Herman Miller’s shift in the office chair market

Last month, US furniture giant Herman Miller announced the launch of a new store concept. No big box, but many small, targeted locations that allow customers to try out office chairs. Stores of around 140 square meters that will only be dedicated to this type of product. Stores that will be occupied by experts in ergonomics. That will help clients find the right adjustments for their postures. Due to COVID, interviews with specialists can be done remotely.

Although this initiative may come as a surprise in times of pandemic, it marks a real turning point in Hermann Miller’s trade policy. Plus, it’s even a change in the view of the role of an office chair. For the American giant, it is now more of a tool dedicated to the well-being and performance of the person who uses it. On the contrary, some detractors claim that this model was designed to justify the too high prices of the legendary American manufacturer.

Another vision of the office chair …

In this time of COVID, the choice of the small area as the store standard may come as a surprise. Bringing people together in tight spaces is a clear departure from the trend towards telecommuting and sanitation. A fully conscious choice. Because it corresponds to a vision, the role of the chair that Hermann Miller wants to impose. “We are looking to position the brand alongside other brands that cater to people who care about their physical performance or the performance of the products they use,” said Debbie Propst, president of retail for the brand. Hermann Miller, for example, does not say no to being associated with brands symbolizing the concern for performance. Like Lululemon, the specialist in yoga equipment. Or the American clothing brand Rhone, high-end men’s sportswear

For Debbie Prost, the ultimate goal is to be concerned only with the benefits to the consumer. “In the past, we came to the market with a particularly business-to-business language, where we focused on the materiality, construction and characteristics of the chair. The big change with this particular go-to-market strategy is that it really focuses on the consumer benefits of the chair – health, well-being and productivity, ”she says. Benefits for the consumer such as reduction of stress and musculoskeletal disorders.

… Or a way to justify prices that are too high?

Hermann Miller has many assets to succeed in his business. Become the new leader in the joined worlds of the office chair and well-being. First of all, its status as a mythical brand and the products that go with it. Like the Aeron seat, the worldwide symbol of the ergonomic chair. It’s found in recording studios, trendy design agencies and boards of directors around the world. But the American brand will also have challenges to overcome. As the high price above the market average of its products. The Aeron armchair is available for a minimum price of 1500 euros. Thus, for some detractors, the opening of these points of sale with experts in ergonomics is a way of justifying such high prices. “Our chairs are an investment, and if you put in $ 1,500 people will appreciate the chance to try them in person,” says Debbie Propst.

A new vision for the office chair or a move upmarket to justify prohibitive prices? The visitors to these new Hermann Miller outlets will be the judge. In the face of the crisis caused by the confinement, the office furniture sector is in any case constantly inventing new formulas.