"Herman Miller Dealer Stealer" - 03/11/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen


I own a major Steelcase dealer in the Southwest.  I am told by our sales manager that there is a flurry of calls and interest from salespeople who work for Herman Miller dealers, since the formation of MillerKnoll.  I thought it would be just the opposite because now these salespeople get two great lines to sell.  And here is an interesting observation, very little contact from Knoll dealer salespeople.  We just hired a heavy hitter from a Miller dealer. 


Oh, and news flash: I have a friend who owns a large Steelcase dealer in NYC, and I heard they just poached a major sales leader, who has been around the Herman Miller dealer universe for years, from a major Herman Miller dealer in NYC.  What’s this about?  The woman went from a Miller dealer to a Steelcase dealer. All of these people have non-competes, all have a Miller book of business but none of this stops these salespeople from being open to talking to a Steelcase dealer.  This tells me that if we are able put the right deal together, we can poach them! And without the help of someone like you, I might add. This is all goes back to a history of people being unhappy at these Miller dealers, and now this drastic change in the status quo makes them more open to a change. And we already know their names, just from being our competitors in the marketplace, so when we call them they are willing to listen.


My question is, what gives?  Have you heard of this elsewhere or were we just lucky?  Should Herman Miller dealers now be our recruiting focus for new people?  I have tried this with some Knoll dealer salespeople I have had my eye on, with zero luck.  And do not even talk to me about Haworth dealer salespeople - no one is paying a premium for them or even the Haworth company reps.  Am I on to something?  I remember reading about the 110 year old Herman Miller dealer in NYC that choose to drop Herman Miller and become a Haworth dealer.  Word on the street is that it is just emblematic of something going on not only in the NYC market but countrywide with this prestigious brand.  I am told this will not be the first person from a Miller dealer to go to a Steelcase dealer.  Non-compete or not. What do you think?



Herman Miller Dealer Stealer


Dear Stealer,


Yes you are on to what seems to be a trend that we have talked about in this space before.  The trickle down consequence of the Herman Miller acquisition of Knoll will have the biggest impact on the dealers.  And yes, I have heard about the big fish in NYC who has been swimming in the Herman Miller ocean for years and was “caught” by a Steelcase dealer. Kudos to the management of that dealership.


I am told by dealer owners that they see more vulnerability with the Miller dealers (now MillerKnoll dealers) than with the Knoll dealers (also now MillerKnoll dealers).  Yes, I get that Miller bought Knoll, but the dealer world is different. In general,  I think Knoll dealers know how to SELL, and when MillerKnoll management scrutinizes each dealer let’s see who survives and who gets axed.


What do I think?  I think you should be recruiting all the time. I think your points are all valid and I think Herman Miller is slowly reinventing itself but there is an arrogance in the culture at Herman Miller that the dealer principals and salespeople see and feel and that needs to change.  Nice is in, mean is out. (Just ask “ELLEN”). It’s great to have illustrious brands and even to buy sexier brands like Knoll and then create a new name and new logo, but culture is still the core of a company.  Andi Owens brings nice with her. I see it in her public decisions, and hey she bought Knoll with it’s own distinct culture, and now she has the challenge of combining the two famous companies into one. It’s OK to be the biggest like General Motors once was but like GM it’s time for a rebranding and a culture change or you will end up not so big.  It looks like even Facebook is need of a transformation.


We expect the dealers will experience major changes, merging or even being flipped to a different brand.  But when the dealer salespeople turn on your brand and are willing to give up years of Herman Miller loyalty and design appeal to go to a brand that may not have the same design cache, that should be telling Herman Miller management something. If those dealer salespeople on the front line can get specifications changed then MillerKnoll needs to making more changes then they think, or rather, but sure they keep the right people. Watch this space!