When Alphabet Inc’s Google told employees in May that the company would reimburse up to $ 1,000 to equip home offices, most of the options employees found were cheap imports sold in supermarket or platforms. online like Amazon. For decades, manufacturers like Herman Miller and Steelcase have focused on selling to businesses.
Their territorial network achieved by their dealers, allowed the purchase of ergonomic chairs and desks by loaded trucks. Employing teams of designers and technicians to deliver and install their products. So none of them were really prepared for a flood of orders from individuals. Orders for a single adjustable desk from employees suddenly trying to adjust to working from home.
An aging distribution model
According to a Gallup survey in April, 52% of American employees said they worked from home all the time. 18% said they worked partially from home . A subsequent survey found that half would like to continue doing so permanently.
“A tsunami hit this industry with this pandemic,” said Ron Wiener, managing director of iMovR, a manufacturer of adjustable desks in Seattle. “Big companies, weren’t structured to serve people working from home.”
More and more companies are discovering that they can operate with dispersed workers. This saves on expensive real estate. Some experts even predict that the virus will partly kill large offices. Inevitably, the stocks of the biggest manufacturers remain deeply in the red. For Steelcase, sales of around $ 483 million were the lowest since its IPO in 1998.
Many manufacturers say they have made progress in their online options since the start of the pandemic and have found other ways to sell to individuals. Lori Gee, vice president of workplace performance services at Herman Miller, said she quickly implemented a way for Google employees to buy directly from the company, for example.
“It was an acceleration of what we were already doing – to make it easier to set up the best configuration,” regardless of where the furniture would go or the size of the order.
Complicated logistics and high prices
The manufacturing process of large companies for their products is a complicating factor. Many manufacturers have outsourced the production of components. Buying basics from one company, such as desktops from another, and assembling them for specific configurations. The average home customer wants a simple product. A product that can be sent by a delivery service, in one box and easy to assemble. Ideally requiring only rudimentary tools.
“We’re not used to deal with the end user – if we get a call from a customer about a missing screw, we’re not ready to deal with that,” Soren Stig-Nielsen said, president of the American division of the Danish company LINAK. The company has a large factory in Louisville, Kentucky, and sells its equipment to most of the major national furniture companies, including Steelcase.
Price is also a factor. An Aeron chair, a classic design sold by Herman Miller, is available in versions that can easily cost $ 1,000. Workstations in offices can cost even more. It all depends on their complexity and the added features. Homeworkers are much less likely to make such purchases on such expensive options.
However, the industry is not abandoning real offices. No one really knows how long the crisis in new centralized offices building will last. But the designers of all these companies are already working on concepts for a new way of working. Including why not the development and equipment of smaller satellite offices. “We believe there will always be a need for a physical workplace – places where you go to collaborate and bring the corporate culture to life,” said Lori Gee.
Adapting is all the harm we wish for these prestigious brands. Because otherwise it is a know-how that will be lost and magnificent collections that will never see the light of day.