A customer looking to outfit a space with the latest office furniture might want 50 Herman Miller Cosm chairs, 50 Knoll Antenna desks, 50 Haworth X Series storage units and a smattering of Coalesse Hosu lounge seats.
It is an order nearly impossible to complete. Office furniture dealers are set up to sell their own aligned furniture. So when a customer wants “all of the above,” they are often gently brought back into the aligned dealer's brand. Or dealers resort to bootlegging things from each other, which leads to paying exorbitant fees that ultimately get passed on to the customer.
The best option for the customer might be the blend of furniture, but they often aren't able to get it.
An upstart new interiors consultancy wants to streamline the procurement process by working for the customer to create the best blend of furniture possible.
Furniture Advocates is an independent consulting group providing furniture project management to a wide range of high-profile clients. It recently made its debut with an office in New York City's Midtown neighborhood. The company was founded by industry veterans Scott Lesizza and Joan Simari.
What makes Furniture Advocates different is its commitment to a brand agnostic approach. It is designed to act as “trusted advisors” during the furniture evaluation, procurement and installation life cycle.
It is neither an office furniture dealership, nor an independent rep group. Instead, its mission is “helping firms make smart furniture decisions.” Furniture Advocates was created to guide every step of its clients' furniture strategy.
According to the company, the FA team provides a comprehensive service leading clients through all aspects of a new furniture installation: identifying furniture goals, coordinating design criteria, engaging stakeholders and designers, preparing budgets, identifying cost-effective options while maintaining design and brand aesthetics, managing and monitoring all logistics from delivery to installation and delivering a customized roadmap to the successful project.
“There have been major changes in the furniture industry, and it's very difficult even for industry insiders to keep up with the pace of change. Furniture Advocates was founded to help clients navigate the often complex world of contract furniture, so that pricing is transparent and clients get the best project execution team regardless of what products they prefer,” Lesizza said. “There are an abundance of furniture dealers servicing the tri-state market, yet none are truly brand agnostic. We are confident that the market is best served by a completely unbiased furniture advisor.”
Being brand agnostic might be great for the customer, but at first blush, it won't make dealers happy. Dealers would much rather have all the business than a piece of it coordinated by Furniture Advocates. But Lesizza said the goal is not a confrontational relationship with the dealer community. In fact, he said, the company hopes to work closely with dealers and level the playing field by giving every dealer an equal shot at the business, regardless of brand.
“Our goal is not to beat the hell out of the dealers,” he said. “I know the costs on the dealer side. It is ridiculous; costs are high. The goal is not to squeeze every nickel out of them. One thing we say consistently is we want to spread the business around. One of my goals is that everybody wants to work on projects we are working on because we are fair and honest. We want everyone to be confident they are having a fair shot.”
Lesizza and Simari each have more than 25 years experience in the furniture industry. Lesizza's experience on the dealership side — he was an owner of Workwell Partners in New York for 15 years — combined with Simari's considerable background in project management and knowledge of the client side of the business ensures every angle of an engagement is overseen by the most qualified team members possible. The Furniture Advocates team is passionate about design, and it wants to bring its industry knowledge and know-how to clients across the corporate, health care, not-for-profit and hospitality sectors.
“Furniture Advocates will guide every facet of a client's furniture strategy, from working with their design team on specification and customizing a 'smart' approach, to driving a competitive bid process, budget management, vendor coordination and installation solutions,” Simari said. “With our team's breadth of experience in project management, we are confident that we will continue to provide unmatched results to a wide range of clients and markets.”
A recent project shows how the relationship might work. The company was hired by a law firm as a furniture advisor — to advise the firm on all-things furniture. The project was led by a small architecture firm that didn't have a deep bench of knowledge on the corporate interiors side. Typically, an architect or project manager would do the furniture showroom tours and compile furniture options. Instead, they let Lesizza and his team do it.
“We were able to do that because we were awarded the job for a flat fee,” Lesizza said. “That enabled the client to say, 'We trust you to manage the whole process; it is better for you to manage the furniture.' We were able to add a lot more value through that process. The project went very well. We reported to the PM, but they just let us do our thing.”
Part of the company's job is to act as a bridge between the architect and the client; to maintain the architect's vision for a beautiful space and the client's need to keep the project on budget. While some architects and designers want to maintain control over every aspect of the project, including every stick of furniture, many simply want the vision maintained, Simari said.
“An interesting thing that we've found is that conceptually, when working with architects, those architects generally don't specify that they wanted a specific brand of chair,” she said. “Generally, they have a broad vision for the overall project, concerned more with the boardroom or the front of the house that they have a vision for. They might envision benching with a white surface and black legs. If that's the case, Furniture Advocates can go to different a number of different manufacturers in the evaluation process. Price is very important, but not final determinant. That's why we created a scorecard, a very thoughtful process we go through with our clients.”
Though there are consultants for just about everything, there aren't many focused on helping the end user find the best blend of furniture. Furniture Advocates is part of a small but powerful revolution that is beginning in the industry, led in part by Julie Deignan and CBRE's Furniture Advisory Services. How this furniture advisory trend will play out — whether through outside companies like Furniture Advocates, the real estate industry through entities like CBRE's Furniture Advisory Services or through forward-thinking dealers — remains to be seen. But any process that puts the customer first in line should be a welcome trend.