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Tom Matthews – Executive Director for Corporate Communications, Longaberger, Inc.

By Admin | October 23, 2008

Tom Matthews is the Executive Director for Corporate Communications for the iconic basketmaker Longaberger. We recently visited him at his company headquarters in Newark, Ohio.

Where are Longaberger baskets made?

Our Home Office – the basket-shaped building – is in Newark, Ohio. Our manufacturing campus, which is home to basketmaking, Make A Basket, distribution and our Factory Store, is located in Frazeysburg, Ohio, about 15 minutes east of our Home Office.

Manufacturing is adjacent to our Homestead, featuring shops and events. More than 350,000 people visited our destinations last year to experience basketmaking, shop and make baskets with our basketmakers.

We also own Longaberger Golf Club, consistently selected among the top public courses in the U.S. by leading golf magazines.

Who leads your company?

We are a family-owned company led by Chair, CEO and President Tami Longaberger. She is recognized as a powerful voice for women and is a role model for many within in our sales field and company.

Beyond leading the company and setting our strategic direction, Tami is civic minded and has served on numerous advisory boards and committees.

How did Longaberger get its’ start?

We are celebrating our company‚Äôs 35th anniversary this year. The Longaberger family’s roots in basketmaking date back more than 100 years, when Tami’s grandfather, J.W., began making baskets in Dresden, Ohio from a shop at his home.

Years later, the late Dave Longaberger, J.W.’s son and Tami’s father, began selling some of J.W.’s handcrafted baskets at his grocery store in Dresden.

Dave was a big dreamer and entrepreneur. He started several businesses in Dresden and eventually landed on the idea of selling the baskets through home shows. He believed people would fall in love with the baskets if they knew the family story behind them.

Turns out he was right. He formed The Longaberger Company in 1973. Tami has led the company since 1999 and, in addition to continuing the tradition, espouses the vision that Longaberger is about empowering women and men to reach their dreams.

What products do you sell today?

We are America’s premier maker of handcrafted baskets and provide other home and lifestyle products, such as pottery, wrought iron and fabrics.

The basic business model for Longaberger has been the home distributor. Has the retail website caused resentment or problems with your sales associates?

We have created an online experience that benefits our Home Consultants. Every Home Consultant has her or his own website. They can sell product through their websites.

Consultants are using the web as another tool to reach customers. If you go through www.longaberger.com, you can be connected to Home Consultants through a search function.

What is the average income for your sales associates?

Your income as a Home Consultant is what you make it. It depends on what kind of time and energy you want to put into your business. Some choose to do it part-time; others have made it a full-time career.

A Longaberger business can fit your lifestyle and it can change your life. It’s all about what you choose to make it.

Do you require your sales associates to buy their merchandise?

Home Consultants have a variety of options to purchase business kits, beginning with the low-cost Easy Start Kit. They also can purchase samples. In addition, Consultants receive 25-percent discounts on all Longaberger products.

How much has the poor economy in the US in the last 12-18 months hurt sales?

These indeed are challenging times for us and all other U.S. manufacturers. And we have taken the necessary steps to strengthen our commitment to handcrafting baskets right here in Ohio.

Recently, we announced significant investments in our basketmaking operations that will make us more environmentally friendly and reduce raw materials.

And there is more good news. We have had a 10 percent increase so far this year in new Home Consultants joining us. More people turn to us because they are interested in earning extra money or because they want to start new careers.

Do you have sales associates outside of the United States?

We have approximately 45,000 Home Consultants throughout the country representing every single U.S. state.

What single product is your most popular?

Our baskets are our most popular products, followed by pottery.

Why would someone buy a Longaberger basket when someone could buy an equally functional basket for a tenth of the cost?

Longaberger baskets are American made and they reflect the highest quality. Our baskets are more than functional. They are handmade to be handed down.

Many of the people who own Longaberger baskets have stories behind them — perhaps a fond memory of who gave them the basket or the circumstances under which they received it.

There is something very special about our baskets. They are steeped in our heritage and our history. Basketmaking in the Longaberger family goes back more than 100 years, and that heritage is reflected in each and every one of our baskets.

Our basketmakers personally sign and date each basket, a reflection of the pride, quality and history.

Other than home sales associates, how many people does Longaberger employ?

We employ approximately 2,100, which includes manufacturing, our destinations and Home Office.

How long does it take to make a medium-sized market basket? What type of wood is used in your baskets?

Our basketmakers can typically make a Medium Market Basket in about 20 minutes. We use maple wood for our baskets.

Has the company received much notoriety from the corporate headquarters that is an exact replica of a market basket? What have the professional architects said about the building?

Our Home Office has drawn accolades not only across the country, but also from around the globe. The building is unique and came about because our founder Dave Longaberger was a big dreamer.

The building has been recognized in school textbooks, architectural publications and in numerous travel books, magazines and online sources. It’s appeared on TV shows, too. The Home Office has been featured in countries from the U.S. to Australia, China, United Kingdom, Germany and beyond.

People will travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to visit our Big Basket building and take photos of it.

What new products or product lines is Longaberger bringing to market or considering?

We consistently have created new designs, from new weave patterns to multiple colors. Our fall WishList – our catalog that is available from Home Consultants or online – features bright multi-color baskets in unique shapes. This is an example of the innovative touches we bring to our baskets.

Who is your biggest hand-made basket competitor?

We are unique in terms of our family heritage, our history, our craft and our business opportunity that we provide primarily to women.

While on one hand we are an American manufacturer handcrafting baskets, on the other we are a family-owned company that provides a unique opportunity for people to start and grow their own home businesses.

Many people, most of whom are women, are drawn to us because they love our baskets and products. They fall in love with our company and all it stands for. Those who become Home Consultants make new friends through Longaberger, sharing stories and good times and creating wonderful memories to last a lifetime.

Our CEO Tami Longaberger often talks about how we are empowering women to start their own businesses, forge new and lasting relationships and realize many of their dreams.

What do you have to do in order to become a sales associate? Is there a yearly minimum required sales amount required to maintain a Longaberger distributorship?

It’s simple and low-cost to become a Home Consultant. You can join for just $35 (current special rate – the regular price is $49) for the Easy Start Kit, which includes a Medium Market Basket and basic business materials. For more information on becoming a Home Consultant, we encourage people to visit www.longaberger.com.

Are your basketmakers paid an hourly rate or piecemeal?

Our basketmakers are paid by piece rate. They can make a good wage, and we provide health and other benefits, including on-site health clinics and free access to company fitness centers.

How long does it take to become a really good basketmaker?

The basic training to become a basketmaker takes 12 weeks. But it can take a year or longer to become proficient enough to make baskets that have challenging and intricate designs.

What was your 2007 annual sales number?

We are a privately held, family-owned company.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Copyright 2008 DailyInterview.com

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