Now Furniture Profiled in Asset Magazine
How hard do most of us think about the office chairs we sit on, the desks we work at, and the other furniture around our work environments? Probably not all that hard… except if it’s your business to think about it. In fact, putting the right furniture in the right kinds of spaces makes all the difference to productivity, which is the end goal of any business. Getting this recipe right has become its own specialist area, with specialist furniture consultants having become an important part of the interior design and planning equation. Megan Janssen, founder of Now Furniture & Accessories, tells us about her journey in this field and how she sees it developing.
Megan has almost twenty years of experience in the office furniture business, having found it almost by accident – luckily in the early part of her career. Whilst working for KMI Master Planners, she was headhunted by Twiice International as a sales consultant. It was during her time there that she gained exposure to two important things: work on large projects for corporate clients; and top-notch, internationally made furniture. Her career went from strength to strength. She moved to Barker Street as the company’s sales manager, and then to Emergent as the business development director. It was during this time that she got to know the broader commercial property market, and built on her business development skills.
Then, in 2010, pregnant with her first child and reluctant to commute a long distance to work, Megan took a leap of faith and decided to set up her own business. With her ample knowledge and experience, and a reputation that she had worked hard to establish, she began consulting to the market, selling a variety of different office furniture products.
It wasn’t long before she was approached by the Senator Group, a UK-based family business which sells the internationally recognised, high-end Senator and Allermuir furniture brands. The group needed a representative to look after the brand in South Africa, and they offered Megan a great deal of assistance in setting up her showrooms and offering support on projects – many of which were for national and international corporate clients in South Africa. Today, Senator and Allermuir are Now Furniture’s flagship furniture brands.
Despite the tougher economic conditions that the South African economy has endured over the past eight years, Megan is pleased to say that her business has held its own and has grown from a small enterprise into what is fast becoming quite a large one. She doesn’t deny that it’s a very competitive market to operate in, so giving customers a fair price whilst providing high-end furniture backed by impeccable service is really what’s important
“We have always worked closely with space planners and interior designers, and they used to be our first point of entry into a project. Today, though, we find ourselves working far more with our end users directly, as well as the project managers, architects and other professionals on a project,” she comments. This is in line with the more collaborative process that now characterises building design and development (and particularly office design and development). “I definitely believe in promoting our product to the end user, because as much as I respect the designers in the field, they have a lot of different products to think about. When we talk to our clients directly, we know they will get a good look at our full range – and that really helps them get what they want in the end,” she adds.
It also has the added benefit of giving the furniture consultants in the team a very direct finger on the pulse of the market – what users need, like and want, and where the market is moving. This knowledge is becoming increasingly important in the ability of a good consultant to provide an optimal solution for a client. In the case of Now Furniture, Megan also has the international research and case studies conducted by the Senator Group to help inform the process, and she credits Senator’s involvement in her business with helping to put it on the map in South Africa.
Now Furniture has supplied furniture to a number of high profile clients for large projects, one of the most recent of which was the new Sasol head office in Sandton. Now Furniture counts large international companies among its clients, as well as large local corporates, including the big four South African banks.
The design of office interiors has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, with concepts like the agile office and activity based working having become commonplace. Megan comments that the relationship with the Senator Group, which is very much at the forefront of the market worldwide, has been a great advantage in this regard. “We have often been the front-runners in the local market, bringing in product concepts which are completely new, and this has definitely given us an edge,” she says.
Given that a supplier’s reputation is often closely intertwined with the quality of the products they supply, she has been careful to focus on high-end products, largely from international manufacturers like the Senator Group. “I had some unfortunate experiences early on in the life of my business with poor quality local products, so I have tended to stick with the internationally-made products as a result,” she explains. However, she is conscious of the need to have a degree of local content in the products which she supplies, and has been busy for some time with investigations into what can be done that will satisfy this requirement without compromising quality.
With Now Furniture having established a good reputation for itself in the market, Megan says she is adding to her range of offerings. One of the items that she is excited to offer to local customers an asset tracking device rather than a piece of furniture.
The MySeat occupancy sensor or tracking device can be attached to any item of office furniture (even the coffee machine!) and programmed to monitor activity according to the feedback which the user requires.
MySeat works wirelessly via radio waves, and is highly accurate – to the point where it can measure movements down to the millisecond. What Megan is really excited about is the potential that this device offers to help customers find out exactly how their office assets are being used, which means that both spaces and furniture can be planned for accordingly.
By deploying MySeat sensors around an office, a user can determine how often certain spaces or items of furniture are used. This has implications for all kinds of things, from knowing which chairs people might prefer sitting in, to which parts of an office environment are well used or poorly used. International research is showing some interesting find- ings – for example, that on average, 40% of all workspaces are used simultaneously, and that meeting rooms are used far less often than they are booked, a device like this can give a customer real-time feedback which assists them in making decisions about space planning and capital expenditure and operational expenditure- for example on furniture and real estate which could ultimately save millions.
“We suggest that customers put these sensors into their buildings to gather proper data on how people are using the space – how they are working, where their favourite places are and which spaces are not optimally used. We can combine client-specific feedback with our international benchmark data to give you constructive suggestions about how to lay out and furnish your office space optimally,” Megan says. “Ultimately, this translates into better productivity for the end user.”
She is excited about the future of Now Furniture, particularly with the kind of benefits that new research and technology like MySeat offer as an adjunct to a quality furnishing solution. Furthermore, the company underwent a big change in 2015, with an investor having taken a stake which makes Now Furniture a 51% black-owned, 38% black women-owned business. This has not only assisted with upping the firm’s BEE creden- tials, but has opened all kinds of interesting doors in terms of Megan’s exploration of ways to incorporate local content into the business.
“We are definitely on an upswing as a business – we are growing, getting increasing interest, and have established recognition for our brands in the market,” she notes. She favours doing a lot of work in-house, including installation, because it gives the company greater control over things and allows the team to address problems as they happen. “We feel very passionately about our brands and service level, especially turn-around times,” she adds. Being a hands on owner, she is still involved every sphere of the business, but it’s clear that she loves it and still has plenty of energy to devote to keeping on growing. |GLA