What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
We operate in countries all over the world, with associates in offices and manufacturing facilities across North America, Europe, and Asia. From the outset, we’ve learned a lot about keeping our people safe. Our team pivoted pretty quickly to remote work and kept our principal manufacturing operations open in most locations with enhanced health and safety standards, including best practices for site procedures, health measures, and social distancing.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
With respect to home-office work styles, I’ve been spending a lot of time on our strategy to grow Knoll’s work-from-home solutions and e-commerce capabilities, honing a range of our most popular product that ships in one to three days, like our ReGeneration Chair, Hipso Desk, and Muuto Cover Chair. Demand for work-from-home solutions has skyrocketed in the last few months as people look for the comfortable and ergonomic products they left behind at the office. We were moving aggressively in this direction before the pandemic—we acquired Fully.com, an e-commerce brand devoted to home-office design. In the second quarter of this year, Fully saw a more than 200% jump in traffic to Fully.com and a 148% increase in e-commerce orders as consumers moved quickly to set up ergonomic home offices with height-adjustable desks and chairs.
I am also very excited about the launch of Knoll + Muuto Work From Home on knoll.com. Now consumers can create a home office that pairs the proven performance of our most popular workplace furniture with new perspectives in Scandinavian design from our Muuto brand. Muuto complements the Knoll reach and has a huge following for its simple and elegant home office, living, and dining designs in Europe, which we expect to play well for contemporary U.S. lifestyles.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
I expect that design-driven businesses like ours that continue to invest in innovation, design, and technology will thrive. With respect to our principal markets—the workplace and the home—we see a lot of opportunity coming out of this pandemic. In speaking with our clients, our dealers, and the design community, we’re hearing that people crave the community, connectivity, and creativity of the office. At the same time, organizations seem to be acknowledging that for many people, work styles will evolve for a mix of workplace and home-office activity. At the same time, consumers will be spending more time at home than on travel or entertainment.
The workplace is not going away. The benefits of the mix of community, connectivity, and spontaneity you get in the workplace are simply irreplaceable. We’re hearing from our own people and from our clients across all industries that they want to come back to the office. Our work styles and the spaces that support work are undoubtedly going to change coming out of this pandemic, but inspiring spaces where people can do their best work remain vitally important to the ingenuity and creativity of individuals and teams. This has created lots of opportunities for our clients and the design community to retrofit, redesign, and reimagine workplaces, including open meeting areas created with soft architecture like our Rockwell Unscripted Creative Wall.
Demand for work-from-home solutions has skyrocketed in the last few months as people look for the comfortable and ergonomic products they left behind at the office.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
My first year as CEO of Knoll started with the dot-com crash and ended with 9/11, so it was trial by fire. At the time, we were heavily dependent on the office business for the vast majority of our sales and profits. I knew we never wanted to be that dependent on any single category again, and so we began the journey to diversify into residential/consumer segments and e-commerce. Flash-forward to today and that strategy has continued to serve us well through the financial crisis and now the pandemic. That said, each crisis had its own particular challenges, and while we learned from each, I have want to be sure we don’t get complacent just because we made it through the last one.
Safe–and entertained–at home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
Historically, I’ve spent about half my time traveling and being with clients and our teams around the world, so this is the longest I’ve been in one place in decades. Now I have the chance to start each day with my wife taking our Newfies for a five-mile walk while listening to the latest Morning Joe.
At the start of the pandemic it was a lot of Tiger King and The Late Show with the kids. Trying to find shows that work for a 13-year-old to a 21-year-old has been tough. We all watched Hamilton a few nights ago and that really brought the generations in our house together.
Frankly, I get enough of current events in the day-to-day cycle of running a public company, so I’ve gone back to more escapist reads like Thoreau’s Walden and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Lately, however, it’s hard to ignore the importance of the unrest around us, so I’m in the midst of Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
We’re a pretty active group, so lots of hiking here on Shelter Island, tennis, pool, and horseback riding with the family.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
I’m looking forward to reconnecting with our teams and leaders around the world. A few years ago, we acquired Muuto, based in Denmark, bringing a new perspective to Scandinavian design. It’s a great team and I miss July in Copenhagen where there’s daylight till midnight.