CBRE Furniture Forum – What’s Next?

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Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro
Elise Shapiro is a contributing editor. Little did she know that her first job, in the facilities department at Ralston Purina, while obtaining her M. Arch at Washington University, in St. Louis would foreshadow where her career would lead. She has always been a strong advocate for providing the best possible spaces for people to work – where aesthetics meet function and drive business success.

A year of hard work culminated with the final CBRE Furniture Forum in Chicago this past November, and left us wondering: what’s next for CBRE’s Julie Deignan and Contract Consulting Group’s Amanda Schneider?

The forum was inspired back in 2016 after a post-Neocon conversation about commonly shared “pain points” in specifying and procurement of contract furniture. This conversation has created a movement to improve processes and better alignment among all parties in the industry. The event turnout and follow-up interest in the topic has been extremely enthusiastic and has triggered a robust debate in all quarters of our industry.

So, what’s next? We asked Julie and Amanda to reflect on the past year and give us a clue to what may happen in the coming year.

Chicago 2.0 panel discussion, Image courtesy of CCG
Chicago 2.0 panel discussion – Image courtesy of CCG

The turnout for your events, and interest in the articles describing your work, this past year has been quite robust! What is the most significant surprise about how this project has evolved?

Julie & Amanda: The most exciting surprise for us has been the hunger for information. We firmly believe that in an industry that has viewed innovation as product innovation that the most prominent disruptions in the future of this industry will come from process innovation. It’s challenging to look at that piece holistically. CBRE had the muscle to bring the right people to the table, and CCG had the creativity and industry knowledge to facilitate the discussion. It has been a great partnership. The follow-up requests from the Chicago 2.0 forum and requests for additional information tell us we have struck a chord.

What are the most significant findings from the panel discussions and feedback from event participants?

Julie & Amanda:

How little we know about the each other’s role in furniture. Of the panelists, everyone’s favorite session is always the first where we split them out into groups and have them map the process as it is today, identifying pain points along the way. The most exciting thing that happens is when they present back to one another – it’s always the biggest “aha moment.”

How little attention is paid to the furniture purchase process from the client standpoint. With this exercise, we see how siloed we are as an industry. It’s almost like everyone has forgotten about the client. It’s easy to think it’s someone else’s job, but when you look at the process holistically, it’s incredibly eye-opening how out of touch most of us are.

Where the most significant change is needed. Everyone has challenges in their job, but when it comes to furniture, the dealers certainly have the most appetite for change. We predict there will be an evolution in how we see the role of the traditional dealer. Making these changes will mean development in how the dealers view themselves and present themselves to the market. We also hope that many more manufacturers in the industry hear this as a wake-up call to re-evaluate our industry’s complex pricing structure and alignments.

How do you correlate the information from the end-user interviews with those in the industry and A&D panel participants?

Julie & Amanda: They were shockingly similar. Our pain points aligned with theirs, except many industry constituents seemed to accept them as “normal.” We heard from clients that it might be our normal but not theirs. There are very few other purchasing processes that relate to the contract furniture buying process. If our industry does not tackle how to make this simpler, someone else will – and believe us – there are many companies including software and tech companies outside the furniture industry that are trying.

Through the course of the work, you have floated the idea of several tools to document the process so there is clarity among all the stakeholders. What are your plans to develop them further?

Julie & Amanda: We are currently brainstorming ways to share the research we have already developed in an impactful form as well as to push this further. We are exploring the possibility of new forums in 2018, as well as a more formal research project to measure and test some of the theories regarding time and saving money. If it were easy, someone else would have already done it! There’s a lot to figure out.

Some of the process improvements suggested by panel participants have already been tried out. What do these experiments tell you and could it inform further research?

Julie & Amanda: We have heard that the changes are working – we’re looking for ways to develop formulas and input methodology to allow a much broader audience to share their findings. We have crafted the following chart to show how and where the process can be evaluated and improved.

What were a few things you expected to happen that did not pan out?

Julie & Amanda: We expected this to be easy!

What can we expect next year?

Julie & Amanda: We are trying to figure that out – stay tuned!

To be continued! Image courtesy of CCG
To be continued – Image courtesy of CCG

Panelist Follow-Up Discussion

Work Design Magazine followed-up with several of the panel participants. Their energy and interest in this project were evidenced not only by their willingness to share their added input, but by their enthusiasm in continuing the work generated by the events.

In a joint interview with Scott Delano, design director at Wright Heerema Architects and Jill Stewart, regional vice president at Haworth, we asked how they implemented some of the suggested process improvements and the results. We also spoke with Bob King, associate principal at Interior Investments and Heidi McClenahan, senior project manager at CBRE.

Each interviewed panelist had a unique take on how to apply some of the suggested process improvements and how that affected the net result of his or her project work. Everyone agreed that there is room to develop better strategies and to lead to a holistic change in industry best practices. Here is an overview of their ideas:

  • The goal is to provide the best client experience. We can all do things differently to improve the process for clients, while increasing the efficiency and providing another level of service to benefit the entire project team.
  • Early on-boarding of a furniture dealer streamlines projects. The design team benefits from an expanded bandwidth to investigate furniture solutions that will fit the project budget and schedule. If the furniture dealer has a better overview of project scope and budget parameters, this helps focus the selection options for the design team and their client.
  • Building a better project team is critical. We are in a relationship based business, having a team in place that can address all aspects of the design process and may be of more significant benefit to the client. The selection of the furniture dealer can be accomplished through an interview process early on. This is just as important as identifying the right manufacturer and product. Client knowledge and sophistication varies, but there are common elements to all projects and this can be scaled to meet each situation.
  • Key things to consider in this process include:
    • How do dealer networks work and can we leverage them nationally and globally?
    • What pricing and discount structures are available?
    • Based on the interview process, the client can determine who will be the best fit for their project requirements and overall service proposition.
    • There is now an emphasis on ancillary furnishings as “systems” furniture selection – the discussion around overall furniture selection has changed. Furniture dealers can act as a concierge, bringing a higher service level to the client in the selection project.

We asked what the main take aways were from their participation in the CBRE Furniture Forum:

“Innovation needs to happen, but it will have to be a group effort.“

“The experience has been personally and professionally rewarding – we all know the problems are there, but being a part of something that can lead to bringing a better client experience has been most worthwhile.”

“We are all in a service industry, and if we work together, and understand each other’s work and issues the net result will be an improved experience for all of us.”

Want to learn more about the CBRE Furniture Forums? Check out these articles:

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  1. As growth consultants – specific to corporate interiors – we’re happy to see you champion the idea of process innovation in contract furniture. There’s a better way – and its great to see traction with regards to PROCESS over PRODUCT. Bravo!

  2. Good to know about the Furniture. Furniture consultant is really a rare job in whole world and your forum given full details about furniture items. Julie and Amanda are perfect teacher and explained clearly about furniture. Thanks for giving tips.

  3. Great tips in this forum concerning Furniture. Style your home to suit your lifestyle and offers a diverse range of accent furniture so you can design your ultimate home. Our extensive collection caters to all tastes and budgets.
    Keep up the good work CBRE Furniture Forum!

  4. I love this blog and I’m always so impressed with the high quality of your posts (that you put out EVERY DAY. How do you do that and stay sane???). It’s always a treat to read your blog in the morning before I tackle my day as a stay at home mom of four young kiddos. Thanks for helping me stay sane! ☺️
    Furniture Marketing Group


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