Building Community Within the Industry
Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • December 18, 2023
Happy Holidays to everyone, this will be our last issue until we resume publishing on Jan. 8. When I think about how I got my start in this industry, I think about connections and community. Community because I live in Furniture City — Grand Rapids, Mich., where several of my neighbors and many people I bump into work in the office furniture industry.
The industry has literally shaped my community. Steelcase, MillerKnoll and Haworth are all based in West Michigan and regardless of what you might think of them as furniture makers, it is undeniable that all of them — along with all the other smaller manufacturers and suppliers here — are fantastic corporate citizens. They do a lot for the community.
And through this community, I’ve made many connections and I’m still adding them.
I don’t know about you, but it is a struggle for me to socialize and build these connections and community. I’m not exactly shy, but social situations can be very draining for me. They take a lot of effort. I often need to psych myself up to go to social events and make a real effort to connect with people when I’m in them. I’m not an introvert. In fact, I’m quite social with people I know, but it takes me a while to get to know people.
Still, socializing is an incredibly important part of my job. It’s how I learn about stories, trends and people. It’s also where I build deep industry knowledge learning from others who have more experience or expertise in areas different than me.
That’s a long way of saying I understand that it can be difficult to build community and connections, especially when you are a bit socially awkward like I am. I’m also here to say that all the stress, anxiety and hand-wringing over social situations is worth it. I have gained so much by putting myself out there — by immersing myself in this industry.
I consider NeoCon table stakes. Everyone in the industry should be at NeoCon, regardless of their role. I’ve been to nearly 30 NeoCons and I’ve met new people at every single one of them. I discover important trends there and learn about new products. I believe every person that is looking to understand this industry must attend NeoCon. There are many other shows throughout the year that are worth exploring as well, such as EDspaces for the educational market, Hospitality Design for hospitality and Heathcare Design for healthcare. Additionally, there are events like the BIFMA 360° Conference where you can go beyond the industry and learn about trends.
I also encourage you to go beyond shows and get involved in your industry through professional organizations. I already mentioned BIFMA and it is worth getting involved in this organization that literally shapes the safety and design of the workplace. If you are a designer, get involved in IIDA if you aren’t already. It is a wonderful organization that helps designers professionally and socially. IIDA has local chapters that make it easy for most designers to grow professionally.
Both Dealers Members and Brand Partners can create deep industry
connections through their relationship with INDEAL, which has evolved from a
buying group to a third-party growth engine that helps activate strategies,
connect with solutions, and grow business.
Without you, there is no community. Building community takes everyone’s effort and input, which can be difficult and forces you to put yourself “out there.” It’s difficult, but together, we can achieve anything.
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