Architecture & Design, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Space is next frontier for izzy+

Furniture maker concentrates on creating a malleable shared work environment.

June 23, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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Using spaces for multiple purposes, such as cafeterias that double as meeting or collaborative workspaces, is one of the trends izzy+ is following. Courtesy izzy+

The izzy+ team set out to refresh the brand’s perception at NeoCon, and by all accounts, the team felt they accomplished the mission.

The refresh wasn’t about izzy+’s quality, but to keep the brand at the forefront of how people use furniture, said Jeff Vredevoogd, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“I don’t think people would challenge izzy+ as a source of great products,” said Vredevoogd, who joined the company in January after stints with Steelcase and Herman Miller. “What we needed to do was show how those products go together to provide solutions for our customers across the sectors we serve.

“It’s really less about the where, but the who and what they’re doing.”

Izzy+ was founded in 2001 and has tried to remain a thought and trend leader throughout its history. It’s a smaller and more nimble manufacturer than some of the region’s other furniture companies, said Katie Ostreko, izzy+’s director of product management. Ostreko said the company can respond to workplace trends in as little as six months. She joined the company in March, after more than six years with Steelcase.

“If we see something engaging or interesting, we have the ability of differentiation versus some larger brands if a trend’s real or viable,” Ostreko said. “For us, we have a robust process of product development, but it can move quickly. We want to always be involved in where customers are going.”

Vredevoogd said one of the most important aspects of staying with workplace trends is being able to think about izzy+’s existing product lines in new ways. Both new and existing product innovation has to be a piece of how izzy+ works its products moving forward.

“We have to focus on what we have today, how to demonstrate clearly how it can be applied wherever our customers are looking for applications,” Vredevoogd said. “The more we can apply our current product offerings, the more we can see things come together, and it feeds development of new products.”

Vredevoogd pointed specifically to a product normally used to create semi-private group spaces in large open environments being altered to provide small private areas for individuals.

Shared workspace was a trend featured by many companies at NeoCon. The shared space is a result of companies wanting more from employees and keeping them happy in an environment they desire, Ostreko said. Private office square footage no longer is a sign of superior hierarchy.

“In the past, square footage of an office was a status symbol,” she said. “That whole notion is going away. It’s the work they’re doing, the projects they’re working on. Now, people will say I give up my individual square footage to get cooler shared square footage that can benefit all of us.”

Along with giving up private office space, more employers are looking at the extra space dedicated to limited uses, Ostreko said. A cafeteria is limited to one or two hours per day of usage when filled with typical dining room furniture, but alter the furniture a bit, and the cafeteria can become a place where people work all day and impromptu meetings, like those at coffee shops, can happen among co-workers. Ostreko said rethinking a café space with existing seating options was a way to integrate new interesting colors and products in ways customers might not otherwise think to use them.

“Rethinking a cafeteria, it’s entirely a waste of real estate in that system,” she said. “But it doesn’t have to be. If people don’t have those spaces now, they’ll leave and take their work somewhere else.”

The work environment shift has been occurring throughout the past 10 years or more, especially as the study spaces in colleges have continued to evolve as well, Ostreko said. She also said izzy+ has looked at forward-thinking companies, such as Etsy, Google — and even higher education institutions such as Georgia Tech University — to find innovative ways to set up spaces.

“There’s an expectation that the students coming into the workforce have those types of spaces in the building, or they’ll go find them elsewhere. It’s certainly exacerbated the trend quicker. They’ll demand those spaces, or they’ll work somewhere else.”

Ostreko said it’s important even in an open work environment to provide workers with a variety of options, so they have a place to go when they need head-down work, privacy or collaborative work. Observing how people work and what they might need from a product can help drive izzy+’s product development for the next three years, she said.

Trends aren’t necessarily shaped by the industry, Vredevoogd said. They also look outside the furniture industry to how people work with products, furniture or otherwise.

One product altered slightly to help provide a new way of use was a booth, like one that might be seen in a restaurant, where the headboard has a white marker board integrated into it, rather than simply existing as a privacy wall.

“We have to have people thinking about products they’d seen before in a different way,” Vredevoogd said. “We did it several times. I heard it so many times.

“‘I never thought I could do that.’”

Those new thoughts showcased at the izzy+ NeoCon showroom through new uses of existing products helped reinvigorate the izzy+ team and dealers, Vredevoogd said.

The process to refresh izzy+ began a few months ago, with conversations at a brand meeting in Las Vegas. While in Las Vegas, Ostreko said a team of more than 70 went to Zappos to see how the internet commerce giant operates from a customer service standpoint.

“We saw gradual excitement throughout this process, culminating in Chicago,” Ostreko said. “The attitude of the team is every customer is a big customer. Zappos was a benchmark for the customer experience. Whether you buy 100 shoes or one pair, you get the same service.

“Whether you buy two chairs or 200, you’re getting the same experience from all facets of izzy+.”

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