On trend. On time. On budget.
These are the words that best describe Etc., a new office furniture brand by National Office Furniture. Etc. aims to pair the latest styles and trends in furniture with the standard of timely service that National has become known for.
Today’s office spaces aren’t like the traditional cookie-cutter layouts of the past. The modern workspace now demands collaborative areas, flexible furniture and a variety of trendy options that allow people to choose where and how they work. Since many offices need to be able to reconfigure at a moment’s notice, Etc. offers innovative and design-driven office furniture to outfit any environment.
Photo: Etc. tables
Its collections are specifically designed to complement existing workplaces, from the boardroom to the break room. All pieces keep track of top global trends in office furniture, including a piece’s:
We recently got to discuss the anticipated reveal behind Etc. with the team at National Office Furniture, including president Kourtney Smith, director of marketing Angie Schuch, vice president of sales Michael Roch and A&D manager Michelle Boolton.
Read our transcribed conversation below to learn more about Etc. and how it’s meeting the demands of today’s modern office market.
Adrian Thompson: To get us started, we want to know what is the inspiration behind Etc.? National Office Furniture is, of course, a great brand. But this also looks like something completely different than what you’ve done in the past. So, just start us off, what was the inspiration behind launching Etc.?
Kourtney Smith: Yeah, great. Thank you for asking. So, we always are keeping our eye on different trends that have emerged in the marketplace and a few of those trends that really inspired the creation of Etc. were, of course, the war that’s being experienced on talent, and the need that that’s driving for workplaces to be fresher than ever before, the workplace in the workspace, as far as that’s concerned.
Another trend that we had our eye on that was really emerging was the feeling that the workplace was turning to a more casual style, and the feeling of home was entering the workplace stronger than ever before.
Along with that, we were finding that certain areas of the workplace were being refreshed more often than others, primarily those areas within public space. The common area spaces, workplaces becoming much more amenity based, places like cafes, and cafeterias are updating their furnishings more frequently than ever before, to stay fresh and on trend.
And so, those were really some of the drivers that we were seeing in the marketplace that showed us we had an opportunity to really look at our core portfolio in one bucket.
We had the opportunity to look at a less intense product offering, if you will, a more simplified product offering that had a different life cycle about it and create a sub brand in order for us to work alongside the National Brand. And that’s really what gave life to the Etc. brand.
I think really importantly, too, ancillary furnishings have really become a primary focus in today’s floorplate. And that, too, is a strength that National has had for many, many years. We’ve always been a strong ancillary player. And so, this gave us an opportunity to kind of give birth to a new on trend set of furnishings with a lighter duty, if you will, lifespan to them, that allows, again, for the furnishings to be updated more frequently.
Photo: Etc. lobby furniture
Adrian: It’s exciting. It sounds fresh, it sounds modern, it sounds like something that people are going to definitely be wanting in 2020. Let’s just describe what this new brand is all about. What kind of products are you guys going to expect to offer? I’m looking at lots of fun colors, different pieces of furniture. So, what would you say—how would you encompass, Etc.?
Angie Schuch: The Etc. brand, it’s really a collection of ancillary furniture, as Kourtney mentioned, really kind of blending and merging that workstyle and lifestyle. It’s a curated portfolio of furniture. We wanted to be diligent about offering a collection that was very aesthetically pleasing together with choices, but not overwhelming.
We understand that in the design process a lot of times this type of ancillary furniture is coming in at the end of the design process. And giving enough choices but not overwhelming, making the process simpler from a specification standpoint, we felt was very important in bringing to light through the Etc. brand.
We started our collection with primarily focusing on the tables and seating category. And you’ll definitely see us continuing to expand in additional categories throughout calendar year 2020.
Michael Roch: One of the things we’ve noticed too, from the fabrics and finishes that we’ve selected, you almost can’t get it wrong. We’ve picked such universally adaptable finishes for any kind of environment that organizations are trying to create. And we give enough choice that they’re able to add that pop of color where it’s necessary, but not overwhelming our customer with too many choices or big bold prints that are in one day and out the next.
