CBRE Furniture Forum Sparks Launch of Two Industry Disruptors
Nearly two years ago, commercial real estate company, CBRE, embarked on a yearlong journey to uncomplicate the process behind furniture buying. The question was simple: What can we do better? In November 2017, the CBRE Furniture Forum released a list of 15 recommendations designed to unravel the complicated web of the furniture-buying process. The high-level, process-improvement ideas include, among others, bringing a dealer designer in as a sub to the A&D firm and increasing process efficiency.
Fast-forward to spring 2018, when the owners of a Los Angeles furniture company read the results and recommendations of the CBRE study with great interest. The report’s results prompted husband-and-wife team Jeffrey and Lindsay Braun to make a dramatic decision: sell their 17-year-old company, Jeffrey Braun Furniture, to pioneer something new.
Lindsay Braun, founder and CEO of Emblem, explains what provoked the pivot: “There were problems and inefficiencies in the old model that drove Jeffrey and me nuts. We were frustrated with the multiple layers between our company and the end user. There were so many opportunities for incorrect interpretations and faulty assumptions,” she says. “It felt good to see the problems we were experiencing addressed in black and white by the Furniture Forum. Jeffrey and I were fully worn down by the current sales process, and we thought, Do we still want to do this? Is this solving the end users’ problem? How could we expand on this model?”
Addressing the Need for Enhanced Dealer-Designer Relationships
At the time, Lindsay and Jeffrey thought perhaps they could be a dedicated vendor for one of their strongest dealer clients, Unisource Solutions. But instead, Jeffrey was recruited by Unisource Solutions and now serves as executive vice president of Platform, its new, in-house design and manufacturing division—a direct result of the dealer-designer prediction from the Furniture Forum.
“We approached Unisource’s leadership with an idea and a feeling that we could all be doing a better job servicing customers,” Jeffrey explains. “I had designed furniture for several of Unisource’s clients over the years and worked with their team as a vendor. Rick and I started talking about the possibilities of doing away with the vendor layer altogether.”
Rick Bartlett, president of Unisource Solutions, says his team had already been discussing the best way to innovate new solutions and create greater efficiency for their clients. “The timing was perfect,” Bartlett says. “We knew that our clients and the A&D community were actively searching for residential-inspired, ancillary furniture for their workspaces. The demand for this type of furniture was increasing, and we needed a new approach. Jeffrey’s knowledge of furniture design and manufacturing enabled us to innovate an entirely different solution.”
As part of Platform, Jeffrey is now designing custom furniture for clients at Unisource Solutions. In less than a year, Jeffrey and his team have installed furniture for Google, Warner Brothers’ Music, and Aftershock Games, helping each of these companies reflect its brand, culture, and vision in its spaces with bespoke furniture solutions. By integrating the designer into the dealer model earlier in the process, the company can condense the timeline and provide an open line of communication between the designer and the account manager/dealer.
And Jeffrey’s not stopping there.
“We’ve designed an exclusive line of furniture available only from Unisource Solutions,” he says. “These are workhorse seating designs that every office environment needs, but because I’m working closely with local manufacturers, we also offer easy custom adjustments. Our goal is to give our clients more control, better design, and greater efficiency with every project.”
Streamlining Delivery Time Through Process Integration
While Jeffrey Braun was eliminating frustrations and boosting creativity at the dealership level, Lindsay Braun was working on an entirely different set of pain points. In the past several years, she had noticed more of her designer and dealership clients specifying and buying residential retail furniture instead of contract furniture. She was asking herself, How can I provide a quick and easy commercial-grade solution?
Lindsay acknowledged that Jeffrey Braun Furniture was simply not set up to take on this challenge, so she began working on Emblem: a vertically integrated contract furniture company designed with the lofty goal of delivering commercial-grade construction, fabric, details, and finishes in just three to four weeks.
Simply stated, Emblem is setting out to offer the online retail experience with commercial-grade quality.
Scheduled to launch this month, Emblem initially will offer 17 seating designs with seven fabric offerings and four metal finish options. Each piece is designed and built in California. Dealerships and designers will receive a trade discount, but business owners will also be able to buy online directly from Emblem’s website.
“I wanted to give designers and dealerships a quick furniture solution they would feel confident about,” Lindsay explains. “Emblem is beautifully designed. It’s built for high-use environments. Our textiles are commercial grade with stain resistance and a minimum 100,000 double rubs. Emblem has the same high quality that designers expect in furniture for their commercial projects.”
Responding to concerns about giving businesses a way to buy contract furniture without a dealer, Lindsay says, “Most of these companies are not engaging a dealer. They are buying furniture online because they aren’t being serviced by the contract furniture industry or the dealership model. The more we can help businesses understand the benefit of contract furniture, the more they will find value in a thoughtful, efficient dealership model.
“If a small business needs a sofa and two chairs for a lobby, I want to give them the autonomy to easily find pricing, make a decision, and buy commercial-grade furniture for their own space,” Lindsay continues. “When that same business grows and needs desking systems and other services, they will already see the value in contract furniture versus going the residential retail route.”
When asked why they would sell their furniture business and take on the risks involved with launching two new companies, Lindsay and Jeffrey say the decision was simple. “This all happened in just one year after we heard the results of the CBRE study,” Lindsay states. “The study resonated with us and was a major factor in our decision. Jeffrey and I have always wanted to serve the industry and our clients in the best way we could, and these new ventures are the results. We did this because we believe this is the way the industry should function.”
Amanda Schneider is President of ThinkLab, the research division of Interior Design magazine. At ThinkLab, we combine Interior Design magazine’s incredible reach within the architecture and design community with proven market research techniques to uncover relevant trends and opportunities that connect back to brand and business goals in a thought-provoking, creative, and actionable way. Join in to know what’s next at https://thinklab.design/join-in/