Eight years ago, an employee at Breedlove Guitar Company asked President Peter Newport a question that would solidify the future of Breedlove: We work hard every day but I don’t really know where we’re going. What’s the future here? After realizing he didn’t have a real vision beyond building and selling guitars or any way to communicate it, Newport began a Crayola drawing on the back of a Breedlove Madonna poster.
“I realize now, eight years later, that we have just achieved that vision,” he says. “Just moving into this building combined with all the services in Bend, we’ve achieved the ‘Crayola vision’ from the year 2000 – the exact number of employees, the exact number of sales, the systems we wanted and the type of building we wanted. We can be classified as a manufacturer of guitars, but I actually view us as a service provider in that the guitars are a memento of that service.”
True to a rich heritage and mission of marketing extraordinary guitars and mandolins, the company is celebrating Kim Breedlove’s 35th anniversary of building fine instruments. Breedlove’s original intent was to build tools for musicians while doing everything in their power to explore acoustic balance. “It’s a difficult business with many skilled competitors and quality guitars, yet there is not another company like Breedlove,” says Newport. “I came in to help create a management style that complimented the quality of the guitars, beginning with ‘tools for musicians.’ We now manufacture extraordinary guitars and mandolins.”
Creating a Management Style
Breedlove guitars are as legendary as the musicians who play them, from names like Bob Seger, Sammy Hagar, Seal, Sugarland, Randy Scruggs and Madonna. Master Luthier and Artist Kim Breedlove creates much of the artwork for the fine inlays and is one of the partners with Newport in the business. “My approach to designing new or improving existing instruments must include a marriage between form and function,” he says. “I begin with the end in mind and work towards the beginning through a selection process of parts, proper geometry and the Breedlove sense of aesthetic. The final vision is realized only when the ‘right sound’ is achieved.” Master Luthier Jayson Bowerman agrees, saying, “Kim has taught and trained our eyes, ears, hands and hearts, challenging and inspiring us to do the best work of our lives. The values by which he lives his own life also guide us every day. Begin with the end in mind. Work smart. Make sure it’s right before you pass it on. When faced with the inevitable tough quality decisions, I can always hear his voice in my head asking, ‘would I want that on my guitar?’ It’s an incredible honor and worthwhile challenge for all of us here to build instruments living up to their Breedlove heritage.”
Breedlove Guitar Company recently incorporated a series of changes that go far deeper than outward aesthetic, adopting lean principals and philosophies from Toyota.
“We’re actually going from a traditional organizational chart to a servant-based approach,” says Newport. “Now we’re looking at our leaders within the company as servants rather than from a you-need-to-do-a-good-job-for-me perspective. Instead we take the approach of what can we do to help you (employee) execute well? It reinforces those at the top of the organizational chart who are our new employees – those who need the most attention and education within the company. They’re the priority. It’s a different way of thinking.”
Newport goes on to explain the importance of the Idea Worksheet, which consists of facts all the staff has access to in order to fully understand how the business works. “Some people might spin off an idea in the hallway without thinking it through,” Newport says.
“We’re trying to eliminate all those hallway ideas and get down to helping people understand how the business works, how they can affect change and truly understand the impact of their ideas. One example of the most recent Idea Worksheet culminated in a sizable finish department project led by Joey Christensen. It ended up being a $300,000 investment, but as a result, the company will benefit over $100,000 a year implementing that system. Bonuses were paid related to that project and it will enable Breedlove to compete on a higher level in the future.”
According to Newport, half the guitars produced by Breedlove are related to innovative new designs and the other half are related to vintage styles that have been re-popularized. The highest level of Breedlove craftsmanship is found in The Private Reserve Series, commissioned artwork with unlimited customization where each guitar, ukulele or mandolin is accompanied by a signed Certificate of Authenticity and Label. All one-of-a-kind instruments are handcrafted by Master Luthier and Artist Kim Breedlove or Master Luthier Jayson Bowerman in extremely limited quantities, from $20,000 to $100,000 each.
Breedlove is also known for its Custom Shop which employs 30 master craftsmen who, working as a team, build instruments in the $2,000-$20,000 range.
Making guitars is considered to be the highest form of woodworking, because it results in a dynamic and resonant object designed to last a lifetime. According to Newport, once the wood is aged, which is years, it takes approximately 20 production days or one month to build the most basic Breedlove. Over half of the production time is spent applying the protective and decorative finish while actual woodworking is completed in four days.
The final assembly is a four-day process, depending on the level of artwork required. After the instruments pass a stringent, final inspection process, a few lucky people on the String Up Team get to strum these masterpieces for the very first time, ‘giving birth’ to the instruments before they begin their individual journeys hither and yon.
The Breedlove Atlas Series is designed and engineered by Kim Breedlove, produced at the company’s high quality partner factory in Korea. Each is quality controlled at Breedlove’s Custom Shop in Bend and models range from $500-$2000. Each instrument follows the Breedlove mission of being extraordinary, while the details and level of complexity are the only difference.
