This marks Week 2 of training for our latest crop of new hires. Alison and Michael are catching on quickly and with what appears extraordinary ease. Training at Room & Board is thorough and intense, four weeks packed with information, role-playing, computer education, company philosophy, not to mention getting to know all the rest of us. It’s a tall order, and these quick-studies are making it look easy. Lucky us!

My own specialty here is upholstery and fabric, and so I was asked to provide that training. In four hours over two days, we looked at how sofas are constructed; we discussed the fiber content of fabrics and how that speaks to “durability.” We walked the showroom “trying on” sofas to get a feel for the different cushioning, and touched on leather production and care. And a whole lot more, besides. It’s true that if you want to know a subject thoroughly, teach it to someone: These guys had lots of great questions that had me digging deep into my product knowledge for answers!

I like having new folks come aboard–it’s invigorating! Memories return of my own training (almost four years ago) in our Soho store, and I re-experience the awe and gratitude I felt for how much care and thought those design associates gave to the process. The Washington, DC team feels beholden to provide the same top-notch experience for our new hires. At Room & Board, it’s called “setting them up for success.” Yesterday, Alison and Michael shadowed some of us on the sales floor. It was a busy Saturday, and it was impressive to watch them take to their new roles like pros. Congratulations to them both on an auspicious beginning!


Cross Training

I am writing today from our Customer Support office, which is in Elkridge, MD, about 45 minutes north of the Washington, DC, showroom. As part of my Priorities and Measures (the goals we create for ourselves for the year), I asked for this opportunity to shadow with this team. I wanted to better understand the role of Customer Support and to get a closer look at how we Design Associates can best partner with them. Here at Room & Board, its pretty much “ask and you shall receive,”–express a particular interest or desire to learn, and it’s pretty assured you will be given the opportunity.

Customer Support takes over where the Design Associate’s role leaves off: scheduling deliveries; routing the delivery trucks; arranging exchanges and returns, and following up with any issues that arise in transit or in the customer’s home at or after delivery. Today, from Jamelle, I learned how we route our trucks (a very cool and somewhat intimidating task–with colorful computerized maps, dots, and lines, requiring a strategist’s mind). Kara gave me the behind-the-scenes look at what happens when a customer reschedules a delivery and helped me understand the ins and outs of a variety of customer issues. And with Angelique, I got to sit in on a conference call about how we handle repairs for our customers. From everyone, I have learned some best practices that I can take back to the team in the store that will make life easier and increase efficiency for the folks in Customer Support, which, in turn will lead to better experiences for our customers.

Cross-training not only gives us deeper insight into the company’s practices, it’s also fun. It helps us get to know on another as people, strengthening our relationships, putting faces and personalities to the voice on the phone, which creates better relationships, morale, and a really nice working environment.

Our Dress Code

In a former life, I worked as the Interior Design Manager at a high-end department store that had a large furniture department. This store had a very strict dress code: Men wore dark gray or black suits, women black dresses or suits; any belt had to be black with a polished silver buckle. Now, black suits are not really my style, and I always felt like I was wearing a uniform. So when I was applying to work at Room & Board, after my previous experience, dressing in clothes that felt natural to me and reflect my personality mattered a great deal. I was curious to know about the company “dress code.”

I was happy to learn that at R&B, we are free–within reason–to express ourselves. Having worked here now for 3 1/2 years, the very idea of a formal code–for anything!–seems as foreign as a wool suit in summer. We are here to sell, among other obvious things, creativity, often reflected in how we dress. You will see a wider variety of styles than you might expect, or see at other places. For instance, David B. likes to wear vintage sneakers with gingham button-down shirt. He says he is inspired by our mid-century aesthetic. Lauren has a sophisticated, cutting-edge flair. Nora goes for bold colors; Judi big rings, scarves and bangles. Some of us follow trends, some don’t. And I’d say that as a group, we tend to step it up on the weekends.

So the answer to the question, “What should I wear?” is: You will be asked to use good judgment and to be yourself, remembering that our attire matters. We need to dress to the quality and taste-level of the furniture we sell. As brand ambassadors for our company, we reflect the company’s standards and culture, and help create the customer’s impression. Beyond that, it’s pretty much all up to you.

Love is in the Air

In Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love–and for Washington, DC, customer George Guszcza also to the Murphy sofa in Vance Emerald. He had planned to propose to his girlfriend, Karole Fristensky, on the Murphy sofa in what was to be their new home. Unfortuately, a glitch temporarily derailed last Friday’s closing, and so George approached Team Lead Jen Flagg with Plan B: Could he purchase one off our showroom floor and have it delivered to a park, where he would surprise Karole with both ring and the pretty green sofa? Since we never sell furniture off the showroom floor, she offered George the option of coming into the showroom early this lovely Sunday morning, before the store opened. The Murphy sofa was waiting on the fourth floor, dressed up with a black Saarinen cocktail table and vase of fresh flowers.

