"This MillerKnoll Thing Is Not Working Out for My Dealership: What Should I Do?"
The Business of Furniture - 08/10/22 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

I'm an owner of a MillerKnoll dealership. We started as a Herman Miller dealer and by now everyone knows the story. The merger was great news for the industry, it reinvigorated the brands and the subsidiaries, but it has been chaos at the dealer level. At the MillerKnoll Dealer Partner Advisory Council the gossip is always the same. We all complain to each other about the lack of attention, but we rarely bring it up at the meetings. I feel that dealers are left to their own devices to survive. MillerKnoll has left us to fend for ourselves and our choices are Merge, Sell, or Flip.

Unlike Steelcase, HNI, and Global who do not have “retail” components I feel like I am now associated with a manufacturer that is having an identity crisis in terms of whether they want to be a retail giant like RH or a contract furniture giant. I see the puff pieces in the paper about MillerKnoll executives, with little-to-no mention of the difficulties facing the contract dealers that helped build the Herman Miller and the Knoll brands.

At the dealer level we feel like a necessary evil, no longer a welcome business partner as we did before the merger. I get the impression that MillerKnoll knows they have too many contract dealers and they have no solution so they are leaving it to us to fend for ourselves. The situation is becoming worse with an unknown 2023 economy and the value of the dealerships going down. At my company, we have a strong core of clients loyal to our dealership and I know I can flip many of them to Haworth, Steelcase, HNI or even Kimball. Or I can sell or to a local competitor who will get a bargain basement price to buy my accounts and my people. Or I can sit tight and see what happens.  Any suggestions?

Would You Go Back to the Office for an Eames Chair?

Dear Worried and Conflicted,

I am told Herman Miller’s retail sales have increased by 60 percent from 2019 to 2021. There is a dip in demand for office furniture while the home sector grows and MillerKnoll is ahead of the curve.  Smart businesses evolve and MillerKnoll leadership recognizes this and that is what they are doing to increase shareholder value. I think they are on the right track.

In the future I see two kinds of contract furniture dealers out there, the mega dealer and the mini-boutique dealer and each has a place in the market. So, for you that means either merge with another MillerKnoll dealer to create a “mega” or narrow down your focus to cover limited markets, for instance, maybe you would only cater to the design community or add a retail or e-commerce component to your business. And as far as flipping, I think that train has left the station! Does that answer your question? 

Anyway, stop complaining. Too many successful, high paid dealer principals do too much of that.  And then you wonder why manufacturers are always trying to find a way to do without you.

Stop blaming this great merger for all your woes and start planning your future by tweaking your own company. You’re selling the best of the best if you are selling Haworth, Steelcase, MillerKnoll or HNI and have nothing to complain about. Make this “MillerKnoll thing” as you call it, work for you. The merger was great news for dealer owners that are nimble and smart. “Life is Good” so stop complaining – you’re giving dealers a bad name.

And guess what?  I would rather go back to work and sit in an Eames chair any day of the week!