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Dealers: Visit Your "Open Line" Manufacturers During NeoCon!

Dear Stephen,

I run a major Steelcase dealership in the Midwest with an extensive network of offices throughout the country. We are excited about NeoCon 2024, and yes, the Steelcase showroom is still located on the 3rd floor of the Mart! (In case your readers are wondering, they are moving out next year).

As Steelcase is our primary line, we have many client meetings there, walkthroughs, and special dealer time dedicated to learning about new Steelcase products. Additionally, spending time at our main line showroom allows us to meet and greet all the big shots from Grand Rapids, where there has been a lot of recent changes at the top.

Here’s what I want to share with you, and I think it’s a great tip for your readers: I require our salespeople to visit the “open lines” that we sell because it is critical for them to see the latest designs from our open line companies. It is also important to visit and show respect to those sales reps, many of whom are independent rep groups, because these open lines represent the bread and butter of profitability for our dealership. Our customers often ask us for options. When a design firm may specify Steelcase or one of their brands, but we can’t get the discount we’re looking for, the "open line" is usually very accommodating.

Right after we check in at Steelcase on the 3rd floor of the Mart this year, we’re going straight to Global on Floor 10 – we’re looking forward to seeing their latest in healthcare and office furniture, especially their new Collaborative Spaces that customers are really enthusiastic about. After Global, we're going to 9to5 Seating, which is reliable, well-priced, and in high demand with my customers. And don’t you just love the name! Flokk, the parent company, just acquired Stylex, which is down on Floor 3, and I can’t wait to see their new designs as well.

Stephen, dealers need these additional open line manufacturers to maximize our profits, satisfy our customers, and avoid losing sales because the major manufacturer we’re still very loyal to may not be within the price range that the end user wants.

Normally, it’s difficult to see all these options in one place, but the Mart is particularly efficient for viewing open lines, and Fulton Market is catching up. So, my question to you is, what do you think of my game plan? I really do think my time in Chicago is best spent visiting our main manufacturers, but also spending at least half of my time visiting the open line showrooms. Often, I even find new open lines that I didn’t know existed until seeing them at NeoCon. What do you think?


Open Lines Here We Come!


Dear Open,

I could not agree with you more! I started my own career working for a MillerKnoll dealer many years ago before I worked for Haworth. As a dealer sales rep, the open lines were the products I was most able to sell, especially to my smaller customers, and I made the highest gross profit margin on those manufacturers. I found the reps easy to work with, even the independent reps, because they genuinely want your business, unlike the major line that my dealer was representing, which often took our business for granted.

I like your list of must-see companies, and I’m going to add some of my own. One of my first stops at NeoCon is always the Davis showroom on the third floor. It’s not just that every product is a gem; the showroom just feels good when you walk into it. It has great energy. The same thing happens to me when I visit the Halcon showroom on the tenth floor, where I feel like I’m walking into a luxury boutique surrounded by beautiful products. I also spend a lot of time on the tenth floor in the Global showroom, just like you. Global is another showroom that just feels good to me and is always super friendly. 9to5 Seating and Stylex are must-sees. But I love to scour every showroom on the tenth floor, eleventh floor, the third, and don’t forget about the seventh! The seventh floor is the definition of eclectic and almost a separate trade show in and of itself. One of my favorites that you should all see is HMTX Industries; they have a spectrum of floor covering brands that you’ll be impressed with. And speaking of floor covering, be sure to see Mohawk, Milliken, Interface, and then there are all the textile showrooms – I love to see them all. I’m going to stop by Vitra, where there is a new president. But I never leave the Merchandise Mart without going way upstairs to visit Holly Hunt and all the residential brands. Outdoor furniture is hot, and that’s where you’ll see it. Janus et Cie is there on the 14th floor, and you’ll want to buy that outdoor furniture right on the spot! Be sure to check out lots of residential decorative fabric companies on the sixth floor of the Mart as well.

This being said, don’t forget about DesignDays and Fulton Market. Some of my favorites there are Teknion, Humanscale (which is a real wow this year, and I hear they have a great party on Sunday night!), I love the Allsteel/HNI showroom, also a wow, and then of course MillerKnoll is a must on everyone’s list, even if you sell a competitive product. (Last year MillerKnoll had the best swag with those great t-shirts!) and I got to meet Andi Owen.

However, let me say that every dealer’s secret weapon today should be OFS and all the brands that they own. They have options that are priced right, that users love, and that cross the gamut from hospitality and office furniture with brands that continue to impress me.

Lastly, here is my best advice, especially for you, the writer, as a Steelcase dealer: please encourage your team to stop into the Haworth showroom on the third floor of the Mart. Next year, Haworth will be the only major manufacturer, as of now, to have their flagship showroom in the iconic Merchandise Mart. Why visit Haworth if you’re a MillerKnoll or Steelcase dealer? Because someday, with all the chaos in the industry today, you may want to flip to become a Haworth dealer, and once you visit that showroom, you will see why. Not to mention all the luxury brands that Haworth has now acquired and sells; you will have a new opinion of the name Haworth. Poltrona Frau is just the tip of the iceberg there.

And guess what – if you didn’t make it to Salone this year, visiting the Haworth showroom and all its brands will make you feel like you’re in Milan, while in the middle of Chicago! Happy NeoCon.