Herman Miller Wants Audience Share

August 6, 2004
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HOLLAND — A new alliance with a Pennsylvania-based maker of auditorium and lecture hall furnishings represents Herman Miller Inc.’s latest push to use an existing design for a new market application.

Theatre Solutions Inc. is using Herman Miller’s popular Aeron and Equa 2 office chairs for a new line of fixed seating installed in corporate development centers and training rooms.

The goal of the alliance with Theatre Solutions is to bring the ergonomic benefits of the office chairs into another office venue that’s not always known for its comfortable seating. In forming the alliance, Herman Miller and Theatre Solutions hope that corporations are willing to pay a premium for high-end seating in their training centers, which, they feel, will make corporate training sessions and seminars more productive.

“In a nutshell, what we see ourselves doing is setting a whole new reference point in the area of fixed seating,” said Pete Phillips, a senior product manager for Herman Miller who oversees the alliance.

“Some places have nice seating and some places have seating where you go ‘I can’t believe they want me to sit in that.’ Your thought is not on what’s being talked about; it’s on how uncomfortable you are,” Phillips said. “In some ways, that really speaks to the true opportunity of what we’re doing. If you can make somebody more comfortable, in terms of learning and retention of what’s being presented, the productivity is greatly increased.”

Herman Miller and the Quakertown, Penn.-based Theatre Solutions, which counts Carnegie Hall among its signature installations, announced the formation of the alliance last month. The arrangement comes nearly a year after Herman Miller launched a similar venture with a Swedish company, Permobil Inc., to use the Aeron chair design for motorized wheelchairs.

“When you have intellectual property you think is valuable and meaningful, you look where you can leverage that,” Phillips said.

Like the C2S Aeron motorized wheelchair developed with Permobil, lecture hall and auditorium seating represents a small, niche market for Herman Miller in terms of direct sales of that product line. The potential broader benefit is the exposure Herman Miller could receive.

The alliance with Theatre Solutions primarily targets the new office construction market, although Herman Miller is seeing interest in the product from its existing client base, Phillips said. By becoming involved in a building’s design at an early pre-construction phase, Herman Miller could pick up business down the line when it comes time to furnish the office, he said.

“What it does is brings us into the conversation much earlier” with a building’s owner and architect, Phillips said. “It helps us down the road when they get to the offices and the conference rooms.”

In teaming with Herman Miller, Theatre Solutions hopes to attract customers that use Aeron and Equa 2 office chairs and want the same kind of high function and performance for their training centers and are willing to pay the price, said Mario Pimenta, who heads sales and marketing for Theatre Solutions.

“There’s not going to be anything in the market that is going to be able to compete with this product in terms of quality, comfort and aesthetics,” Pimenta said.

Potential sales are hard to predict, although Theatre Solutions is targeting a volume of 3,000 to 4,000 seats for the first year, Pimenta said.

Under the alliance, Theatre Solutions will handle project planning and the production and installation of the Aeron and Equa products. Both companies will promote and market the product line, with Herman Miller bringing to the alliance its network of office furniture dealers.

The alliance also follows Herman Miller’s strategy to better target the corporate training and education markets.    

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