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Innovant's FORm

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by Rob Kirkbride of The Monday Morning Quarterback

In a world where a lot of companies do a lot, but none of it extraordinarily well, it can help to focus on doing one thing right. In a nutshell, that’s the story behind Innovant, an open plan desking company born out of the boom in New York City’s financial firms.

The company makes desking systems and that’s it. But what it lacks in SKUs, it makes up for in quality and corporate connections. Innovant recently won two major contracts: one with a financial services firm and another with a global pharmaceutical company – both highly recognizable names and jobs worth thousands of workstations.

Innovant’s FORm_office Adjustable Height bench was chosen as the workstation standard for the financial firm’s 2,300 worker Newport Beach, Calif. headquarters. The pharmaceutical company chose the product as its new national workstation standard last month. The pharmaceutical company has already ordered desks for 500 at its Tampa and Philadelphia locations and more sites are coming on each month.

They represent two major wins for Innovant, who beat out Steelcase on the desking deal at the pharmaceutical company. Both clients evaluated the products in a formal review process before making their selections. After weathering the financial downturn in 2008, Innovant has gained significant momentum in the height adjustable open plan benching marketplace, especially since launching FORm_office in 2012. “What sets this product apart is the level of consideration given to all of the consequences created by an adjustable height, open plan workstation,” said Bruce Wells, Director of Marketing & Development.

Both companies selected Innovant’s FORm_office Adjustable Height bench over products from the top five major furniture manufacturers. It is notable that Innovant is not competing through a lower price either. The company’s products are at – and sometimes above – its larger competitors. The FORm_office product line won Best in Show at NeoCon 2012. It addresses the significant health concern associated with employees sitting at a desk for hours a day.

According to Innovant, 50 percent of all incoming requests for proposals for new workplace standards incorporate height adjustability into workstation specifications. Height adjustable requests are coming in exponentially more in recent months, Wells said.

“We added adjustable height to benching (in 2012), which wasn’t something completely new to us since we have sold them to financial customers (for some time),” he said. “Height adjustability is becoming a near universal requirement in open plan environments. Very few products allow that option in open plan.”

Up until recently, designers have been reluctant to specify height adjustability in open plan environments because it can look messy if not executed correctly. Desks scattered at different heights can make an office look sloppy. But when aesthetics are kept in mind and the design of the product helps keep the look of the office neat, designers are happy to specify height adjustability. Few manufacturers have height adjustable desks as an option in open planning. The pace of acceptance seems to be accelerating, Wells said.

“We are being asked for height adjustability on almost everything,” he said. “Even in the last 60 days, we are getting more and more requests to participate in projects – and these are large projects – from $100,000 to $10 million. We are seeing adjustable height on at least half or more and that is helping us win those projects.”

Part of the company’s success comes from its focus on a few products. It has desking, storage, conference room tables and the ability to do custom work. But that’s it. It does not sell seats, lounge furniture or anything else for the office. Still, the products they do have are opening the door for large projects. For example, 2,300 workstation financial firm win came first from a request from the customer for Innovant to bid on the trading desk portion of the contract.

“We told them we would be happy to bid on the trading desks if they allowed us to bid on the open plan as well,“ Wells said. “We were able to win the entire building on the merits of our benching product.”

At first, Innovant was looking to supply the customer with static benching desks. The customer asked for height adjustability, which was added later. It is a huge project – a 24-story building that Innovant will fill with desks from top to bottom. Other office furniture makers will supply the seating and other products. Innovant is thrilled to have the desk portion.

“Innovant has a narrow range of products, but we have never been a cubicle manufacturer. We are specialists in the open plan. Historically, we were only a trading desk manufacturer, but with everyone going to open plan, we saw the opportunities there too,” Wells said.

Innovant is not winning projects because it is cheap. In fact, the company takes pride in the fact that its products are superbly engineered with a well thought through product line. The company focuses on the details as well such as safe and effective cabling, pinch points, privacy and other concerns that come when height adjustability is added.

The company has quietly emerged from the New York financial market and is beginning to gain traction in other sectors. “We are doing our best to get discovered,” Wells said. “We have been walking the alleys of New York City and Chicago for the last 20 years, but we have really emerged strongly out of the last recession. We are becoming a darling for big specifiers.”

Based in New York, Innovant has manufacturing in Long Island. It also has showroom offices in Chicago and San Francisco. The company was started in 1990 by industry veterans Charles Braham, Garrett Pluck and Joan Gullans and it fed off the growth of the financial sector, specializing in the relocation of banks, investment firms and hedge funds. The company continues to branch out from there.

This article was originally published in the October 7-13, 2013 edition of The Monday Morning Quarterback, "The Business of Furniture.”