Was it worth it?
“I’m happy!” Rachel says laughing. “I spoke to my grandma the other day, and she was worried about me, but I could honestly say, ‘I’m happy, Grandma! I’m happy where I’m living, I’m happy about my job, my pets are here, my plants are happy, I’m just dang happy.’” Rachel is beaming – and she is radiant.
Rachel Fletcher’s new life centers around her position as Director of Operations for Kay Chesterfield in Oakland, CA, a century old upholstery shop purchased and transformed by environmental visionary Kriss Kokoefer. Kokoefer assumed the helm of Kay Chesterfield in 2012 and, in the years since, has developed the small shop into a still expanding environmentally focused B-corp company now occupying a 10,000 foot facility and employing 16 people. Kris Kokoefer’s ultimate mission, through Kay Chesterfield, is to reduce office furniture in landfills. According to the company website, Kay Chesterfield “brings beautiful and sustainable re-use to the contract interiors world” and is “working toward a healthier environment, stronger communities and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. We are a Woman-Owned and led business and a member of several global and national sustainability initiatives. Kay Chesterfield believes in refurbishing existing office furniture and breaking the cycle of furniture going to landfills. We are known for our caring culture, professional project management and high-quality artistry." -https://www.kaychesterfield.com
Rachel describes the hiring process as amazing. She took part in several interviews culminating in a visit to California to meet the staff in person. Upon receiving the formal offer, “I was like, absolutely!” says Rachel. “It was such a great opportunity that it would just be dumb not to do it.” The offer did not come completely out of the blue. Kriss and Rachel have known each other for some time, having met as board members of the National Upholstery Association (NUA) at the time of its inception four years ago. They value each other’s opinions. When Rachel was weighing the pros and cons of a career move from Knoxville to Nashville, Tennessee, she turned to Kriss for advice. During that conversation, Kriss mentioned, in passing, that Rachel was on the short list of people that Kokoefer was considering to manage operations at Kay Chesterfield. Fletcher was intrigued, but did not think too deeply about it as she was weighing the pros and cons of a move to Nashville. Then…Kriss came knocking a couple of months later. And that was that.
“I am super grateful for Knoxville taking a chance on me. Without that, I wouldn’t be here.” Says Rachel, who is originally from St. Louis, but considers Knoxville a home town after living and working there for about 16 years. “I’m so very grateful for the support I received from the people there.” Rachel does not take leaving that support network lightly, but there has not been a moment she has regretted - or even questioned - her decision due, in part, to the fact that she has been welcomed into her new life with such open arms. When I ask Rachel what she enjoys most about her new job, she says, “This may sound cheesy, but it’s the support from Kriss, and from the other employees on the leadership team. It’s been a great place to land.”
It is no small thing to mount a learning curve of this magnitude. Kay Chesterfield is not a typical upholstery shop given the multiple facets of Kriss Kokoefer’s mission to protect and better the environment on a large scale. This involves active stewardship, advocacy with a focus on keeping current furniture out of landfill, and decreasing the demand for new furniture that is likely destined to end up there as well. The prongs of the business involve reupholstery, furniture cleaning and maintenance programs for large companies, networking and educating designers and business owners, and more. All of this seems very complex from the outside. Fletcher acknowledges that it feels that way from the inside, too.
Rachel is in the process of onboarding and learning the many different aspects of the company as well as her place within it. As Director of Operations at Kay Chesterfield, Rachel does not do hands-on upholstery as she had for over 12 years as a solo shop owner. “One of the leadership team members described (my new job) best,” says Rachel. “He said that I am kind of ‘the air traffic control person’, and that made complete sense. Kriss is the visionary and she does the cool stuff, making connections and coming up with ideas. My job is to listen to those ideas, kind of whittle them down, and integrate them, as much as possible. I’m learning a whole business, its people, and its culture and I want to learn it all now, but it’s going to take some time. I’m learning something new every day, every hour,” Rachel muses. “It’s different because, beforehand, you’re learning something new on a piece of upholstery, right? You know, like, oh – this is how they did it… But now, I’m learning all about this business. An email comes in and I’m (wondering) what is this all about? What does this mean? So then, I have to go exploring.” This process is daunting, but Rachel receives constant reassurance from the leadership that this is OK. It’s OK to get oriented and to learn the ropes because it’s not about what she knows today, but about what she can do for the company over the long run using her innate gifts and applying her unique experiences and perspective.
Rachel Fletcher’s perspective is uniquely broad and deep. The state of the trade is exquisitely important to her, and she has influenced it on many levels and in many different capacities. For years, Rachel has been a particularly prominent figure in the US upholstery trade – as a founding member of the National Upholstery Association as well as its first president, as a gifted upholsterer and owner of her own shop, and as a high-profile social media presence bringing attention to the art, science, evolution, and business side of the industry.
When asked how this most recent step plays into her vision for the trade, Rachel says, “It’s all about bridging the gaps. That’s what I’m excited about. I came from a one-person workroom. Now I’m in a 10,000-foot workroom with a bunch of employees. Bridging that disconnect between those two worlds is what I want to do with the NUA. I know that there are things that the big shops can learn from the small shops, and vice versa. I’d like to bring those two together somehow. I’m not sure how, yet, but I think that would be beneficial to everyone in the trade. As I’m learning more and more here, things just keep formulating in my head. How I’d like to use this position to bring the trade up.” Of critical importance to Rachel: “I want upholsterers to get recognition for what they’re doing. And I want them to be PAID WELL.”
Undoubtedly, this is part of the attraction Kay Chesterfield holds for Fletcher. “What’s unique about Kay Chesterfield is that Kriss offers health insurance, and paid time off. You cannot often find those in the upholstery trade, especially if you are doing it on your own, you know? There are some really nice benefits to working here.” Positive treatment of employees is one of the core tenets of B-corp philosophy. Running a successful business is impressive in and of itself – but to do it with that level of care and responsibility toward your employees, and the workplace environment, and the greater global environment - that’s something more.
“There’s some really cool stuff on the horizon!” Rachel teases. She is currently leveraging her considerable connections toward that end. “I can say that I have been recruiting people that I know, because I want to get them involved. I’ve got resumes on my desk. There’s some really cool movement coming up. It’s going to be good for the trade as a whole and I’m excited!”
I lean in eager to hear more, but Rachel demurs. “I’ll leave that announcement to Kriss,” she says with that signature Rachel Fletcher gleam in her eye. So, stay tuned, dear reader, this story is
to be continued…
In the meantime, if you, or someone you know, is looking for employment related to the upholstery trade, Rachel asks that you get in touch at: email@example.com