Lessons learned during the pandemic…

Lessons learned during the pandemic…

2020 has been a year of challenges, opportunities and many lessons learned.

This past year will stand as one of the most challenging years in memory. Lives have been disrupted, families have suffered staggering emotional and economic devastation, and we have lost almost a full year of formative education for our young students. Food lines stretch far into the distance and the lines for COVID testing and now, vaccinations are almost as long. Wow, what a tough year!

Are we working on the right problems?

Very early on during the first Michigan work from home phase, our team met virtually to openly discuss economic conditions and an almost continuous stream of announcements for furloughs and layoffs with our Clients. These announcements impacted us deeply, since many of the people affected were longtime friends and trusted Clients. It was a helpless feeling and we found ourselves seeking things to work on that might help solve everyday problems in our “new normal”. Little did we realize at the time that the problems would continue to grow in complexity and impact to our business and families.

We set up brainstorming workshops to explore different problems that we could help solve. The world did not need another mask company (at least at the time) and we did not know much about the design of protective equipment or ventilators. Our team quickly developed a portfolio of different ideas for a number of applications and environments. Being designers and engineers, we launched into sketching and ideation before we caught ourselves and filtered our priorities down to a few products. A little business discipline is always helpful with creative and technical teams!

We are a family business in our second generation of leadership and management. We are also grandparents of healthy granddaughters, with the two oldest kids now in kindergarten and the first grade. We are blessed. Even with our resources, we watched our grand kids and their parents struggle with home schooling, limited social interaction with classmates and the daily stream of Zoom classes. All of this while working at tables and sitting on chairs designed for adults. There was clutter everywhere and the daily grind was exhausting.

child-on-schoolbus

Let’s do it for the kids!

We decided to research kids desks and chairs to see what was out there in the marketplace. Most of the products were cheaply made offshore with little consideration for durability, ergonomic fit or workmanship. At the other end of the spectrum, we found high-end desks and limited seating options. Our team ran the opportunity through our filter to determine the business opportunity to sell our products at scale.

Our next step was to write a detailed design brief including these key guidelines for development, marketing and distribution of the products:

  1. Validation of the problem statement and gather voice of the customer via workshops and interviews. Workshops were not easy to conduct during a pandemic, but we got it done safely.
  2. Develop desks and seating solutions that will grow with your children and provide many years of durable use to improve home study and organization of study and art supplies
  3. Design and build in Michigan and or the USA with direct-to-consumer distribution to maintain reasonable pricing.
  4. Apply lean thinking to minimize the number of components and leverage modularity for different applications
  5. Specify high quality earth friendly materials and minimize waste
  6. Develop business models and fair pricing for our products
  7. Reduce the number of suppliers to one for our products, whenever possible

Our team workflow resulted in compressed timelines…

Applying our development process, we moved quickly from research, sketches and ideation, mockups and prototypes into concept development and production launch. Our cross-functional team concurrently worked on marketing, design and engineering and supply chain interaction to compress our timeline to about 90 days from research to product in a box ready for distribution though our website This included three rounds of prototypes, workshops, patent work and branding. This compressed timing was made possible through our direct interaction with parents, kids and educators. We were able to make informed decisions on the fly and translate our findings to our turn-key local supplier.

 

Our work product and solutions…

fredricks-desks

Out of our countless brainstorming sessions, concepts and in-home observational research Freddy Furniture USA was born. Our desk systems are made to deliver a focused work environment that is designed specifically for children aged K-6. The height adjustable work surfaces help deliver an ergonomically correct workspace that helps keep kids stay engaged for longer periods of time. In our early observations we saw kids drawn to early marker board concepts, so we packaged as many as we could fit into our desk systems. This includes two reversible work surfaces that are removable so your child can bring them wherever they want to go. We kept construction as simple as possible to allow for quick assembly and robust products flat packed for shipping. It has truly been a pleasure to see these products help kids drained by the day-to-day strain of our current situation and we want to share this experience with as many people as possible. Our kids deserve it.

 

Our first products are only the beginning…

freddy-furniture-logo

All of this work has been completed with a focus on young students, their parents and caregivers. We invested in this problem and accelerated the development of our first products with a goal of improving home study. If all goes to plan, we will continue to work on additional kids’ products for study, artwork, and play. Please visit us at freddyfurnitureUSA.com to learn more about our products. Thanks for your interest! Read the original article on our LinkedIn page here.

Neocon 2019 Review

Neocon 2019 Review

Neocon celebrated 30 years at the Merchandise Mart last weekend, June 10-12, 2019. The annual event coincided with a pivotal time in the furniture market. The market is flat or below the baseline for the overall GDP and innovation is lacking in even the newest offerings. Seemingly, it’s all been done before.

Many of the showrooms exhibited loose offerings of casual and transitional space furnishings. There were no “stars” of the show and more of the same from previous years.

All companies, large, medium and small need to listen to their design leadership and then push back on strategy, new products and 30 years of best of neoconenhancements for existing product offerings. The voice of product and seating design was turned down to a whisper at the show. Design, marketing, engineering, finance, and manufacturing should all have an equal place and voice on big decisions. But, it was evident that everyone was in a risk management mode; few, if any bold design moves were shown in the spaces I explored. The balance of all functional areas in a company is easy to talk about but tough to apply given the pace of competition and pricing pressures in the market.

