Drew Daniel is a rarity in the office furniture industry. He is in his 20s, but can be considered an office furniture veteran with stints at his family’s dealership in Kentucky and a successful sales run in Atlanta with JSI and most recently KI.
The millennial is heading out on his own as a KI rep back in his home state of Kentucky and will lead his own company, the Daniel Group.
The aging of the office furniture industry has a lot of executives wringing their hands about what they can do about bringing younger generations — and a different and new way of thinking — into the fold. It is an important topic, especially since few college graduates actively seek out a career in the industry.
In many ways, Daniel is the future of the industry. He is extremely smart and personable and has a wealth of knowledge and connections in the industry. He managed sales in a district for KI that included Georgia, Alabama and Northern Florida. And like other 20-somethings (Daniel is 29), he’s not afraid to try something new, regardless of how it might have been done in the past. Feel free to follow him on social media like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, if you know what those are.
“I get to go home, back to where I’m from,” he says as he is driving from Lexington to Atlanta, where he continues to help KI with the transition. “I have two degrees from the University of Kentucky, and there are lots of colleges in the Louisville and Western Kentucky area that don’t have KI representation there.”
Home for Daniel is Lexington, Kentucky, where his family owns Keith Daniel Associates (KDA as it is better known). KDA has repped KI and other brands in Central Kentucky for a long time. Daniel grew up around the business. He remembers his father working out of the family’s basement as he built the company. He would answer phones and help with installations, even before he was in high school.
After attending the University of Kentucky, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Daniel was hired by JSI in sales. “They took a chance with me that worked out for both of us,” he says. “In fact, both JSI and KI took a chance on hiring me — a younger person in the industry. I don’t know a lot of companies that are willing to do that. They didn’t even blink.”
Daniel said he loves Atlanta and will miss the designers and customers he worked with there. The city has an “awesome industry,” he says, but added there’s nothing like home.
“I love Kentucky,” Daniel says. “I love the education component of Kentucky. Just to be able to work with some of those schools in Kentucky is going to be great. I have a lot of passion for my home state.”
For young people like Daniel who join the industry, it can be tough to talk business with friends and family who aren’t sure what office furniture is all about. Everyone uses office furniture, but few actually understand how it finds its way into their offices or how much thought goes into what is there.
“When my friends ask me what I do, I tell them I sell tables and chairs. I also explain to my peers who are in their 20s that they probably sat in KI furniture when they were in college,” he says.
“People take for granted what furniture is found in a space all the time. People don’t know a whole lot about the industry. I think a lot of young people know what interior designers and architects do, but when it comes to the sales side, that’s more foreign.”
Daniel understands the lack of millennials in the industry, but doesn’t believe that’s because it is a bad industry to work in or lacks opportunities. Instead, he thinks younger generations don’t think about manufacturing or where things come from.
“For me, I’ve always had an interest in business, and on the flip side of that, I’ve always had a bit of the creative side,” he says. While he leaves space planning to the professionals, he still enjoys that part of the business, saying it’s “sort of the perfect combination for me.”
Relationships also are an important part of the business. “All the people I’ve met, I’ve tried to learn from them, learn how to do things,” Daniel says. “I’ve learned that there are different ways that people are successful in the industry and different ways of not being successful in the industry.”
For the sharp millennial, there’s money to be made in the office furniture industry and lots of opportunities to advance. Daniel sees barriers, though, for young people trying to get started in the office furniture industry.
“You have to be able to give young people some stability to start with,” he says. “A lot of the entry level positions in the industry are commission based, which is hard to jump into if you don’t have a safety net. They can eventually become that salesperson on commission, but it is hard to do that when you are 23. It is not realistic. It might have been in the 1980s or 1990s when big bucks were flowing into the industry, but it is not realistic now.”
Like all good reps in the industry, young or old, Daniel understands you have to bring value to people that are buying furniture from his company. Value is not just dropping off literature or showing customers new NeoCon introductions. Instead, he believes in benchmarks like showing customers what other schools or hospitals have done successfully because examples of success sell.
Daniel takes his experience to his own company when it officially launches Dec. 1. As he begins his leadership role in the new company, he will continue to help KI transition to a new sales organization — one that will include three new millennials.
“KI has been great,” he says, noting he greatly appreciated his time working with JSI as well. “Since the time I brought it up with them, they knew they had made a significant investment in me. I think they know this is going to make me a KI person for a long time, and they have been very accommodating.”