EDITOR’S NOTE: When aspiring designers emerge from school, they’re brimming with essential book smarts but usually lacking in practical street smarts. They will (or should) have some academic experience with space planning and contract furniture layouts, but the majority don’t have a clue where to source, price, specify, and procure it all. And what about installation” It’s plain overwhelming. For this reason, we’ve asked an expert in the field to explain the role a furniture dealership, and how they will (or should) help designers professionals create the perfect office environments for their clients.
Providing furniture for the workplace is much more than simply delivering desks, chairs and workstations (also known as open office systems, panel systems, systems furniture, or “cubes”). Instead, it begins with a complete understanding of a client’s specific requirements. That’s why a reputable, full-service furniture dealership is key to any project. Of course, I’m partial to TUSA Office Solutions, my employer of five years. Most of the points that I will cover here come from my varied experience with two major Dallas / Fort Worth dealerships, but they apply to any dealership with which you do business. Let me explain how the process works…
A typical furniture dealer assigns an experienced sales associate, designer and project manager to an account. These professionals work hand-in-hand with other “Team” members to research and evaluate both the client’s long-term and short-term needs. This team may include, but is not necessarily limited to:
- Client / End User – Possibly a facility manager or other owner’s representative, this person is in charge of making purchasing and construction decisions, which must take into account budget constraints, maintenance plans, installation schedules, and office politics, among a million other things.
- Information Technology Guru – Large companies have whole IT departments, while smaller companies may contract out when major changes are needed. Since communication (both voice and data) are so vital to a business’ workflow and bottom line, integrating these services with the new furniture and overall design can make or break a project.
- A&D Firm – Depending on how large the project is and the extent of what needs to be done, there could be only one or a multitude of design professionals working on the project. Using their education and experience, they are responsible for the project’s overall design direction, narrowing the focus for the client, integrating the furniture into the interior landscape, and coordinating electrical and communication requirements.
Beyond the logistics, often the most daunting challenge for The Team is fulfilling the expectations that the Client and his employees have set for their new space. It’s a tall order, but their will can be done.
A Detailed Process
All projects, whether large or small, require the same attention to detail. They also all demand the same state-of-the-art technology that assists with specifications and space design, order taking and inventory tracking. There are certain critical events inherent in all furniture projects that must flow, working together to ensure success. The following offers a brief explanation of each of these critical events.
More than identifying the “look” company executives want for the office space, the development of a comprehensive design plan includes areas such as:
Business Needs Development refers to the alignment of business processes, technology, and human resources into a holistic plan that creates a supportive, effective work environment.
Programming involves gathering individual work group information in order to develop an analysis of the space needed. One of the outcomes of this step is the selection of “typical” workstation or office settings.
Block Planning uses the information gathered in Programming to create a simple graphic “block plan,” which breaks out different use areas such as conferencing, workstations, offices, break rooms, etc.
Space Planning represents a conclusion, so to speak, of the design development activity in that the total square footage necessary is formally determined and the individual components of the space developed. With this information the “look and feel” of the space (traditional, high-tech, casual) will be decided along with budget and basic architectural finishes (carpet, paint, wood, metals, wallcovering, etc.). A word about revisions: expect a maximum of two! Normally, after that they will most likely cease to be free.
Very important note: Someone on The Team must be held accountable for the accuracy of all field measurements. Generally, the responsibility would rest with the architectural or design firm. (See the PLiNTH & CHiNTZ article, “Field Verification Isn’t Always A Field Trip” for more on this subject.) If you do not designate accountability from the beginning, someone may ultimately pay the price for a great deal of unexpected (and unbudgeted) work. If that someone ends up being the Client, they probably will never hire anyone else on The Team again. It will take about five satisfied clients to undo the damage of just one unhappy one.
Furniture is one of the most important parts of creating a great environment where employees can do their best work. The flexibility, durability, ergonomics, and non-obsolescence of the product must be considered. A good rule of thumb is to purchase the best quality furniture you can afford keeping in mind that all of the major furniture vendors will usually end up with 5% to 10% of each other in price.
