Kimberly Bombery Smith, Senior Director Workplace Strategy at Knoll, Inc. joins us today on Real-World Branding! We chat Kimberly’s career journey, the Knoll brand and business, how Knoll has evolved, and the future of work – how Kimberly sees the world these days (i.e. COVID-19) and beyond. If you like our podcast, please subscribe!

 

 
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Bill Gullan:

Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I'm Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique brand consultancy. Thank you for joining us.

Bill:

Ever since the quarantine began, and obviously as it began to take shape and take time, there's been a lot of discussion both publicly and well... I think I'd be talking about it with clients all the time, and on Zoom calls, and on porches. And everyone's sort of wondering what the world's going to be like coming out the other side of this. First of all we all hope there is another side, and we hope it's soon.

Bill:

But one of the things that really keeps coming up is what's the future of work? Many of us have found a rhythm, though it may not be perfect, but a rhythm with remote working. Finch certainly has, our industry's conducive to that. But who better to ask that question to and pose that question to than Kimberly Bombery Smith, who's a senior director of workplace strategy at an incredible pioneering, just beautiful design company called Knoll. Knoll has, as Kimberly will relate, long been a leader, both in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of helping shape extraordinary workplaces. And that not only includes obviously furniture and layout, but it includes thinking about how people interact and relate to one another.

Bill:

And so, Kimberly and her team at Knoll have been thinking about this for decades, in Kimberly's case 19 years. But now obviously in this moment, they are pretty close to the pulse of... And again, she'll admit with great humility that Knoll's figuring out exactly what the future is going to be like as well, but they also are taking an active role in shaping it. So enjoy hearing from Kimberly Bombery Smith.

Bill:

So, we're here with Kimberly Bombery Smith, who's the senior director of workplace strategy at Knoll, which is a super fascinating company. And Kimberly, we're really happy you're with us.

Kimberly Bombery Smith:

Oh, I'm delighted to be here. Thanks for having me Bill.

Bill:

Ah, it's our pleasure. And let's start maybe where we normally do, with a little bit of a twirl through your career. And it's a fascinating one that has sort of led you to this leadership role at Knoll. Could you take us through kind of where you started academically, and the twists and turns that have led you to this point?

Kimberly:

Yeah, yeah. I'd be glad to. So I grew up in New Jersey, and went to high school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and which led me to stay local for university and college. So I went to Philadelphia Textile at the time, which was Philadelphia University, and now Jefferson. It's hard to keep track, but a great, great learning ground for design. And an amazing place to be in the city of brotherly love in Philadelphia, which I ended up spending a good portion of my career in. But while I was there for interior design, I actually did an internship near my parents' house in Princeton, New Jersey for Merrill Lynch in corporate real estate. And at the time as a young design student, I didn't realize that large corporations really had facilities teams.

Bill:

Yeah, sure.

Kimberly:

So that architects, designers, engineers actually were in-house at facilities... Which obviously now fast forward X number of years, I actually had the opportunity to really be exposed to different avenues of interior design, and really understanding brands and building environments that support company's brand, which is so much of the work that we do today from a research and workplace strategy perspective. So, that led me to working at a design firm, as I first left university thinking that was going to be my path, you know interior designers work for architectural firms or design firms.

Kimberly:

But quickly ended up going into corporate real estate at Merrill Lynch, because I was going to move to New York and go work for one of the big architectural firms. And it turned out that the opportunity for me at the time was to work as an assistant project manager, interior project manager, for Merrill. And I quickly rose up the corporate ladder there to become a project manager, and managing not only the design, but also the construction. So it was an amazing, as a young professional, it was an amazing opportunity to really have a lot of responsibility for a big financial company that was relocating their own branch offices.

Kimberly:

So, I learned so much about just business in general, and the financial side of the business from a corporate real estate design perspective. So that was really fascinating. We had a lease negotiator on our team. We had an engineer on our team, architect, and we all managed the process for whenever the company was going to find a new location. So that was really cool to really figure out the right spot for them to be with the help of the lease negotiator. So that was amazing.

Kimberly:

So then, I was there for some years and I ended up... I was a customer of Knoll before an employee. So as I was going to work for an architectural firm again in Central New Jersey, my Knoll rep came to me and said, oh, you know, I think that you should really shop for an even better design firm by being the architecture and design manager for Knoll in New Jersey. So that's how I came to work for Knoll. I'm into my 19th year actually at Knoll, so-

Bill:

Wow.

Kimberly:

I know it's crazy. If you would've asked me 19 years ago, I probably would've said, oh yeah, I'll be here a couple of years and figure it out, right. Or find, or shop for the right design firm. But Knoll is such an amazing company to be an employee of. They're very progressive. And if you work really hard, and you're innovative, and you're entrepreneurial, it's a really amazing company to be a part of. So I found a lot of latitude in my professional career by really keeping things so dynamic and interesting on the every day. I feel like every day it's so interesting to work with clients and people. So that's been a really amazing part of my journey as a professional in keeping connected to the vibe of what's changing. So that's what's really exciting about being on the research and strategy side of things.

