Education at The Institute of Futon
Special Feature
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Part 1

The Institute of Futon: A Look At Devon Chase And A Lesson On Educating For Futon Retailers

By Joe Tatulli

Some concepts sound so ingenious and are infused with so much common sense that you wonder why everyone isn't doing it. Tom and Sue Tedesco's "Institute of Futon" is just such an idea. Tom shared the Institute's mission with me at the 1997 Futon Expo in Phoenix and offered me the opportunity to come down to Orlando, FL, the home of his company, Devon Chase, and see how it all works first hand. It took more than a year to fit the trip in, but several weeks ago I took the plunge and dove into a well thought out and well executed educational experience I can honestly say every futon retailer should have. The Tedescos have left no stone unturned. "At the Institute of Futon we show people how to make a quality futon," said Tom Tedesco.

The Best Place To Start Is The Beginning

The Institute's curriculum is broken down into several segments starting with a classroom orientation that lays out the groundwork of the program. "We use a model we learned from our experience in the scuba industry," Tom Tedesco said. "You tell someone what you are going to teach them, you teach them, you tell them what you taught them, and you test them on what you taught them." Tedesco then cautioned me that at the end of the course I would have a written test on what I was about to learn. He then reached over and pulled a framed certificate off the wall. "Everyone who goes through this program, and passes the test receives this certificate," he said. I looked at the certificate and then around at the faculty and smiled. They all stared back with a look that spoke to me of both their serious commitment as teachers and their calm assurance that I would succeed as a student.

Orientation: Safety First & Inspector 13

"Everyone who participates in the Institute of Futon is evaluated - teachers, students, everyone," said Tedesco. He held up an evaluation sheet and added, "Each member of the faculty team does their classroom or on-site presentation and is evaluated for presence, knowledge of their material, and other criteria internally." Tedesco is earnest and very sincere in his desire to communicate the best information available. He wants anyone who goes through the Institute of Futon to walk away with a clear and concise understanding of how a futon is made, what it is made from, and, even more specifically, how Devon Chase's attention to detail makes their product unique.
Tedesco fired up his laptop and started the show. "We start with some safety issues and then move right to introductions and on into our futon company history," he said.
Each student is given clear and concise safety rules including where and where not to stand in the factory proper, what safety equipment is required and what to do in case there is an accident or a fire. Also mentioned is Inspector 13. "Inspector 13 is a big part of everything we do at Devon Chase," says Tom Tedesco, "But more about that later." We also receive a small toolbox which follows us through each phase of the learning experience.

Alien Environs

As part of the Institute of Futon experience Sue Tedesco now presents a short history of Devon Chase. "We have been around the futon furniture industry for about seven years," she says. The Tedescos actually backed into the futon mattress manufacturing business. "We were selling management and bookkeeping software and helped a futon mattress manufacturer in Connecticut settle some accounts and when we were done getting him on track he decided to shut down his plant," she said. It took five days and many phone calls but Tom and Sue got the factory running and soon had re-established contacts with all their former customers. "It was a little scary at first," she said. "We actually took our last few dollars to buy the gas for the first shipment. But since then we have done nothing but grow."
Using another analogy from the scuba industry Tom Tedesco explains that futon furniture retailers who take this course are about to enter an alien environment. "When we ask our people who come to the Institute who their competitor is many will say the futon guy down the street. Well, we say no, that's not your competitor. In fact that futon retailer down the street is the best thing you can have. No, your competitor is the guy selling TVs and VCRs, and even that computer or automobile dealer... even another furniture store. These are all competitors taking part of our total market," said Tedesco. Tedesco believes that when the futon retailer looks at the competition in this way he or she is entering an "alien environment."
"By taking this Institute and tapping into our experience in alien environments you will be better equipped to survive in the retail marketplace," he says to his students.

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