KIT&Co.: Assemble With Care
Combining disparate, complementary backgrounds in architecture, fabrication, and product and brand strategy, Chris Ryan, Ben Cook, and Tim Ryan established KIT&Co. in 2017, designing and manufacturing lifetime-guaranteed hardware that has been described as LEGO for adults. Here, the partners of this Newport, Rhode Island-based business delve into the importance of quality and reliable supply chains as well as the pandemic-altering notion of home.
What led you to launch KIT&Co?
Tim Ryan: KIT originates from a place in life we feel many others have experienced before: busy, young professionals or recent graduates with not a whole lot to spend, in want of better things. Furniture was a category particularly limited by the options available. As a result, we would often end up building our own. We enjoyed the process and loved the output and one day found ourselves excited by the idea that we could enable others to do the same. To realize this vision, we needed hardware—more specifically, unique hardware that couldn’t be found off the shelf or up to the level of quality we desired. We then combined that with instructions and fasteners into DIY KITs, boxes of steel that could be shipped out into the world for others to go build custom furniture.
How do the KITS stand out?
TR: We see our KIT solutions as filling the gap between furnishing options that are either cheap and disposable, as evidenced on trash day, or expensive and out of reach—products from builders and designers who we respect and admire, but couldn’t afford. By design, our KITs require basic tools and readily available, standard materials. No experience is required, making our KIT solutions available to anyone willing to try. Depending on your budget, you could use cheap plywood, 2x materials, or nicer veneer plywood and hardwood. The same hardware KIT can be used for projects with different budgets, and it’s always reusable. With a little effort and ingenuity, you can access high-quality furniture you’ll likely never want to throw out.
How is KIT& Co. changing the essential but underrated hardware category?
Chris Ryan: We’re pushing the concept of hardware as being more than just about pure utility. There will always be a market for cheap, functionally focused hardware that can easily be found online or in big-box stores. Instead, we go through the design exercise of figuring out what more our hardware can offer. In practice this means using SketchUp 3D modeling software and incorporating the latest technologies into our fabrication processes to achieve innovations and efficiencies that would otherwise be unobtainable. The result is hardware that is fundamentally different, and not only exceeds functional standards, but is beautiful, elegant—to us at least—and timeless. Our hardware has a story attached to it, and craft and expertise built into every stage of its production process. As an object, it’s just far more interesting to us to view it that way.
What is your manufacturing process like?
CR: Manufacturing in the U.S. allows us to oversee all aspects of our supply chain and production processes. This enables us to ensure our products get delivered on time and to our quality specifications. Operating on a local and national scale allows us to methodically build supplier relationships and inject value back into the communities in which we operate. Our production process intentionally supports local craftspeople. We believe when it comes to hardware, cheap isn’t cheap. You pay for it in built-in obsolescence or having to replace it when it breaks down or it stops showing up on a store shelf altogether. As a global society with growing awareness of how interconnected we all really are, we think people are growing to like the idea of knowing who is making their stuff, and then having that someone stand by it.
What are some of your products that have been a hit?
TR: We have our Standard KITs, which include specific cut sheets for standard plywood. It’s perfect for some people, but then there are others who want a simple, intuitive, highly customizable option. Our Basic Board Table KIT features basic components, and you can build it in 10 minutes. We worked closely with reclaimed lumber providers and furniture builders to develop our 28” Double Legs because their needs are so specific, and their requirements are much more substantial for the types of slabs they are working with and price points they hope to achieve. Similar thinking applies to the interior designers and architects we’ve met along the way needing various storage, shelving, and wall-mounted solutions. What’s been critical to our growth at every stage is a lock-step focus on the people we seek to serve. This work takes time, but the end result is that much better.
Had you been at ICFF, what would you have shown off?
Ben Cook: Our V2 hardware table leg, which is both lighter and stronger than our past design version and offers cleaner lines, more strength, less weight, and the most advanced manufacturing techniques we’ve used to date. To achieve it, we incorporated the latest technologies including CAD modeling and laser cutting fabrication. The result is a distinctive product that not only looks different, but is structurally and functionally different than any other comparable product on the market. We are currently in batched production of this design at a large scale and can’t wait to get them into people’s hands.
How have you thought about your business differently as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?
BC: Most critically, it reaffirms our commitment to local supply chain manufacturing and production. Our vendors have been hit by COVID-19 and complications have invariably risen, but having good relationships with them still enables us to deliver on large quantity orders within a tight production window. A sound supply chain enables us to grow our business during this time, not contract. Culturally, we’ve seen a huge uptick in interest and consideration around our product. We think this is because people are rethinking the role of their home environments, moving away from disposable furniture and into quality products that have a story attached to them. If the home is in fact experiencing a revaluation, it means we can continue doing what we do, and more of it. KIT as a concept offers infinite scaling possibilities. How can you use our angle brackets to build an outdoor planter or a platform bed? All of this is highly doable and we see people perform these things all the time, but the idea of a KIT being a box of curated hardware components is rich with creative potential.
What future plans are in store for KIT&Co?
CR: On the direct to consumer front, we will continue to retail our KITs, and in the near future we’ll also be distributing these through Rockler Companies, Inc., a woodworking supplier to expand their reach. We do find people also like to buy our hardware à la carte. For larger, batch-specific orders it boils down to continuing to increase the number and types of partners we serve. Currently we distribute wholesale to hardware stores, reclaimed lumber providers, and even independent lifestyle boutiques. As part of this partnership we often help design and build out their showrooms and retail spaces. We also work with a number of architects who particularly benefit from usage of our 3D models that we make accessible for personal-professional use in good faith. Running larger, batch-specific production runs help us get our customers exactly what they need, at a fair price for all. Our vision is that more people can and should be building better things in their lives, they just may need the motivation, support, and means to go do so.
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