George and Karole arrived at 10:30. George was in suit and tie, gussied up for the suprise engagement party he had secretly arranged with all their family and friends at a nearby restaurant. Karole, thinking she was just going to look at a “floor sample” sofa, had declined George’s suggestion she dress up for “an event” later in the day. She was wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. I was lucky enough to be the one to let them into the showroom and take them to the sofa. Then I begged off, saying we had a staff meeting. They were to come down to get us if they had any questions.

We were all a bit nervous for George. About 20 minutes later, I went back to see them. “So,” I ventured, “have you two made any decisions?” A smiling, teary-eyed, and very surprised Karole flashed her new diamond ring. George grinned. “And we’ll take the sofa!” he said.

A first for Room & Board, Washington, DC!

The Place to Be

Anyone who has lived in this neighborhood for more than three years can tell you how much things have changed–and keep changing. Our “hood” has gone from a place to avoid to the most hip, happening place to be in DC. From the balcony, we recently counted some 16 cranes in the near and far distance. Between now and 2015, the city will be adding over 1966 total residential units and scads of retail space within a half mile radius of our store. All of those units need to be furnished, and you can bet we are going to be the merchant of choice!

I like to think that Room & Board was a real boom to development in this part of town. We are not “big box” by any means, but we were the largest national store ever to set up shop here. Our presence created an anchor for what can only be described as phenomenal growth. We, here in the store, are already reaping the benefits of this burgeoning part of town. Come work here, and this is just a sampling of what you can enjoy within two blocks of our showroom:

New restaurants: Matchbox; Le Diplomate–open, we hear, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Ted’s Bulletin; and M Cafe. Tacqueria Nacional just opened directly across narrow T Street. (Our staff has been treated to some free tacos and quesadillas.) Bakehouse bakery and coffee shop is slated to open across from us on May 16. And coming in 2014: Trader Joe’s, just one block away! If just thinking of all this packs on some pounds, we’re also getting a brand new YMCA.

Customer “Family Tree”

Who doesn’t love a good referral? It’s pure fun when you’ve helped someone design a room (or a whole house), and their admiring friends then come seeking you out. When the DC store first opened, I worked with a great young couple–a pair of Washington movers and shakers–to help them design a downtown condo. A few weeks after their delivery, some friends of theirs came in–also young, hip, and, politically connected–and we did several rooms in their home. After that, every couple of months, another one “generation” of the original customers came in, until we had reached six “generations.” And then, just yesterday, a seventh couple came by, referred by that very first couple way back when, and we are happily planning three rooms in their first house. Love it!

Furniture Librarians

My life as a Room & Board Design Associate began in February, 2010, with a 3-month training stint in our New York City store. In addition to getting to live in mid-town Manhattan and work in Soho (how thrilling is that??), I loved the look and vibe of the showroom, and the beauty and quality of the furniture. And everyone was just so–nice! At the same time, panicked at how much there was to learn: Upholstery, dining room, bedroom, outdoor, accessories, lighting, rugs–and custom almost everything! How to operate the computer system? Whom to turn to for what….? Seriously–learning curves? Not a fan! I much prefer being knowledgeable and in control. When I felt myself wilting (I will never know it all! There is just too much!) the seasoned Design Associates who trained me just smiled knowingly and said, “Don’t stress. You are not expected to know everything.”

If I had taken their reassurances to heart, I would have saved myself a lot of needless anxiety. Because it is true: You will learn all sorts of new things. Your head will swim. Customers require things you could never imagine, and your resourcefulness will be challenged to the nth degree. Yet, I sometimes think of us DAs as “furniture librarians.” Librarians–don’t you love them? They don’t know the location of every book in the library or all of the reference material, but they won’t stop until they’ve tracked it down for you. We do just that for our customers. We may not have every detail of every piece committed to memory, but we do have extensive resources at our fingertips: Our website; catalogue; our intranet site, “Worklife” contain an amazing wealth of information. And let us not forget our most valuable resource–each other! Can’t remember where a certain lamp is on the showroom floor? Chances are good that another Design Associate will have tagged that very lamp and can tell you. A customer wants to know if a cabinet can be customized a particular way? We can reach out to the Vendor Manager at Central, who quickly responds with the information. So don’t stress, I now smile knowingly. You are not expected to know everything. There’s always an answer: You are never alone.