NeoCon: Nurture Takes Lead

June 18, 2007
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CHICAGO — Celebrating its one-year anniversary at NeoCon last week was Nurture By Steelcase, the stand-alone brand created to drive penetration in the health care market for the world’s largest office furniture maker.

“We’re surprised it took off as fast as it did,” said Nurture President Michael Love. “We thought it would take a little bit longer for people to get to know us.”

Locally, Nurture is providing lab furniture for the second-phase expansion of the Van Andel Research Institute and several higher education clients. The company is actively working with Spectrum Health to not only provide furniture for its expansions, but to develop new standards of care.

Prior to its launch last year, the Nurture team conducted observational research at health care facilities across the nation, including Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Ascension Health and others. The experience provided Nurture a model of evidence-based design to make health care environments more efficient, attractive and environmentally sound.

Sometimes, Nurture even attacks traditional Steelcase product as the “before” environment. This was the case in Nurture’s most recent medical office makeover in partnership with CNN’s AccentHealth Waiting Room television network. The target was a 130,000-square-foot installation in Atlanta, but Nurture’s solutions are just as applicable to smaller environments.

In a recent deployment that is now being used as a case study, Nurture redesigned the examining room of Dr. Neil Calman at the Institute for Urban Family Health in New York City. The result was a small but comfortable 90-square-foot space that allowed for patient-doctor collaboration. A mock-up of the installation is on display in Nurture’s Merchandise Mart showroom.

Products from Nurture and Steelcase brands Details and Turnstone were used. Its ability to find new applications for products from other Steelcase companies has been central to the company’s success. Polyvision’s display systems are keenly suited for health care applications, including pediatrics, where its silkscreen board can be used to create child-friendly settings such as an ocean or space scene. Steelcase’s Duo line provides storage applications specifically designed for a shared workstation, such as a nurses’ station.

This year, the Grand Rapids-based Details brand made a large contribution to the Nurture portfolio. The ShareLink 8, a wall-mounted, freely adjustable ergonomic computing station, and a less adjustable wall-mounted computer kiosk, InfoLink 5, were both designed in collaboration between Nurture and Details, who will market the products to general retail and institutional clients.

The acquisition of Canadian health care manufacturer Softcare late last year also expanded the Nurture catalog. Other new offerings include: Viridian, a sustainable casegoods line born from Softcare; the Opus overbed table, a Gold award winner in the Best of NeoCon competition; the Orchid recliner; and the Verge stool.

Nurture also partnered with a local firm to develop a patient-room lighting solution, and with national health care technology firm Cerner Corp. to develop an RFID-based hospital charting system that will be piloted at Spectrum Health.

“It seems like they’ve caught their competition flat-footed,” said Brian Bascom, principal of Velocity Partners, a Holland-based market research group focused on the furniture, health care and technology sectors.

Nurture is not the only company working in the health care sector, Bascom noted, even outside of administrative and waiting room settings. Herman Miller for Healthcare, for instance, has sold laboratory solutions and nurses’ station furniture for decades. The Action Office was originally conceived as a health care product.

“Good competition helps everybody, and it’s natural that Herman Miller and others will challenge Nurture in this field,” said Michael Dunlap, principal of furniture consulting group Michael A. Dunlap & Associates LLC. “But I don’t think it has any real strong competition right now.”

While not necessarily in response to the Steelcase venture, competitors have begun to collect pieces that could be tied together into a Nurture-like package. Herman Miller, for instance, now has partnerships with health care furniture maker Brandrud, with technology solutions firm Bretford Inc., and with clean room and procedure table maker Eagle Group. An aggressive campaign surrounding Herman Miller for Healthcare, led by new health care group president Elizabeth Nickels, is rumored for later this year.

Izzydesign has an alliance with Nemschoff, the country’s leading manufacturer of health care furniture.

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