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Beginning At The End: The Right Starting Point For Office Furnishings

Ethosource benching

At the office, it can feel like the tables, couches and swivel chairs just fade into the background, but they have a surprisingly direct effect on employee retention. A study from Sapio research found that 48% of office workers said furnishings and design have a notable impact on their decision to stay with an employer. Having a comfortable, unique office space can help keep employees and find new recruits.

To build a unique workspace, office decision-makers are looking to abandon bland, one-size-fits-all furnishings, taking inspiration from coworking spaces with their cozy wood accents and color splashes and invest in a more bespoke, eclectic vision. But they face one big hurdle: The approach that most offices take to buying furniture is chronologically backward.

“Decades of office furniture purchasing has taught customers the same thing,” Ethosource Philadelphia Market Manager Bob Harrison said. “They’ll visit or call a dealership and more or less say ‘Show us what you sell.' Starting the conversation on that foot immediately narrows options, limits choices and starts the process down a path that decreases the opportunity for creating a unique workspace.”

In a typical supply chain, a furniture manufacturer employs a dealership, which in turns sells furniture to offices. Each dealership will often have a relationship with a specific manufacturer and may tend to steer customers toward that manufacturer's line of products. But Harrison said a successful office in 2019 begins in another place altogether.

“The first thing we ask a customer is ‘What is your vision?' We want to learn everything a customer can tell us about what a successful workplace looks like to them, and we work backward from there,” Harrison said. "This approach doesn’t apply simply to aesthetics, but also to budget, functionality and project timeline, all of which can impact the solutions best suited for each office."

Harrison said this consultative approach has become more reasonable because the quality and number of offerings in office furniture have advanced significantly over the last decade. Ethosource partners with over 200 different manufacturers that provide the company with an offering for every taste, price point and purpose.

"Fifteen years ago, there were only a couple high-quality mesh chairs to choose from, but now we can show customers hundreds of different options,” Harrison said. "But it's only because we take that vision-first approach that our clients get that range of possibilities."


He said Ethosource manufactures its own line of products, including benching, seating, desks, storage, tables and accessories. Acting as a combined manufacturer and dealer can save customers the markups that typically attend office furnishings as they progress through the supply chain. 

"The fact that we can sell our own products is a rarity in the industry," Harrison said. "By cutting out the middleman, we can save customers money. Since we’re the ones making it, we may be able to sell a $400 chair for $300.”

With access to so many products, Harrison said he can align with a customer's creative vision more closely, rather than try to fit them in a box. Ethosource's King of Prussia showroom acts as a thought-starter and source for creative inspiration.

“We want to show people a variety of solutions that make them think about their space in different ways,” Harrison said. “But you can’t possibly show every solution from every vendor, so keeping that endpoint vision front and center is priority one.”

Harrison said this vision-first approach works for companies seeking a modern, WeWork-like approach, as well as those that prefer the traditional privacy of cubicles and private offices. No matter what the preference, he said, all customers are facing the challenge of providing a workspace that is efficient, functional and beautiful without breaking the bank.

“Every company has their own unique goals,” Harrison said. “Starting at the end and working backwards towards a product solution is a much more effective and cost-efficient way to reach them.”

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Ethosource. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.