travels fast in a small town.

More chicken, really?

When he sat down for another chicken dinner at breakfast, Orlando was met by the family that once owned the barn, and they had a photo album and a story to share. He was nervous, but they were anxious to give him a tour of the town and provide as much information as they could. Small-town hospitality. "I never expected they'd take me on a tour of the property where the barn once stood or find myself climbing a ladder into a hayloft to get a genuine feel for what the old barn used to be, but that's exactly what they did," said Orlando. "They were amazing people. Super friendly and so accommodating; I can't thank them enough."

Beehive jars – another solution to the case

As Orlando broke the case in Michigan, Geis was a working on another solution for the customer, who happened to have beehives on the roof of their facility. “I managed to find jars that were not only made from recycled glass, but they were also in the shape of and resembled what looked like a beehive,” said Geis. “The jars were used as coffee service condiment holders.”

It was no easy case to crack for the team at Fixturelite. “In the end, our client and their customer were very happy with the result,” said Orlando. “One of the reasons we are successful is our willingness to go the extra mile for our clients, especially in the name of design. Best part was – we had so much fun doing it.”

If you find yourself in Frankenmuth, stop by the Historical Museum and say hi to Colin. Especially so if you’re looking for a missing barn.

Fixturelite has design solutions ready for you – Learn More

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