I take for granted how confident I am with home design. About the design rules that are important for me to follow in my own home and the ones I can break. About mixing and matching finishes, textures, and colors and finding that balance in terms of scale and proportion. On the best of days, from the right angle, after I quick grab that herd of My Little Ponies off the floor, yes, I think, yes, my family’s little cottage could be in Domino or Lonny. Or at least this particular six square feet might pass the test.
But I’ve worked here for nine years. I’m immersed in beautiful products, surrounded by creative people. Inspiration is everywhere here at Room & Board, from gallery walls to paint colors, from house plants to coffee table books and everything above, below and in between. I don’t see, nor do I feel any impact of design rules. It’s my job to instill confidence into the customers who might be uneasy or might not enjoy this process.
As a Design Associate, I frequently get asked about “the rules.” And so, along with my advice, I frequently give my permission to our customer: it’s your house, you make the rules. Relax. What do you like? What makes the most sense in the space, in your life? Pause a moment before assuming that the sofa you love in the showroom at 101” will work in your home. Masking tape or painters tape works wonders: A rectangle table might not work the best in a square room, but tape it out on the floor. How do you feel? Same with that area rug size, tape it out if you’re on the fence. For that pendant height in the hallway, tell the electrician to be flexible, holding it for you at various lengths before committing. Order as many fabric swatches, rug, wood and stone samples as you need. Find your instincts and trust them. Don’t worry about what anyone else says, if it works for you.
For my own home, it’s all about comfort and classic design, careful balance and proportions within 1926 rooms. It’s a careful blend of family heirlooms mixed with modern classics. And, it’s about fun. Hence the My Little Ponies. The biggest rule in my home – if there is any – probably has to do with budget. And putting away your toys.
In many ways, being a Room & Board Design Associate is being an educator. Of course we are here to show our newest team members the lay of the Room & Board land: That’s a given. But each of us also has the daily task and responsibility to engage in educating ourselves so we can, in turn, relay the most recent product information to our customers. The more we know about each collection at hand, the better we can educate our customers on what to expect from a particular piece of furniture once they get it into their home, and how best to care for it over time.
I like to tell my customers that caring for furniture is a lot like caring for a car: Without gas and regular oil changes, a car won’t run, and it certainly won’t withstand the wear and tear of daily use. Furniture operates in very much the same way: sofa cushions need to be flipped, fluffed, and vacuumed; the oil and wax finishes on certain case goods need to be replenished with satin wax when dry or else the wood will crack; marble is porous, and coasters are required; micro-suede is great for kids and pets, but watch out for oil based stains! So, I guess, in actuality, being a Room & Board Design Associate is a lot like being a car salesman!
Contacting a company is intimidating. Based on past encounters, or the storied experiences of others, we don’t expect thoughtful assistance when we call a company. We expect pushback or apathy, but reassurance and satisfaction are things we only hope for.
Room & Board is different. Our Shop From Home team uses a diverse skill set to solve problems via phone or email for the vast majority of the day. Whether it is space planning, accessorizing an almost finished room, finding a delivery route that will fit a customer’s schedule, or arranging for our service team to go to a customer’s home to repair a piece of furniture, we are almost always facilitating solutions for our customers.
And there is never a script.
What that means for our customers is that we have the freedom to listen, person to person, to their concerns. We have the education to understand what tools are at our disposal to help them. We have the autonomy to do the right thing for both our customer and our business. And at the end of the day, we have the peace of mind that comes from actively preserving our relationships with our customers.
With the freedom to approach every conversation as an opportunity to make a connection and solve an issue, each customer quickly feels reassured…especially if they initially had reservations about contacting us. We are decidedly unintimidating.
One of the great pleasures of my job is the autonomy I’m afforded to use my judgment when solving problems, managing orders and working with clients. I love that I actually get to use my brain! But truthfully this kind of independence wouldn’t be nearly as gratifying if it didn’t function within a robust constellation of support. Each successful customer experience is composed of countless conversations along multiple channels. From design associates to leadership, inventory associates to visual associates to service technicians — many different people have a hand in every single order. The trick is making all that cooperation feel seamless to the customer.
In my next few posts, I’m going to draw the curtain on these interactions to reveal the myriad ways Room & Board-ers from a variety of roles and locations come together behind the scenes to make things happen!
“The cyclists go on the third floor. Let’s put the golfers outside on the deck. Oh, and let the same gender dance group be over in the corner on the fourth floor – they need space for their rumba.” Not exactly words you think you’d hear in a home furnishings store.
Our store location in Washington DC began as a car dealership in the early 1900s. The original building had three floors with a showroom on the first and garages on the second and third floors. When Room & Board renovated the building, we added a fourth floor with an outdoor deck and sweeping views of the city. Because of the layout, it makes a great event space and we often host evenings with like-minded organizations – usually nonprofits.
On this particular evening Room & Board is hosting Team DC, an association of approximately 30 local LGTB community sports teams. Each team has set up an area within our third and fourth floors to try and sign up new players to their respective sports teams. With 500+ in attendance for the evening, it’s a lot of chaotic fun. Imagine it as freshman sign up week at college. Kind of.
Most events here are smaller and a little more subdued, but by acting as a host Room & Board has provided space for many worthwhile Washington DC organizations. We’ve hosted many events: a thank you event for an organization of accountants that offer free tax help to the poor during tax time, a celebration of heritage month for Asian/ Pacific Islanders, a fundraiser for a local women’s organization aimed at combating domestic violence, even a local group working to provide innovative theatrical programming around a musical core of opera, cabaret, poetry and song. So while it’s not exactly what you might expect from a home furnishings showroom, at Room & Board we’re more than just being a good retailer, we’re about being a good community partner as well.
We all have our favorite customers who simply brighten our day whenever they show up. Today my favorite customer came in to show her friend the choices she made for her new apartment. It is a new apartment complex going up in our neighborhood that won’t be ready until September 1st. I have seen her and helped her many times and enjoy every encounter.
This is a downsizing situation, so there are lots of considerations and she is reinventing her style. She has chosen the Reese, Chloe and Quinn in View eggplant. Her new bed will be the Avery in the Sunbrella pink to brighten her days. She has always been contemporary but hasn’t used as much color.
Room & Board has a great partnership with Bridging in Minneapolis. Bridging is a non-profit that allows people to choose donated furniture because they can’t afford it otherwise. We can pick up donated furniture that is still in good condition when we do deliveries for our customers and take the donation to Bridging. With my favorite customer, we will pick up the things she no longer has a place for. This benefits her and Bridging at the same time.
She came in to the store first thing this morning and her lovely spirit has made my day!
When I work with people in the store, I assume they think I’m just focused on selling them furniture. And while I do enjoy finding the right items for the customer’s needs, it’s often the connection with the customer that I remember most.
It may be finding out that my client has just moved from Seattle (a place I lived for a while back in the ‘90s) and being able to reminisce about the old “hood” and how things have changed. It may be learning that my client is working through the difficult journey of divorce and helping them create a calm, welcoming new home. Or it could be something as simple as witnessing the playful banter between a mother and son while picking out his first post-college furniture and remembering fondly my own relationship with my mother whom I lost several years ago.
With Room & Board we say we have a passion for helping you find the right furniture and accessories for your home. We also see you, our customer, as a person and enjoy the connection that comes from that.