One of the things we celebrate at Room & Board is the hand of the craftsman. As much as we value their skill and precision, we also laud the one-of-a-kind, handmade aspect. Precisely imprecise. Perfectly imperfect. Kind of like myself. Seems like a pretty good place to be.
It is no secret working in a retail environment can often feel hectic, thankless and quite exhausting. At Room & Board SoHo, sofas get squished, fabrics go flying and decorative pillows get dispersed in the oddest of places. Still, there is something which keeps me coming back each day; something other than the paycheck, my co-workers, a love for the company and the beautiful furniture. What keeps me coming back are the customers; the feeling I get when I’m able to connect with a stranger in a meaningful way; the knowing I’ve made a small impact on the daily happiness and comfort they return home to at the end of a long day.
As a five-day Design Associate, I am asked to fulfill many different jobs and tasks other than floor planning, sofa selling and pillow fluffing. Notably, I am also part of the Customer Experience team. As a Customer Experience liaison, I assist in planning the yearly education calendar, which works to keep Design and Leadership Associates up-to-date on product and company changes and advancements; changes and advancements which always work to elevate our customers’ experience. I am also in charge of monitoring our customers’ experiences through the weekly “Tell Us What You Think” survey results we receive.
After a customer has received a delivery in their home, they are given the opportunity, through an email survey, to tell us what they think about their Room & Board experience. Fielding these responses has become one of my favorite parts about my job. It is incredibly rewarding to not only read and share the positive feedback our Design Associates receive from customers, but to also have the chance to turn someone’s less than stellar experience into a great one. Just as one of our Guiding Principles states: Building relationships with our customers and helping them create homes they love, gives us great satisfaction. When we can share this passion with individuals with whom we enjoy working, there is nothing better!
What strikes me about our Guiding Principles and our Priorities & Measures is that they in and of themselves are simply conversations. We talk and we listen, and then we talk some more. Through all of this, dialogue occurs. So often, with past jobs, the companies I worked for had well-worded, concise and imperative mission statements. But here’s the thing, as well intentioned as many of those were, my voice (or anyone else’s for that matter) was never asked to participate in the making of that statement. I was expected to adhere to its points (understandably), but in the end, it really amounted to a monologue — a response to someone else’s point of view.
If I allow myself to grow and be refined through my interactions and conversations with those around me, then the perfectionist in me has to be ok with not seeking perfection. If I’m going to give up the maddening pursuit of perfection, then what exactly does my goal become? How about authenticity?
There is no perfect mission statement or perfect Design Associate review meeting (what would that even look like, anyway?). So what is it like to let yourself be refined through your interactions with your peers? Humbling. Period. However, if I’m vulnerable enough to let my interactions and conversations with my peers bring to light my imperfections, my sometimes messy humanity, and those moments where I think to myself “um, really? get a grip,” then also the achievements, the celebrations and the “a-ha” moments also get brought out into the light. The process is by no means perfect, but I’m not sure I would have it any other way.
Our team in Seattle recently did a Design Challenge exercise. This was a way for us to get some fresh ideas on how to combine pieces from our collection while also learning more about new additions to the Room & Board assortment. We drew slips of paper from three categories. The first would tell us if we had a “high” or “low” budget to work with. “High” could be any amount, but “low” meant that we needed to stay under $5,000. The second slip of paper told us what type of space (living, dining, bedroom) we were working with. The last gave us a style (Shaker, Arts & Crafts, Asian, Modern, etc.) to use as our inspiration.
There weren’t too many specifics beyond working within the parameters drawn: we had to use Icovia to build a floor plan in the computer, include treatments from our Custom Window assortment, and use at least one item that was new for 2014. I got “High Shaker Living” and ended up with a room filled with over $40,000 worth of Room & Board product. Amazingly enough, another Design Associate managed to get above $60,000 with her room! I found this to be a great way to famiarize myself with items that I hadn’t spent much time with yet and ended up using Camilla Sofas with Berkeley Cocktail and Console Tables.
Everyone put together a board of their ideas and we posted them on the wall in the break room (see photo). Exercises like this are a great way to keep busy during the occasional lulls in the showroom. It was really great to see how everyone collaborated with one another for ideas and advice as we planned out our rooms. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be surrounded by–we work hard every day here in the showroom, but we also like to have fun!
I think that I am going to choose to be open to change that can and will occur here at Room & Board if I allow it. For most of my working life, I have been in leadership positions. But, if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I ever once felt truly qualified. I always felt as if I was a bit of a sham. Smoke and mirrors so to speak. Perhaps the biggest challenge I face at Room & Board is allowing that fear and insecurity to be broken down and then rebuilt with the message of integrity that helps frame in our Priorities & Measures.
At Oak Brook, for our Priorities and Measures Action Plan, one of the final notes is that the measures listed out are not static. Here’s what I find fascinating and heartwarming. If those measures are truly not static, then we have to be honest enough to admit that they are then not perfect. But here’s the thing, (drum roll and huge reveal) neither am I. And it’s ok to let that be exactly what it is.
It is no secret most of the country has experienced a colder than usual winter this year, and New York City is no exception. Still shivering in our cold-weather gear, the water cooler conversation at Room & Board SoHo frequently ends with an “Enough already!” or “I can’t take it anymore!” But, as with each year passed, spring will somehow manage to squeeze its way through winter’s frosty grasp; before we know it, we will eagerly, and gratefully, shed our puffy coats and shearling boots to take to the rooftops and terraces, backyards and front decks, to soak up some well-earned vitamin D. In preparation for the summer fun – and summer selling – the Outdoor Education Team, of which I am part, has been separating fact from fiction about all things outdoor, and over the course of a week, we will impart it all to our fellow Design Associates.
Now, I am no outdoor furniture expert. On the contrary, discussing outdoor furniture generally leaves me longing for a lounge chair, a mojito and an obscene amount of sunshine. Still, revisiting our collection after so many snowy months has been fun and wonderfully challenging. It is also a reminder that, as a Room & Board Design Associate, I am not just a singular entity solely responsible for selling and providing design advice to customers: I work as part of a collaborative team; a team within which I am asked to fulfill many roles for the betterment of the whole and, in turn, the elevation of our customer’s shopping experience.
It is an awesome thing to work for a company that challenges me to step outside my comfort zone to be a constant problem solver, collaborator and communicator. A day at work is never a mindless venture: It is an opportunity to develop, stay engaged and interact with co-workers and customers alike, even when the freezing rain is falling outside.
Last week I had an opportunity to meet one of the new Design Associates recently hired to start in our Boston showroom, set to open this summer. C was visiting a college friend in San Francisco and had never been in a Room & Board showroom prior to his visit last week. He was blown away with how our showroom presents our furniture to our customers. I could see the excitement building in him for his new position.
I strongly recommend visiting a showroom near you if you are considering a job with Room & Board. The entire experience that we strive to wow our customers with is very evident and you will gain further insight into what Room & Board’s showroom standards are like.
I would also recommend visiting other furniture retailers’ locations as well so you can speak to the differences in presentation and information displayed. I recently stopped by the new DWR showroom in San Francisco’s design district and it really struck me that not a lot of information was accompanying their furniture. You can look at a Room & Board price tag for a sofa and find out its exterior and interior dimensions, seat and arm height, what’s in the cushioning, what the fabric is made of, where the sofa is made and of course, its cost! In addition to all that information, there’s a tag beneath that top tag that lets the customer know the pricing of the piece in another group fabric and whether or not it can be ordered in leather.