If you’re from the Quad Cities or know someone from the Quad Cities, you’re probably familiar with Isabel Bloom If not, Isabel Bloom was an artist from Davenport, Iowa, who became known for her concrete cast sculptures. Her designs were mostly of children and animals, more whimsical than realistic. Isabel Bloom died in 2001.
They were great to give as gifts, wrapped in several sheets of newsprint and then placed in distinctive blue bags, tied shut with a ribbon. I say that they were great to give as gifts, because the owners of Isabel Bloom LLC, the company formed when Jeff Gilfillan, Hunt Harris, and Tom Carter purchased the company from Isabel Bloom, announced recently that they were moving production of the sculptures to China, changing the material from concrete to stone, and eliminating 50 jobs at the Davenport facility. The owners say they are doing this so that they can expand the company nationally.
Needless to say, people in the Quad Cities are in an uproar. I’m pretty steamed about the whole thing myself. Now I admit I roll my eyes whenever Kristin brings home a few more bags of concrete from our QC trips (Kristin is from Moline if you didn’t already know.), but I do like them, and I think they add a unique touch to our home here in Saint Louis. And that is the key to the outrage which apparently surprised the company owners. (What planet are these people from?) Isabel Bloom sculptures were unique. I mean who makes art out of concrete? Isabel did.
Let’s start with the change in materials. That the pieces are made from concrete is a unique part of their appeal. The company said they will now be made out of stone and be more durable. Durable? Was this a problem for people? How durable do they need to be? Once I put them on the floor or on a shelf, they seem to do just fine. I haven’t had one break yet.
What about being made in China? I don’t have a problem with people outsourcing manufacturing to China where it makes sense. Losing jobs is unfortunate, but in some industries it is unavoidable. But for Isabel Bloom, part of the appeal of the product is the fact that it was made in the Quad Cities. I could care less where my television, refrigerator, telephone, and so on are manufactured. They are all interchangeable and replaceable. I’ll own many different ones over my lifetime. But the Little Beggar, one of my favorite Isabel Bloom pieces, well, I’m only ever going to own one, and it is going to be special because of what it is and where it came from. If I turn over an Isabel Bloom and see the words “Made in China” will I feel the same way? I doubt it.
Jeff Gilfillan is quoted several times in newspaper stories that they are making these changes so they protect Isabel Bloom’s legacy and expand the product nationally. Let’s set the issue of the Bloom legacy aside for the moment and focus on the goal of expansion. Sure, all of these things make sense if you want to make Isabel Bloom a national brand. Other collectibles are made overseas, so why not Isabel Bloom? Because Isabel Bloom sculptures are not the same as Christmas ornaments from Hallmark or Cherished Teddies figurines by Enesco. If the owners of the company can’t understand that, then they must not really understand their market.
Their comments all presuppose that they must expand the company. What’s wrong with Isabel Bloom LLC the way it is right now? They admit the company is profitable. Are they in some danger of losing money the way things are going? Doubtful. They just want to make more money. Nothing wrong with that. Just like these is nothing wrong with collectors taking their business elsewhere.
I don’t plan to buy any more Isabel Bloom pieces. As far as I’m concerned there won’t be any more Isabel Bloom sculptures after these changes are made. Reading the Quad City Times, it sounds like a lot of people feel the same way. Did the owners of the company really fail to grasp what brought people to their store to buy their products? To give them as gifts? To ship them all around the country and probably the world? I guess so. How unfortunate.
Who knows? Maybe if enough people express their opinion and vote with their wallet, we can convince the company to reverse their plans. But even if they do, it will take a long time for them to regain the trust of their customers.
Here are a few links to stories about the changes coming for Isabel Bloom and the area reaction:
- Isabel Bloom to shift production overseas (Quad City Times, February 9, 2006)
- Isabel Bloom moves production to China (Quad City Times, February 10, 2006)
- A Bloom fades (Quad City Times, February 10, 2006)
- Isabel Bloom moving production overseas (The Passing Parade, February 10, 2006)
- Isabel Bloom announces major changes in company strategy (KWQC.com, February 10, 2006)
- Many upset about Bloom move (Quad City Times, February 11, 2006)
- What’s left? Toy tractor and a jar of mustard actor (Quad City Times, February 11, 2006)
- Father and son offer different views (Quad City Times, February 11, 2006)
- Isabel Bloom announces restructuring plan; 50 jobs cut (WQAD.com, February 11, 2006)
If you’re upset about the changes at Isabel Bloom and want to write a letter, letting Jeff, Hunt, and Tom know how you feel, here is the corporate address and telephone number:
Isabel Bloom, L.L.C.
736 Federal Street, Suite 2100
Davenport, IA 52803