Furniture Forum 2.0 Offers Ideas to Simplify Contract Furniture Buying

Amanda Schneider of Contract Consulting Group and Julie Deignan of CBRE. Photography courtesy of Contract Consulting Group.

Though the design industry has mastered the art of designing, producing, and delivering furniture, it hasn’t yet mastered how to simplify clients’ buying of furniture. To that end, a cross-industry group of dealers, manufacturers, real estate-services firms, designers, and architects met in Chicago Nov. 9 for “Furniture Forum 2.0: Creating a Better Client Outcome,” which identified five major pain points of contract furniture buying from the client’s perspective and offered a toolkit of ideas to improve the overly complicated system.

“The topic has been discussed extensively for years,” said Julie Deignan, director of furniture advisory services at CBRE, real estate services firm and forum host. “But what’s different now is that we are discussing it as an entire industry along with clients.” Sponsored by Knoll, Haworth, SteelcaseHerman Miller, and others, more than 200 professionals from Chicago’s contract interiors industry attended the forum.

Buying furniture for the office is vastly different than buying furniture for the home. “It takes clients by surprise how complicated it is,” Deignan said. With more than 6 billion SKUs for products and product components, obtuse pricing and an outdated buying system developed more than 30 years ago, it’s no wonder clients are often left scratching their heads wondering why the experience isn’t as simple as walking into a West Elm and getting what they need. Additionally, clients are purchasing more ancillary products than before and, like other consumers, have adopted the Amazon mindset for on-demand service.

“Collectively we need to work as a team to look out for the client’s best interest and the system is not set up to encourage the client’s best interest,” said Scott Delano, design director at Wright Heerema Architects of Chicago. He worked closely with Deignan and Amanda Schneider of Contract Consulting Group to develop a toolkit of solutions, which anyone in the industry can implement at any time to ease the process. Among the top tips? Establish and communicate the furniture budget clearly and engage the dealer or manufacturer partner early.

Suzanne Maynard of Contract Consulting Group. Photography courtesy of Contract Consulting Group.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to be aware of different process ideas that could work,” Deignan said. “We can start to apply some of the solutions to make the process better.”

CBRE will host additional discussions in three or four other markets in the country in 2018 to continue improving the client experience.

Professionals from Chicago’s contract interiors industry gathered at the Furniture Forum 2.0. Photography courtesy of Contract Consulting Group.

Key tips to improving furniture buying for clients:

1. Establish and communicate budget early. On-board dealer and manufacturer early. Tour showrooms with clients post interview and initial pricing. Create production mock-up.

2. Communicate prices per square feet and explore new pricing models.

3. Align team around key project objectives. Offer products at different price points.

4. Empower dealer to advocate for client. Present client goals directly to team.

5. Leverage manufacturers to educate client on trends. Build share perspective of industry roles.

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