So, there is some sustainability to the product built into the simplicity of finishes that have been really curated for the customer, making the sales process just easier and more enjoyable for the customer.
Angie: I would say, as Michael mentioned, we strategically placed color selections and options in certain products to allow for that pop of color when needed in the environment, the work environment.
Photo: Etc. rec room
Adrian: Yeah, so you guys are still leaving plenty of variety available for customers. And I like the word “enjoyable” that you use because for me personally, this would be a much more enjoyable shopping experience. You still have plenty of options, but not too many to where it gets overwhelming. It almost makes you anxious on making a decision.
Michelle Boolton: I think there’s a level of simplicity, yet sophistication that gives whoever the user is—whether it’s direct end users or the A&D community or dealer community—they can reach into this sort of already sourced collection. I love the concept of collection and know that they can extract anything that’s going to fit in their space.
Space now is so much more about the environmental graphics and many other things happening in the space that the simplicity of the furniture allows that to speak right into it. That was definitely brought into it as well.
Adrian: Yeah, so you have all this wonderful furniture to choose from. And then I know one great thing about Etc. too, is you guys have a great ordering time turn around. I believe two weeks is when you can get products in your hands after purchasing?
Angie: Correct. All of our Etc. products are on really a quick delivery program, offering also our sofa collection in a two- to three-week lead time process as well. That’s one of the things I really feel differentiates Etc. brand in the marketplace is our ability—for our customers to still utilize the exceptional service that National has been known for in the industry, whether that is from our internal customer service team or from our selling organization.
They can expect to see the same service. As well as our lead time to the marketplace and reliability, which we think is really, really key and a differentiator that National has to offer.
We also talked about the specification process. One of the things that was really important for the Etc. brand is, again, going back to making that process simpler from a specification. So, all of the Etc. products in all of the equal platforms that we offer, as well as our online product visualizing tool called SpecStudio, so very easy to see on the product selections before purchase.
Michael: Our customers are asking for those more comfortable environments and they’re faced with so many options in a retail setting. So, a typical client today is able to be exposed to so many solutions out there that on the surface could be great solutions for their environment to create that home from work type feel.
And with that, many of our clients assume they could just easily order this product and have it show up the following week and in reality, in the retail setting that doesn’t necessarily take place.
So, we feel that by coming in with a quick-to-the-marketplace solution with not only manufacturing, but high-quality standards that have been known by the National brand, we’re showing up on time, damage-free, quickly, at great prices, really solving a problem in the marketplace that is largely caused by visibility the customer has to retail solutions, and they’re just savvier today.
Our customers are savvier, understand what good design looks like and have a view of what they want their spaces to look like. And they get good options with Etc.
Kourtney: You raise a good point, Michael, to expand a little bit further on, that we really saw a unique opportunity based on others that the design community have been working with and have seen some disappointments or failures in the ability to service them properly, helping them understand the products or in Angie’s point, to deliver on time.
Some come with complications of having to place an order with a deposit. I mean there’s a host of things that we see have been obstacles in the industry. We feel that that too, was the perfect opportunity for National to come forward, knowing that we’ve got a great reputation for being on time and very high-level of service, apply those great foundational aspects of who we are and what we stand for, but be able to provide a different offering that we know is a great need in the marketplace as well. So, that’s really a key differentiating point for us.
Adrian: And like Michael said, just to follow up with that, customers are more savvy and smarter than ever before. So, they pay attention, they notice these things about National Office Furniture, and they’ll get to recognize this from Etc. And it’ll only help strengthen and amplify the brand further on, I believe, too.
I know Etc. is really trend driven. You guys just launched your very first collection. So, what are some of the trends we might be seeing in this collection? And then how often can we expect new trends or offerings to be released through Etc.?
Michael: Well, from a trend perspective, we are really going to take cues from the marketplace in terms of what the needs are. You’ll see with this first collection that we have really hit on the occasional use areas of the space that are going to be refreshed more frequently.
