How to Deal With Hairy Customers

December 29, 2010

Fred Fehrmann couldn’t come to the phone because he was up on a machine making mice fur.

I know: that excuse again?

Fehrmann (rhymes with Hair-mann, he’s quick to point out) and his partner Kim Clark, own and operate National Fiber Technology, a rather dry-sounding name that masks the fact that they manufacture and supply movie, theme park, theater, television, and special effects companies with custom-made specialized hairs, furs, and wigs that are worn by some of the most animated names in the entertainment business. The Grinch, King Kong, Energizer Bunny, Cat in the Hat, and the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are, to name a few.

Other regular clientele include taxidermists, costumers, museums, mascot creators and puppeteers. In short, wherever good fur flies.

Working out of a 20,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Lawrence, Massachusetts, NFT’s 10 employees are kept busy doing custom work for Walt Disney, Universal Studios, Cirque de Soleil, Jim Henson Company, George Lucas, and many more outfits.

And then there are the days you get requests to make fake pubic hair (Fehrmann has good reason to believe its for the US government to make super realistic bodies, down to the privates, to be used in emergency response drills).

Fehrmann says that “quite a few” individuals each year inquire about making their own Sasquatch or Yeti costumes. After receiving a price quote on such, one potential customer called and said that it was entirely out of his budget. Replied Fehrmann, “Perhaps that is why Sasquatch and Yeti sightings are so rare.”

The job, if nothing else, requires being able to “go with the flow.”

Given that NFT is often asked to create ¨furs¨ that haven´t existed before, one might expect disgruntled customers sending back boxes of hair saying that the Goobi monster didn´t look as expected. To prevent this, NFT has a thorough and painstaking approval process. It first sends out hand blends (hanks of fiber) and swatches of different densities in hair fabric. Customers have to sign off on color, length, density and backing (how the fur is attached) before NFT begins processing the hair, making a pre-production sample for final buy off. Only after the buyer has signed off on everything does NFT make the finished product. Consequently, returns are rare.

Fehrmann volunteers that big corporations like Disney and Universal are the easiest to work with, because they employ artisans and art directors who understand the process that’s involved, and communication channels are clear. It´s the naïve customers who ¨expect their costume is going to jump out of the box”, who complain, Fehrmann says. In those cases, the company offers support on how to make the costume. Also problematic are customers who ¨need it yesterday¨ and forego the approval process with a ¨just make it¨ attitude. After it´s ¨just made¨ they´re apt to grouse that the color or texture is different from what they had in mind.

Still, Fehrmann & Co. pride themselves on being able to ramp it up for special needs. They recently flew to the UK to hand-deliver fur that was needed immediately for a commercial, voiced by John Goodman.

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