Over the next few weeks, leadership teams will shake off the fatigue from the show, recharge with brief vacations and then get back to work. Step one should be a collective, long look in the mirror and open exploration of real-world problems. We don’t need another sectional or coffee table to decorate our offices or universities. We do need to continually focus on ergonomics, user interface, privacy, collaboration and…well, the list goes on.

“Are we working on the right problems?”

Restructuring the Furniture Industry For Today’s Market

furniture on display It’s a great time to be a consumer of products, goods, and services. We have all been spoiled by content at our fingertips and next day (or next hour) delivery of almost anything we can imagine or desire. Amazon and DoorDash are here to stay.

This means that all furniture brands need to focus on ease of order, personalization of products or specials, accelerated delivery, quick set up and immediate support for questions about products. To raise the bar even further, order quantities should be one or a few units.

The large players in the market are set up to push big orders through the system and old habits will take a long time to change. Small, innovative companies do not have the capital to invest in advanced concepts or compete for big accounts. This leaves the mid-sized companies in a great position to take market share while partnering with innovative, agile startups.

Taking Notes from History

We experience this set of circumstances in the “new mobility” space. Global OEMs and large Tier One suppliers are partnering with boutique design and engineering firms to move quickly from research into ideation and through concept development before committing big money to manufacturing plants and fixed labor costs.

furniture at neoconThe furniture market can be compared to the movie industry where old school studios owned the resources and were vertically integrated. This allowed the studio almost total control of the process and investments. The entertainment industry is known for cost overruns and weak performance at the box office. Something has been changing. Streaming content services and almost unlimited bandwidth have provided power to the consumer of digital content, movies, music, and apps. The furniture market can learn from this history and apply key lessons to pivot to offer the customer choice, short delivery times and excellent support.

Lastly, vertical markets are continuing to converge. The built environment (vehicle, office, university or patient room), user interface and human factors will continue to be key areas of focus for any marketing, design and engineering team. Any business of any scale needs to deliver excellent solutions to the consumer at the right price point.

Interested in learning more about Fredricks Design’s ideas for the future of the furniture industry? Please contact us to arrange a detailed discussion about our industry insights. We would love to learn more about your upcoming projects in the office, healthcare, and educational environments.

New call-to-action
Furniture and Work Space Insights

Furniture and Work Space Insights

City planning for the work space.

We commissioned a research and ideation project to explore the correlation between city planning and the design of work environments. The findings from this study supported our premise that any work environment is a landscape of unique environments and spaces designed to meet different types of activities and work styles. This connection is a powerful concept that can be leveraged on space planning and furniture design. Collaborative partnerships with the customer, A+D firms and product designers from diverse backgrounds will drive new thinking and dramatic improvements in the work place.

The work space continues to evolve and the next several years will be a challenging time for many furniture brands. The overall market is flat and there are simply a lot of companies competing for market share. Ongoing uncertainty in the market will require agility and responsiveness to customer demands for new thinking and solutions.

A recent day trip to Neocon in Chicago highlighted the trends that will shape the furniture market over the next several years and beyond.

(more…)

How to Plan, Develop and Deliver a Show Property

How to Plan, Develop and Deliver a Show Property

Naias AI17 Front Seat Render

Well, it’s now only 48 days until the doors open at Neocon 2017…yikes!

Many of our friends in the furniture business are drag racing to the deadline for installation of show properties and prototypes. Wash, rinse and repeat…it’s the same every year.

The furniture industry is not alone in their lean and compressed approach to new product development. Our work with automotive suppliers and consumer products companies is focused on the development of advanced projects, show properties, mock-ups, and prototypes. These are best-in-class companies with brilliant leadership, professional managers, gifted marketers, and fantastic creative and technical teams. Since the downturn, many of these companies have also accumulated significant stockpiles of cash. They have all the resources to do things well and we still find ourselves with tight timing, almost constant scope changes and team misalignment moving from early ideation to completion of show properties.

These are the top three reasons for this condition with a few suggestions for improved team performance and a better outcome to industry shows… (more…)

Neocon 2014: Beanbags and Phone-booths

Neocon 2014: Beanbags and Phone-booths

cartoon phone booth and beanbag

A brief recap of our visit to Neocon 2014…

For those who are not familiar, Neocon is an annualexposition for commercial interiors; the industry leaders (and followers) come to Chicago to showcase their latest furniture, fixtures, and materials. It can be quite a party, but we’re usually there to uncover trends, be inspired, and admire the great design work that many of the companies are continuing to produce. We saw a shift in the respect for individual needs and designing spaces that accommodate them. We’d like to share what we saw and wherewe see it going… (more…)

Indiana Furniture + Fredricks Case Study

Indiana Furniture + Fredricks Case Study

We partnered with Indiana Furniture in Q4 2012 to develop Felix, a new offering to expand their seating line.

Our case study tells the story of our collaborative development from early exploration of the problem statement, design brief development, ideation, concept development, and production release.

We leveraged our complementary capabilities to accelerate the development of a new product to raise the bar for Indiana Furniture in the seating category. Felix is the first offering in a series of seating products based on intelligent product planning and execution of our combined talents.

Please check out the chair development case study and contact us to discuss your future product challenges. Thanks!