“When we think about the future, the instruments themselves become even more interesting, but it is vital to emphasize the importance of the people who create the future of Breedlove,” says Newport. “Up until last year, we used to be this little guitar manufacturer in Tumalo nobody knew about except the fire department. Now, our vision includes a 10,000 person festival of Breedlove guitar owners held in Bend every year. I also envision we’ll be co-owners in a five-star guitar-themed hotel that is attuned to the highest service, complete with guitars and recording gear in all the rooms. We want to blur the lines between Bend and Breedlove and are now just getting to the point where that is becoming a reality with our new facility. This vision also provides limitless opportunities for the services of Breedlove employees. We enjoy sharing what we have in Bend with our clients and clearly see a future where we can give back to the community. We ask ourselves questions like ‘what should our role be with the Tower Theater?’ or ‘Maybe it should be the Breedlove Tower Theater?’ If we were to total the combination of products and services we envision in Breedlove’s future, we see a $500 million dollar service company with its roots firmly entrenched in manufacturing extraordinary guitars in Bend.”
While touring the facility, people have the opportunity to witness Breedlove’s mission in action. Exotic woods, gleaned from almost every continent, include those popularized from the Pacific Northwest. Figured Myrtlewood grows only on the Oregon coast and in Israel. The guitars are, in a word, stunning. The company makes a consorted effort to plant a number of trees to offset the carbon footprint each year in line with its 100-year vision. In addition, employees who walk, bike or rideshare to work receive an added bonus of $4 a day, part of the company’s commitment to the principles of reduce, re-use and recycle. “It’s one of the ways we address and impact waste reduction,” says Newport.
Breedlove’s newest 20,000-square-foot building in NorthWest Crossing allows the company to take their service offerings to new heights. “We paired the production of guitars along with our clients’ process of selecting materials for their custom guitars,” says Newport. “We pick up our clients in the Breedlove limousine, bring them to the new facility for lunch where they tour and witness the guitar building process, select the woods for their guitar and travel back to the airport in the same day.”
New Facility Details
As clients enter the building, they are greeted in a mixed-use room that doubles as concert, clinic or meeting space with views into production. Other details of the building include clear story use of indirect daylight, a color scheme that resonates with the NorthWest Crossing culture and a sound system that not only keeps the guitars moving 24/7 but softly serenades passersby. A great effort was made to design the building so it was pleasing for the community as well as servicing overall company core manufacturing practices. “On the bittersweet side, we hold the record for the highest price paid for industrial land in Central Oregon,” says Newport with a smirk. “That being said, it’s a dream come true for many of us to work just miles from where we grew up.”
“We enjoyed working with the artistic and talented craftspeople at Breedlove,” says Scott Steele, principal architect with Steele Associates Architects, LLC. “It was very interesting learning about the art of guitar making so we could design an uplifting building environment that enhances their creativity and productivity, and we’re proud that we met our goal of demonstrating that when designed properly pre-engineered steel buildings can be unique and handsome. I also want to congratulate Steve Keeton Construction for doing an outstanding job building the project.”
Ross Huckfeldt, project manager for Steve Keeton Construction said, “The Breedlove Guitar Company’s new building was a great project that has a unique design by Steele Associates Architects for the NorthWest Crossing development. We thoroughly enjoyed working with Peter Newport and all the other people at Breedlove Guitar Company. When challenges came up in the construction process, they always dealt with things in a positive manner, much like they run their company. They are a very innovative and progressive group of people.”
Breedlove Guitar Company endeavors to make every action enhance profitability. Newport says, “In 2006, we had a very successful year which gave us the confidence to build our new building in Bend. In 2007, we rode the coattails and in 2008 got a bit sloppy regarding the core business while focusing on the excitement of the building and the challenges of moving a 20-year-old manufacturing company. Now we’re going through and tightening everything up in the core operations, making sure everyone returns to our frugal yet high quality roots: any tool we buy, any piece of equipment, any travel or entertainment that requires spending money is tied back to the issue of enhancing our strength (profitability) to serve our clients well.”
Using Les Schwab as a model, Breedlove boasts a strong profit sharing plan, so benefits that come back to everyone could be summed up as a mix of financial reward and pride in executing excellence. “Les Schwab serves willingly as a role model for how we want to behave to achieve our very specific mission, goals and values,” says Newport, who each year updates what he calls the ‘big vision’ as a company. “Each time I get on an airplane I assess what’s going on in the company, including my own personal results. You could say I’m a non-conformist who demands conformity. I break, rebuild and create systems based upon our strengths and opportunities, resulting in product and service ideas and execution that is much different from our competitors.”
Case in point: The Breedlove Extraordinary Experience, or the ultimate way to acquire a Breedlove guitar. Each August, under a full moon, clients are treated to an unforgettable experience that includes musical performances, a scenic exotic car rally, acoustic cave exploration, whitewater rafting, a guitarist’s massage complete with fingerstyle manicure, an exotic Northwest dining experience and selection of instrument style, tonewoods, details and fretscape inlay. “By the end of this four-day event, our clients know everything about the people and processes here, including all of the custom options,” says Newport. “Lastly, we sit down and design their dream guitar. Some see it as a $6,000 vacation with a free guitar or vise versa. And if someone is unable to join us for that event, we create the Breedlove “King for a Day” experience, tailored to their individual tastes and schedule. Either way, we’ve created a stellar vacation for the guitarist, complete with the ultimate souvenir.”
Heading into the future, Breedlove Guitar Company’s ideals are firmly rooted in principals such as excellence, sustainability and community. Newport says, “Every Breedlove shares one common philosophy: each is designed equally for the eye, the ear, the hand and the heart. After eight years of crayola dreaming, redefining, and executing the Breedlove Extraordinary Experience, we now live it and plan to improve upon it in our new home. We dare you to join us.”
Information: 541/385-8339, 877/800-4848, firstname.lastname@example.org
Breedlove Guitar Company
19885 Eighth Street,
Bend, Oregon 97701