Someone I once worked for would always joke about how she would write specs, mail them in and then three months later -poof- furniture would show up. If only that were the way it worked. In reality, there is a long line of people and companies who work behind the scenes. If we work from manufacturer to client, there is a process that goes from manufacturer to manufacturer representative, dealer, designer, and finally, the client. So let me help break down each of these and what their specific piece of the puzzle is. So you can learn how to work smoothly through the process. In a decade’s worth of experience, I’ve moved from independent manufacturer’s rep to dealer interior designer, then to A&D furniture specialist. So hopefully, I can shed some light on everything.
There are two types of reps: a direct rep and an independent rep. A direct rep works directly for a company, and they are part of the company’s payroll, insurance, etc. You can usually find a direct rep for your larger mothership companies in commercial furniture. You can also frequently find them in the fabric world. The other type of rep, an independent rep, usually represents multiple manufacturers, and will own their own business, have their own employees, and their own office space.
A manufacturer representative’s primary goal is to ensure you are aware of their product, know about new products, and provide customer service with planning, budgets, samples, and overall general support.
Commercial Furniture Dealership
There are two types of dealerships, aligned and non-aligned. Aligned dealerships have the mothership mentioned above manufacturer. Aligned dealerships also have access to brands other than their mothership company but can’t sell products by other mothership manufacturers.
Unaligned dealerships don’t have a mothership company they are attached to. They frequently have several limited distribution lines and access to the open lines and cannot sell the products of other dealerships’ mothership manufacturers.
Commercial furniture dealerships handle many tasks. They can assist with preliminary planning and programming, down to furniture installation and day two services. Your furniture dealer will help with all the product specifications to ensure that your project is order ready. They will create their own furniture plans that are tagged and provide support with selections of products and finishes. Dealer interior designers really get into the nitty-gritty of what the needs and wants of the end users are and make sure everything works as specified. They are then in charge of order placement, including all the finances involved with invoices, order acknowledgments, and any payment terms and agreements between the manufacturer and the end user/client. They oversee order tracking and ensure that products will arrive on time. They receive all the products at their warehouse and then work to schedule installation times and periods, complete installation, and any day 2, 3, or 4 services, up to the end of the warranty. It is an ongoing relationship with the end user, which is why I stress the importance of a good relationship between the client/end user and the dealer. It is rarely transactional and can be a relationship that lasts years, even decades.
Ok, cool, so who do I call, and when?
There is a bit of overlap on who can do what. A lot of it falls on your relationships and who you trust. I think honesty and knowledge can both serve very well in these positions. But, if you find yourself in the contract commercial furniture world, it would be handy to have a clear-cut map.
• “My general rule of thumb: If my question is something the dealer will need to reach out to the rep for, then I should go to the rep myself. This is the case for information on graded textiles, carded textiles, COM approvals, finishes, and lead times. I will reach out directly to my friendly rep to avoid making the dealer do extra work for all of these items. It takes me the same amount of time to type the email to them, and it keeps things moving a little bit faster.
• Regarding pricing, I will go directly through a dealer, even though the dealer may need to reach out to the rep. Discounts from lists often change from dealer to dealer, and there may be complicated contracts to consider.
It can get tricky if you are looking to go through any type of VE (Value Engineering) process. The truth is that each player in the game has a financial tie to the specified items. If I am going through a VE process, I usually start with the rep and let them know that we have to VE. They can either provide cost-effective alternatives to the product, or it may open a conversation between the dealer and the rep. If that fails, I will go to the dealer to see if they have any cost-effective alternate manufacturers.
Another thing to consider if you are feeling particularly crafty is remembering your finishes. If a manufacturer grades in that fabric, it can save costs, or your fabric rep may also provide alternate solutions. The hope is that reps, dealers, and interior designers are best friends. Now that we are all happily skipping down the street, holding hands, let’s move on, shall we?
To Sum Up
we all need each other in this industry. A designer can do things that a rep and dealer cannot. A rep can do things that a dealer and interior designer cannot. A dealer can do things that a rep and interior designer cannot. When I worked as a rep fresh out of college, I recall constantly wishing there could be a day when we each had to do each other’s jobs because none of them are easy. Knowing who to call and when and building and fostering honest relationships with those people will help everyone’s career go a long way.