Herman Miller takes a bite from Apple’s playbook


This fall, Herman Miller Inc. of Zeeland will complete its move into its new New York City flagship location at 251 Park Avenue South in Gramercy by opening its first permanent North American retail store aimed at individual consumers.

The ground-floor retail store marks another move by the company to increase consumer-direct sales opportunities, a shift that began with Herman Miller’s purchase of modern furniture retailer Design Within Reach in 2014. Design Within Reach has 33 retail studios.

Brian Walker, Herman Miller CEO, said the approach is similar to what Apple Inc. did.

“We believe more and more companies are driving a lot of their choices based on what their people want,” he said.

As a result, Herman Miller is focusing on fan appeal to drive more companies to buy.

“We believe reaching out to individuals is the way Apple got into corporations,” he said. “We felt that would make us much stronger if we could speak to individual users and users became fans of our products and ideas. It would pull us into companies as well.”

He said DWR already operates that way.

“DWR is a crossover,” he said. “We sell DWR to businesses through our dealers, to the design trade, and we sell to walk-in consumers directly. We see it as complementary.”

He said the NYC retail store will give Herman Miller fans one more way to access the furnishings they want.

Walker said the company tested the retail model before committing to a North American location.

“We first experimented with the idea in Tokyo, where we did the first Herman Miller retail store, with a ‘genius bar’ for contract (sales) above it.”

Walker called Herman Miller’s flagship store strategy the “stack model,” aiming to bring the vibrant retail customer experience to the contract world.

“We have all the family in one building,” he said. “We will probably, in the end, see ourselves with four or five stack models if we can make it work in the right cities. That combination is a powerful way for the brand to be connected with people who want to know us and to let us serve them in the way they want to be served.”

The flagship features textiles and coverings from Maharam, furnishings from Geiger International Inc., modern design from Design Within Reach and a full range of furnishings and tools from Herman Miller.

Walker said the new model goes hand in hand with Herman Miller’s goal of designing products that people don’t just want to own, but want to use.

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