So, you’ll see a lot of soft seating options, occasional table collections, and so on.
We’ve taken the cues from where the designs of our customer spaces are going, the types of solutions that they’re looking for, what they have struggled to find, and touching back on some of those pain points we just mentioned, trying to solve some of those needs, solve some of those problems for them.
And so, you’ll see with this first collection, it’s hitting those spaces that are visible in the ancillary space of floorplans. And in the future, we would expect to have two introductions on an annual basis where we will be adding to the collection and really just continue to take those cues from.
Adrian: When you do have new pieces released, will these just be added to current offerings? Or will those offerings that were released prior be removed?
Kourtney: We definitely plan on continuing to add to the portfolio, and of course, we’ll be reviewing the success that we’ve had with our current offerings and potentially adding onto those current offerings. Maybe changing the color palette, depending on what’s happening out in the marketplace, as Michael mentioned, just taking cues from what’s happening out in the design community. That will be important to us to keep a pulse on that and to make any modifications that we need to the existing portfolio.
Photo: Etc. chairs
So, the intention would be, again, keeping an eye on the existing portfolio while also adding to the collection moving forward. Of course, if we have great success, and that’s the goal, we will continue to keep those in our portfolio and just continue to expand and/or add to the existing collections.
And as mentioned earlier, we do also expect to add on categories as the Etc. brand continues to evolve.
Michelle: I think it’s important to note that the concept of keeping a pulse on what’s happening around the world—we’re not just looking—design doesn’t just happen in the US, it happens everywhere.
We’ve really taken time to look at the trends that are happening in other key design-driven markets and allow those products to be accessible to this marketplace into our distribution partners and basically anyone who wants to access the Etc. brand.
But that to me, is really what’s important. I am often asked, ‘Gosh, I wish that there was someone who had more, fill in the blank occasional tables, raw accessories,’ and that really is what’s drawing us.
We’ve got our ear to the ground on what’s being asked for and really trying to respond very quickly and with this trendsetting style. So, that’s really important for us to have that be as part of the brand, too.
Adrian: Right. And I think you guys are already showcasing a wonderful portfolio, you’ve got a variety of chairs, sofa lounges, seating, tables, all sorts of stuff to already get people to dive in, start browsing, see what Etc. has to offer.
I know that a lot of research was also behind Etc., too. You guys clearly have done your research, from global trends to what are our customers wanting today. What did you guys find and learn while creating Etc., that just helped form the brand?
Michelle: Well, I think you have to kind of take a trip down memory lane from the Home-ing From Work CEU research that we had done a few years back that really—we saw this trend happening out in the marketplace, that there’s this casual, residentially inspired environment that is being desired by employees and users and everyone, lots of folks.
And we saw the importance of what’s coming and yet it’s very clunky for people to make that work.
For instance, a lot of the retail brands that are solving that look, don’t really fit within the lane of how contract furniture works. It’s not tested, it’s hard to purchase it. There are all sorts of traps, basically.
So, that was a big part of what drove why we feel that we were the right ones to bring this solution. I have talked to more people—especially in the design space—who say “Clients are expecting a lighter warranty, a lighter price point and yet a lot of times the only place for them to go get it are typical retail brands. If somebody could help solve that, that would be wonderful for us.” So, that’s what we’re doing. So, there was that Home-ing From Work CEU research which kind of drove it.
Then we took it a step further and asked the design community through some research about ‘What is important to you in the specification process?’ And one of the key things that we learned out of gate is that design cannot be sacrificed, right?
Good design, they’re not willing to sacrifice good design for price point. So, we knew that keeping design as our focal point, it was very important.
However, we could get contract light, a lighter warranty, lighter price point, a much more curated offering was also appropriate. So, I think those two pieces together were really what drove it. Certainly, a lot of the old just market intelligence, we deployed towards kind of developing a brand and what was really necessary.
