Weekly Editorial

How to Evolve Your Relationship with A&D

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • February 20, 2023

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Relationships are key to the office furniture industry. But one of those relationships that always seems to be tense is the connection between manufacturers and dealers and the architecture and design community.

Simply put, manufacturers and dealers want to connect with A&D, show them new products and talk about potential projects. For their part, A&D wants information you have — they just don’t want it all the time. It is an extraordinarily delicate dance that often results in irritation on both sides.

Manufacturers and dealers want to get in front of A&D so there is a tendency of — how do I put this delicately — pushing things a bit too much, which turns off the design community since they have actual work that needs to be done. The design community responds by cutting off communication and making it very, very difficult to get a piece of their valuable time. This, in turn, irritates manufacturers and dealers who accuse A&D of being overly vigilant gatekeepers.

Since I don’t fall into either camp, I have a non-biased view of the situation and I think both sides are correct. I also understand the frustration on both sides.

For manufacturers and dealers, this is a situation where persistence does NOT pay off. If you are getting hints from designers that you are being too pushy with them, you almost certainly are. And designers, if manufacturers or dealers are getting cranky with you for not taking time to learn about their new products, perhaps you should schedule a few more lunch and learns.

Both sides need to understand that they are in a symbiotic relationship with each other. The design community needs the expertise of furniture manufacturers, and the dealers they collaborate with and the industry needs the designers that specify its products. The connection benefits both sides tremendously.

So what are some ways to repair these relationship? Start by understanding the position of the other side. Designers are besieged by manufacturers and dealers and if they let them visit at the frequency they would like, designers would get nothing done. The other side has valid points too. The design community complains about the “sameness” of the industry products, but doesn’t take enough time to understand the unique features and how to use them.

How do we solve the situation? Let me propose a solution, one that will need a little give and take from both sides.

Manufacturers and dealers need to limit communications with the design community to information they can actually use. Instead of sending a sales brochure on a new product, send them examples of how other designers are using it. I would recommend setting a schedule for mailings (once a month seems to be a good cadence) and identifying a single point of contact in the design firm who can take what you’ve sent and share it with their colleagues. Don’t send emails multiple times per week. Don’t try to set meetings constantly with them.

Designers need to be a bit more open to learning about new products and ideas. I visited a Chicago design firm that has a rotating collection of new product samples and a once-monthly time slot for new product discovery. It’s a good idea and one that gives everyone a chance to show off new products and thinking. Designers can also make the connection at their convenience using tech tools such as INDEAL’s Pinpoint product, which makes product discovery easy and on their terms.

With a little understanding and empathy, everyone will be happy with the relationship.

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