Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Purchasing FF&E, particularly furniture, can be a complicated task, especially for high end custom products. But it doesn’t have to be. We spoke with two purchasing pros -- who also have extensive design backgrounds -- and talked them into sharing their best practices for buying furniture.
Our experts said, in the end, it comes down to purchasers following these simple rules. Focus on quality, reputation, lead time, cost and warranty. Ensuring you’re able to achieve those above tenants, means following these critical tips:
Get a Detailed Spec
“The most common barrier between my world, as someone who purchases products, and manufacturers, is where there are not enough design details,” says Nicole Wood, Director of Business Development and Projects at Summa International. “More details are the best way to make the work better, while also enabling better workflow.”
“The more information and dimensions one can provide, the better the interpretation and final production,” says Joanne (JoJo) McGillvray, Vice President at Genterro, a strategic global procurement company.
Never Stop Learning
"Purchasers must constantly stay up to date on the latest material innovations and design trends to be sure they’re sourcing the right products, at the right time, for the hotel owner/ operator customers, says McGillvray. “It’s essential to understand how something is fabricated, what materials are used in that item, and how the piece will be used in the space.”
Wood also suggests taking part in factory tours to immerse yourself in the process, and stresses the importance of becoming an expert in freight delivery and logistics. Those two items can have serious impact on overall product price, as well as delivery schedule.
Our experts also read industry and consumer publications voraciously to keep up on trends, and to spark new ideas. Magazines such as Hospitality Design, Boutique Design, Travel + Leisure, Hotel Management, and Sunset all help them in their careers. In order to source the right products at the right price- you need to be educated on how those products are made."
Download our Samuelson Furniture whitepaper, Design Fundamentals, to learn more about Architectural woodwork and material selections for custom hospitality furniture.
Own Your Mistakes
Wood says own up to mistakes, we all make them; and there’s no shame in it. “I am first to admit when I make a mistake. I will never stop learning or growing. Of course, I don’t welcome making mistakes, but they happen. I understand this is the opportunity to learn and grow,” she says, noting, that with every project something will happen. While mistakes are frustrating and some people do not handle the fallout well, it’s an issue of solving the problem in an honest, effective and timely manner. “No excuses! I’ll always work with people who have made mistakes on other projects if they handled the situation and took ownership of it."
Never Stop Communicating
“Communication is essential,” says Wood. “We all get very comfortable with spreadsheets and budgets and online docs. Communicating via phone and in person helps everything run smoother. It also happens to make working more enjoyable."
McGillvray agrees, adding, often the design and specifications are released too late in the process, allowing only minimal changes or product reviews to occur. “Communication is crucial to assisting the project team moving along. We must all be very focused on sticking to schedules,” she says.
Time: Your Frenemy
Every job is different, requiring different time frames for completion. But one thing is certain, our experts agree, the more of it you have, the better.
McGillvray says at her company, Genterro, they like to be included very early in the design process. It helps alleviate avoidable delays such as last minute design changes and owner delayed specs. “Often, the project completion date does not change, so we need to keep the process flowing. If changes or specifications are issued too late in the process, it inevitably results in shipping delays and crunched approval/review. At Genterro, we advise the Designer/Owner/GC of critical path decisions to be made in an effort to keep the project on track.” While being involved with the design process early on is ideal, understanding specifications, and involving manufacturing for advice can save valuable time for everyone involved in the project.
In addition, McGilvray states the design process alone can take “four to five months from vision to issuance of specifications & documents” while a purchaser will look for 16 – 20 weeks’ time for product delivery.
That can turn time against you, warns Wood. “With brand standard products, I think a one-year rollout is safe, while something more custom and boutique and thoughtful, could be 18 months or more from the start of the design process,” she says.
Be Conscious of Budget
Purchasers must bridge the gap between the design side and the manufacturing side. Sometimes designers will design in a way that may not meet project budget specifications once fabrication costs are tallied. That leads to wasted time, value engineering, and seeking new concept approvals. “If it’s within budget, my life is easier.” Those are words we can all live by.