We sell furniture, so of course, it’s natural for customers to come into our showroom and ask for design help in selecting the right pieces for their homes. With time and experience, however, Design Associates dip their toes into so much more than furnishing interiors.
Room & Board Design Associates have diverse work histories. Many come from retail, the furniture industry or even straight from college. Some were artists or teachers in their former lives. A passion for beautiful spaces and an innate sense of design is what brings us here. Over time, we start to engage in reading customers’ floor plans and space planning.
In urban areas such as Boston, high-rise luxury buildings are being constructed faster than ever, changing the skyline like never before. As units are sold, many buyers come to Room & Board to furnish them. Working with customers from these new developments allows us to become familiar with the building, the layouts and the areas of town, but also with their occupants. We get to know the new landscape, the revitalized neighborhoods and how they affect the culture of our city. This, in effect, gives us first-hand knowledge of what is happening in the real estate market.
Many of our customers learn of Room & Board from word of mouth from happy customers. We get to know our customers and their neighbors and we ultimately begin to understand real estate trends in ways we never imagined. When customers are new in town and come to us to furnish their homes, we’re very proud to share our passion for design as well as our knowledge of our communities.
Just another wonderful aspect of working for Room & Board.
In most work environments, employees come and go. In today’s job marketplace, staying with a company for a year or two has become commonplace versus 30 years ago when workers stayed with their company for decades. The many recessions that the U.S. has experienced over the past three decades, starting with the Gulf War in the early 90s, the Dot Com bust, Sept. 11th, and the Great Recession have created a corporate culture of not wanting long term employees. Employee loyalty has been eroded in part by the transition of defined pension benefits to Cash Balance and 401K plans. While employees no longer plan to stay with a company long term due to pension considerations, this has also increased flexibility for employees’ career mobility.
Room & Board, having always marched to the beat of a different drum, has altered that now common career plan of staying a couple of years and moving on. For the most part, Room & Board staff members are in it for the long term. While our pension 401K plans are inviting, with a generous match that enhances staff members’ retirement funds, the allure to stay is in the culture and respectful work environment that are highly valued and increasingly rare in corporate America.
Our flexible work schedules, holiday pay, and generous vacation time are only small enticements to make Room & Board a great place to work. For Design Associates, our passion for design, meeting new people every day and making meaningful connections and creating amazing spaces for customers is what keeps us happy where we are. The benefits package is just cream on the top.
We all know there are countless little issues that can arise at a workplace on any given day: the printer is out of paper, there are no more staples, the light bulb in the restroom is burnt out. At many places, you would simply notify the appropriate department to take care of it. Room & Board is still a small company and with many showrooms having small teams, it means that Design Associates wear many hats to keep the showroom running and looking its best. We also have a culture of personal accountability, which encourages staff members to simply do what needs doing.
The primary role of a Design Associate is to engage and assist customers with design services and sales but what else does the job entail? Secondary roles include assisting leadership with education, branding, business interiors, IT, lighting, and wellness but often, we need to help out with tasks outside of our defined secondary roles and take the initiative to make things happen.
Design Associates embrace their workspace as being a place that needs to be cared for. Caring is the key, so when a lightbulb is burned out in one of the rest rooms or the printer needs a new ink cartridge, we take it upon ourselves to change it. If you see it, own it. So when the light is out in the restroom, go ahead and replace it.
Each day we begin our day with a morning meeting. Every day is a different topic which can range anywhere from new product launches to changes in SAP. Since many of our team members have secondary roles, we also have education days based on our specialty.
Our Wellness team consists of a group of Design Associates who are responsible for not only creating a healthy work environment, but also for introducing us to new ideas and foods that contribute to our well being. This past week, our Wellness team had a guest speaker who introduced us to Kombucha!
Kombucha is a fermented tea-based beverage which dates back to ancient times. Logan was gracious enough to bring his secrets and enlighten us on all the wonderful properties of Kombucha. Our demonstration began with showing our team the Scoby, or the culture that is the essence of how Kombucha is brewed. It’s a bacteria culture base which reacts with sugar when mixed with black tea and fruit, and which usually takes about three days. The result is a fermented, fizzy, tart but slightly sweet beverage that has amazing health benefits. The best part is, you can brew this powerhouse health drink at home.
Logan brought in samples of his home grown batch for us to sample. We tasted blueberry, pineapple, strawberry, ginger and orange. Everyone was pleasantly surprised at how delicious and refreshing it was and we loved it! We loved it more when he described the benefits such as probiotics for digestion, detoxification for the liver, energy, and antioxidants for our immunity to fight off illness. Its benefits also go beyond physical, but also aids our mental and psychological health by improving our ability to focus and is a mood enhancer.
Logan, using his creative abilities, has even designed his own label and given his brew a name. We all enjoyed being enlightened by this positive new wellness drink. Now if only we can get Logan to brew a few gallons a week for our entire team. That’s something that the Wellness team will have to work on!
