Guernsey Inc. is one of the top dealers in the US, headquartered in Dulles, Virginia. OPI spoke to its VP of Marketing and Merchandising, Savannah Guernsey, about its furniture subsidiary ‘Interiors by Guernsey’ and recent corporate acquisition in this sector.
OPI: You’ve recently bought interior design company Systems Furniture Gallery. What was the thinking behind this acquisition?
Savannah Guernsey: Selling furniture requires more of a service element and investing in this area will make us stronger for the future. With this purchase, Interiors by Guernsey has added a team of dedicated designers – including one with LEED certification – professional sales people and a showroom. We’ve been a strong contender in the workplace furniture industry for years, but adding Systems Furniture Gallery has been like a shot of adrenaline, doubling our market share and topline with the speed that only an acquisition offers.
OPI: Your consultation, design and installation services are a core part of the company. What trends and changes in consumer tastes and behaviours are you seeing?
SG: We call this part of the business the ‘project’ side. Taking a space and transforming it into a viable workplace is now about 70% of what we do and it’s going very well.
We’re noticing a general shift towards a healthier, more active workplace that covers both the mind and body, with a focus on standing and walking desks, expansive break-out areas, lounge seating and collaborative spaces. Of course, ergonomics and environmentally-friendly materials are having a big moment too and manufacturers have their hands full keeping up with it all.
One concept that takes a truly new approach to promoting a more dynamic workplace is the adult jungle gym from BuzziSpace known as the BuzziJungle. It’s full of areas for people to perch and work, meet or simply take a break. Rather than being developed with singular work tasks in mind, the user makes what he or she will of the furniture available.
OPI: How are you tailoring your offering to the requirements of specific verticals such as the healthcare, education and office sectors?
SG: Healthcare is an interesting one. For designers, it requires an emotional investment and an acute awareness of the feel of a place which goes beyond that needed for other verticals. For manufacturers, the fabrics and materials must meet all sorts of special requirements. A waiting room chair, for example, may have antimicrobial fabric, interwoven with copper to decrease infections, with the seat angled for easier cleaning and leaving a wider gap between seat and backrest. However, what is regarded as a successful colour, shape or fabric for the healthcare sector won’t work in education or in the office. All these verticals have unique needs and, accordingly, we have specialists with expertise and experience in each of them.
OPI: How do you view the future prospects for Guernsey and the furniture sector in general? What are the challenges?
SG: Now that the ‘Great Recession’ has lifted, we’re seeing bigger budgets, greater optimism and a focus on construction materials and methods that are good for both employees and the environment.
For Guernsey, the end game is to be more than a product-based organisation that moves boxes from warehouses to waiting areas. The future is in services, but the workplace furniture supply chain seems to view resellers whose roots are in OP as imposters. It’s not enough to simply be an office supplies company that sells furniture. To be taken seriously, you need to feel like a fully-fledged furniture business. That’s why we set up Interiors by Guernsey and invested heavily in a website that projects our image as an established furniture supplier. We’ve been doing large furniture jobs for years, but fully embracing the furniture identity now allows us to compete at another level.