But I think those two pieces were really the biggest that I can think of from a research standpoint.
For me, we took some hints from the fashion industry as far as having a kind of fall and spring style collection, right having that anticipation of a new collection coming out. That’s really what we’re going for is that the idea that it’s actually fashion—inspired, globally sourced, like “what’s coming next from Etc.?” is really what we’re driving towards as well.
Michael: Our dealer partners, too, they think about how we’ve traditionally gone to market. They would have in the past occasionally supplemented their main line with some ancillary solutions as a value add to their customers, and it would be a very small percentage of the overall project.
Over time, it has become really a flip in the floorplate going from a much larger piece being ancillary. And so, it’s added complexity to our distribution partners workload, and to really solve those needs for the customer, who’s now showing up to the conversation with a very broad understanding of what they want their designs to look like.
So, we really have now taken the approach that look, there is this increased complexity that comes with having more ancillary and making it more difficult for our viewers to be successful and show up for their customers the way we want them to.
Kourtney: Yeah, definitely. I think just to build on that point, too, I think that traditional contract furnishings and now just shorthand, we’ll call this contract light furnishings and then yet residential, play three very different and distinct roles when it comes to, Michelle, you hit on warranty or the actual life of the product.
And so, I think each play an important role. I love that Etc. is targeted at that middle area where there’s been some disappointment and frankly some risk from residential furnishings being used in high use contract areas.
And I feel like we’ve struck a chord that’s in between that says that we’ve studied it and we understand that this product is going to have “x” amount of life and we’ve designed it appropriate to it.
And there’s a value that does come with that, while still holding true to exceptional design, which we know isn’t going to be sacrificed by anyone who’s specifying it or anybody who, again, has that war on talent, where they’re looking to make a positive first impression and a lasting impression with employees who choose to stay with their employers.
I feel like the contract furniture industry is evolving a bit, and that we’re doing a nice job of staying true to traditional contract with our National brand while supplementing the strong trends and needs that exist with a higher level of service then people are experiencing, with the Etc. brand.
Angie: Just to tag on as well, Kourtney, mentioned a little bit too, just that attraction of employees and retention and kind of being that employer of choice. Statistics show by the year 2025, three out of four employees will be millennials.
The Etc. products speak very well to the expectations of a typical millennial workforce on having more of that shared workspace versus the private office spaces and ancillary fits very, very nicely into those environments, as well as increasing the comfort. It shows that the more comfortable employees are, the more productive they are based upon the research that we found.
We think just a couple of those areas as well really speak to creating workspaces where people want to be.
Michelle: Lastly, I think we also looked at what’s happening with corporate real estate. And as leases get shorter and shorter and shorter, furniture is not required to last 20 years anymore, some don’t want it that long.
The churn rate, the amount of time that is from refreshment to refreshment of a space, especially to keep employees attracted to the space and wanting to come to work and staying engaged, has gotten compressed and shorter, right? So, this responds exactly to that because they’re not investing as much money with a need to last 20 years. And it needs to be on trend and design forward. So, this really solves for that as well. But I think that real estate component is a big part of it as well.
Adrian: And I think you guys all kind of hit the nail on the head. Etc. really just seems like this great bridge to kind of fill in those gaps that we’re seeing between contract furniture and all of these trends that are really just in the spotlight in today’s industry. And like you said, the game is changing for real estate, for design, for office spaces.
Etc. sounds like it’s going to become the best friend everybody doesn’t have but wished they did. And it’s just going to be a great option for them going forward.
Michael: We’re all smiling on this side of the phone. Right?
Adrian: We all need a best friend, right?
No, I think it’s great guys. It’s exciting. It’s fresh. It caters to a need in the market, definitely. And I just want to thank you all for sharing more about the brand. I know it’s exciting for National Office Furniture as well. Big launch for the big new year. So, thank you again for telling us more about it for our audience.
Visit lifeworketc.com to learn more about Etc.
*All images provided by National Office Furniture. This interview was created in partnership with National Office Furniture.