Who are Design Associates? What did they do prior to starting a career with Room & Board? Since there are three-, four- and five-day Design Associate positions, some of us engage with customers only on a part-time basis and depending on our role, the Room & Board philosophy of a work/life balance can have different meanings. For full-time DAs, it’s important to balance off-day down time with work life and since we work as a team, any Design Associate can help a customer who needs assistance on a day off, thereby allowing an off-day to be just that . . . an off-day.
For DAs with four- and five-day roles, the meaning of work/life balance often means balancing days at R&B with perhaps another job. I’m a four-day DA and balance my days here with running my own web-based business where I create archival books of children’s artwork. Being a job that entails production rather than a lot of customer interaction, I’m happy to have the opportunity to engage with customers when I’m at Room & Board.
Logan, also a four-day associate, is active in creating logos and illustrations when he’s not charming customers with his Kiwi accent and Alex, not only balances his full time architect student studies with his role as Design Associate, but also takes on extra responsibilities such as being the Boston Facilities Manager and serving on the Wellness and Brand teams. It’s not always easy to balance two jobs and still have time for fun but for me, coming into Boston and to Room & Board is a day where I can let go of all my responsibilities at my business and enjoy engaging with customers, creating beautiful spaces, and simply having fun being in the city. For me, that is the perfect work/life balance.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
People are different and unique. Customers come with all types of personalities, needs and expectations. They also come from all parts of the US and globe. Working with diverse people requires a special skill and not everyone has the ability to, well, talk to strangers and make them feel at ease. Design Associates have amazing abilities to help customers of all kinds create spaces wherever in the world they may be.
So how does one learn to talk to people? I suppose it could be a learned skill but then it wouldn’t come naturally. I believe that some people have the instinctive ability to converse. Most Design Associates have this ability which is how we’re able to engage with folks in a friendly, not intrusive way and obviously, the folks who interviewed us were very good at identifying this ability. When customers come into a Room & Board, they’re greeted with a smile and a friendly “Hello” and how each of us present that “Hello” is as unique as our DNA genetic make up and along with our non-commission based work environment, is what partly sets us apart from other furniture retailers. Our abilities allow us to create great experiences for our customer but what happens when that great experience is interrupted by some factor out of our control or worse, what if we make a grave error which results in a bad experience for our customer?
Design Associates, in addition to our amazing ability to connect with people, are also problem solvers. We are accountable to our customers and ourselves. Room & Board empowers us with independence and the trust to make decisions to make a bad experience, a good one. Sometimes things happen that requires us to search deep down in our trove of special skills to gracefully handle a bad situation with finesse, patience and sincerity. Whether from damaged product, miscommunication, incorrect information, unrealistic expectations or a delivery gone wrong, Design Associates make a wrong into a right experience. Customers are often stunned when we can actually help them solve a problem right away, without them having to become angry. The fact that Room & Board’s relationship with a customer doesn’t end after the sale is what keeps customers returning and what creates a loyal customer. I believe it’s called something that doesn’t really exist too much anymore in the retail environment: Customer Service.
A couple years ago, while browsing through open positions on Craigslist, I came across a posting for Design Associates at a new Room & Board store opening in Boston and I immediately called my sister to tell her. I was so elated that Room & Board was coming to Boston, that I overlooked the job post.
In the 27 years of being in Boston, I’ve been completely disillusioned with the furniture culture here, as it’s old, stodgy and traditional. I used to look forward to my visits around the country, especially trips to see my sister in Chicago where we always took an afternoon to have our nails done, grab a coffee and head to Room & Board on Michigan Ave. It was “our thing.” There, meandering through the showroom, I would dream of having a beautifully furnished home that was a peaceful environment, a refuge of sorts in my chaotic life. My sister had this tranquility in her home. It was an amazing space and is almost like a mini Room & Board showroom.
Boston is a very conservative town, (meaning the people, not the politics) so it’s difficult to enter into this market being a relatively unknown. This is Puritan country. We’re suspicious of anything new. But the people here have been secretly desperate for new style and exciting design to enliven their New England Colonial homes and the introduction of a 38,000 square foot Room & Board showroom in the Back Bay of Boston is taking on the industry in typical Room & Board fashion; quietly. But the secret is out and New Englanders, from Boothbay, ME, to Providence, RI, are discovering a renewed sense of home.
Some weeks after I first saw that Craigslist job post, I began thinking of how great it would be to be a part of this Boston design revolution. I knew Room & Board coming to Boston would be a big deal and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’m even happier to see the sense of discovery on customers’ faces upon their first visit into our showroom. It makes me feel like I’m part of the enlightenment and it makes be proud to be a New Englander, a Bostonian and a Room & Board Design Associate.