The major furniture manufacturers all distribute their products through local furniture dealers who offer a multitude of ancillary services, which include relocation consultation, leasing, rental, repair, storage, reupholstering, and reconfiguration. Local distribution is a key because of the complexity and coordination required for a furniture installation to be successful.
Fabrics and Finishes can have a major effect on the project budget. Fabrics and finishes are “graded” into the various furniture lines. While you can get just about anything, you may not really want it. Certain fabrics wear quite differently from chair to chair and panel to panel. Never “push” a manufacturer for a fabric or finish they are hesitant to readily provide. Long term, it may not be worth it when stretching and puckers begin to erupt on the furniture. Bear in mind, many manufacturers actually charge a fee to “test” a fabric or finish on their product. Even if you don’t see the charge up front, you will be paying for it somewhere.
COM & COL refer to the customer providing the material to the manufacturer for use on a product. Even with approval from the manufacturer, COMs usually add weeks to the ship date. Why” If a standard textile offering is selected, then the manufacturer will either have it in stock or can get it from his sources in a timely manner; however, with a COM, the material must be pre-purchased and shipped to the manufacturer. Also consider that when future add-on purchases are required, the fabric might be out of production. Manufacturers usually give a fair warning before “culling” a material that has been in their line for years. They generally can’t (and don’t) worry about someone else’s material.
Flexibility – Compared to the modest life cycle cost of office furniture, an initial investment of a few more dollars in a furniture system that will allow you to change with the course of tomorrow’s business climate might be the most overlooked issue when making a decision. Can the furniture accommodate a higher head count next year” Can it be reconfigured to accept the latest technology” Will the manufacturer enhance the product rather than develop a whole new, incompatible system” Will the furniture support your recruiting and retention needs as your business grows” Think about these issues today.
Lead-time tells you if you will get your selections in the time frame you need it. Today… and a year after the project is complete! Lead-time is not about creating a sense of urgency to “close the deal.” Lead-time is the actual errorless order placement to drop-it-on-the-dock time the manufacturers are constantly up-dating furniture dealers on. Can the dealer “push” the lead-time” Yes. Reliably” No!
Let’s clear the air regarding some potential surprises we would rather no one have to experience.
Manufactured to Order is exactly what it says and is the case with about 95% of the furniture orders furniture dealers place. This means that everyone needs to be in agreement on the fabric, finish, style, size, etc. All aspects need to be exactly what everyone wants (or, at least, what the Client wants) because it can’t be returned to the manufacturer unless it is otherwise defective. That’s why the dealer will always ask someone – usually the Client, with guidance from the A&D Firm –to verify and approve their written proposals and quotations before they place the order(s) from the manufacturer(s). If the dealership happens to make an error, then they should absorb the cost. If the A&D Firm makes an error, then it will covered by their errors and omission insurance. If the Client makes a mistake or changes their mind in mid-stream, then they must cover the cost.
Quick Ship varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Just because a particular item is available on a quick ship basis today doesn’t guarantee it will still be available on quick ship next year. Quick ship offerings change based on manufacturing plant availability, product demand and many seemingly whimsical reasons. The lesson from this is: don’t choose a particular item based solely on its current availability because that may change.
Deposits are generally not spoken about until it’s time to place the order. Why a deposit” Because the furniture is manufactured to order. The style, fabric, finish, and sizes all were chosen to coordinate with the “look” that was chosen to make a unique corporate statement. Additionally, even though the Client may not actually get to use their new furnishings immediately due to construction or carpet installation delays, the dealership has usually received it and been required to pay for it in full. That’s a large chunk of change for a dealership to carry, especially for multiple orders.
We’re Just Warming Up
Tune in next month to read the rest of the story. I’ll tell you what “ship date” really means, how poor job site conditions affect everyone, and why a good furniture dealer can be worth his weight in gold.