The office furniture industry is increasingly global, driven by creative forces that are changing the way people work. So it is fitting the industry’s trade organization, BIFMA, elected its first Canadian president, Sylvain Garneau of Groupe Lacasse, at its annual membership meeting in Chicago.
As chief executive officer of a state-of-the-art manufacturing company based just outside Montreal, Garneau represents the changing face of the industry and the world of work. He also understands the importance of creating a trade group that is intimately connected and presents a united force to the world when it comes to data sharing and environmental concerns.
“Ever since I’ve been in this business (office furniture industry), which is not that long ago, I wanted to meet other people in the industry,” Garneau told those gathered in the Wolf Point Ballroom at the Holiday Inn Merchandise Mart last week just before NeoCon came to a close. “I was from the railroad industry, and I can tell you, the trade show events were much more boring. I’m very honored to be the first Canadian president of BIFMA, and I’m going to take this role very seriously and give it my best.”
The BIFMA annual meeting, a crack-of-dawn breakfast gathering on the last day of NeoCon, brings together the industry’s executives to talk about how the trade organization is working on behalf of member companies, highlights from the last year and an agenda for work it is doing in 2016.
BIFMA certainly has been busy as it tries to be more representative of the markets it serves. The group is unique in that it is not dominated by the largest companies. Although Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth and HNI executives have certainly volunteered to serve in leadership roles on the BIFMA board, they serve alongside executives from mid- and small-sized firms. Garneau takes over board leadership from Dan Tuohy, chief executive of Tuohy Furniture.
Over the past year, the organization had several important successes, especially as it relates to protecting the environment. The United States Green Building Council steering committee approved the level certification program as a “USGVC Approved Program” for LEED credits. The EPA issued interim recommendations for the greening of federal purchases that include the level program as well. The level program has existed for seven years and implementation has plateaued with 64 brands now using the environmental reporting and labeling program.
As an organization, BIFMA membership now tops 300, with 39 new members. The group’s 360 Leadership Conference in Austin, Texas, drew 193 attendees from 96 companies. BIFMA held several summits and industry meetings that brought together politicians and leaders. Garneau called on BIFMA to challenge itself. He asked members gathered in Chicago: “As an association, how can BIFMA be more relevant?”
BIFMA Executive Director Tom Reardon outlined how the group can be more relevant, including participation in its revamped statistics program. BIFMA has spent two years developing a broader, more comprehensive statistics program for the industry that adds new categories never tracked and a deeper dive into the numbers. Initial findings will come out in the next few weeks.
He implored members to participate. Only those that participate will have access to the statistics. “Member participation is critical,” he said. “Our goal is to minimize that unknown piece (of data that was missing in the past).”
Todd Heiser of Gensler was the featured speaker at the membership meeting, and he outlined metatrends for 2025 from the prominent design firm. He also praised the office furniture industry for its work.
“I can’t remember a time in the last five years where I was so blown away by furniture manufacturers,” he said. “Thank you. You do unbelievable work, and you make our projects better. You are often the least thanked, most commoditized (part of the commercial industry).”
Not surprisingly, work in the future will include more technology, more choice, added focus on wellness and engagement and a rise in corporate campuses. Products are going to get smarter and at the same time, a focus on craft will return.
Since the meeting was held as NeoCon wrapped up in Chicago, the Merchandise Mart updated executives on highlights of the show. Byron Morton, vice president of leasing at MMPI, used the cycling term “forever forward” to describe work on NeoCon. “We at the Mart work very hard every year to keep the show fresh and going forward,” he said.
Morton said MMPI made many changes to the show and the Merchandise Mart itself. The new registration system eased lines on opening day. He said the consolidation of the seventh and eighth floors onto the eighth was a “tremendous success.” “I want to thank all of you for your passion about the workplace,” he said. “I want to thank all of you for making it easy for all of us to give a damn.”
The next major BIFMA event will be the 360 Leadership Conference, scheduled for Jan 23-25, at The Vinoy in St. Petersburg, Fla. The group has many smaller gatherings throughout the year.