Bill:

Well, definitely. What a ride. And just a couple sort of follow ups related to it, did you always know, or at what point do you remember, was there a moment when interior design became sort of a passion and the direction for you coming out of high school? Was it just something that you always loved or?

Kimberly:

Well, you know what's funny, I actually, I was inspired by a family member. One of my dad's first cousins is an interior designer for a big firm in Chicago. So she would come home for the holidays and she was really my inspiration to become an interior designer, because I really didn't know much about the profession. So it was really cool having someone, a mentor... As a young, I mean, a very young person, I used to always love the way she simply put things together and packaged things, and I'd ask her lots of questions about that sort of simplicity. But she's just amazing and continues to be. She comes to my house for Christmas now, which is so fun.

Bill:

That is fun. It puts a lot of stress on how you package everything up in the house though if she's-

Kimberly:

Oh, 100%.

Bill:

So, if we fast forward, you've been at Knoll about 19 years as noted. And I think you had a pivot within the last few years from, you were an A&D manager, which in the trade is architecture and design. You were interfacing with leading firms, supporting clients, et cetera. And now in this role of senior director of workplace strategy, could you talk about your portfolio and what you're doing day in and day out? And we definitely want to get to the uniqueness of that in this particular moment with so much that's happening around all of us, and then off.

Kimberly:

So transformative. Yeah. Well that, speaking about a dynamic workplace, right. We definitely been shifted in so many different ways that we never would have imagined were possible, right, pre COVID-19. So we, yes, so the transition was several years ago, probably going in my fifth year actually in this group. But I was the architecture and design manager in the city of Philadelphia, in the suburbs. And the job came up, was open in this department, and I knew the hiring manager Tracy really well. So I contacted him and basically said, this would be an amazing spot for me to grow from a professional development perspective.

Kimberly:

So, it's really been great. We've been able to figure out the pulse of the market. That's really important. And understand the dynamics and the way things are changing. And one thing that I thought is so, so incredible about the opportunity right now, if you think of it from a positive state mindset, the opportunities that we have, anytime there's change, there's going to be opportunity for Knoll in the workplace, regardless of where that work is happening.

Kimberly:

So now, post pandemic, we keep talking with customers about what is going on. And from an employee engagement perspective, wondering what the voice of the customer is, and what people's needs really are, have shifted and changed so dramatically in recent months, of course. So we have been pivoting and figuring out our own, figuring out a way of evolving with our customers in order to meet them where they are. So that's been a really important part of our daily discussions.

Kimberly:

So, prior to the pandemic, I was traveling a ton and spending time with customers live. We facilitate workshops and help people from an employee engagement perspective to really reimagine their workplaces in concert with design firms and partners, project managers and that sort of thing. But from a usage perspective, it's really interesting. A lot of my work in my, in the Northeast has really been helping people with their employees, understanding how to use space. I know that sounds so simplistic and easy, but we have an etiquette guide. It's an open office etiquette, and then an unassigned office etiquette guide. And the open office etiquette was our number one downloaded piece, because people wanted to know, how do we tell people how to use this space.

Kimberly:

But, really, it's about community, right. It's about coming together in a collective. So you come together as a team and what are the expected behaviors? What are the things that you are expected to do while you are there in the work environment? So we've been helping people to create etiquette guides through that process. And that's been a lot. Yeah. So you hear from people you'll say, okay, Bill, what, how do you work? It's a simple question, but it's important because people have an opinion and they want to share.

Kimberly:

And I always say to people it's important to really get a pulse, because think about the last concert you went to, right. You get a push notification of a survey, how did you enjoy it? Did you, was it easy to buy tickets, blah, blah, blah. So your opinion really matters more so now than ever when it's so easy to survey and poll people. So in this post pandemic, we were quickly changed into a virtual experience to really connect with everyone. So we've been, obviously like everyone has been saying Zoom fatigued, and been Zooming all day. But we've had to translate some of those tools that I mentioned into a virtual experience for customers to really keep people engaged in their home offices.

Kimberly:

So, we're also recently... I feel like every day changes to be honest. And in the last couple of weeks, we've also been thinking more so about learning from home. So not just a work from home, but lots of schools have decided virtual, right. So we've had to also think about that, and how do we create workspaces for young learners that would be in a home setting. So an eCommerce site that Knolls decided to pivot and do has been essential. And I always think, when you work for a progressive company, you have great thought leaders at the top. And there's a very wise group of people that decided that Knoll was going to acquire a company called Fully. And that has been an amazing opportunity for Knoll Inc., us as a company to really be in a space of eCommerce, and be in a space of delivering great furniture to people's homes.

Bill:

Yeah, no, it's perfect. And let's do a little bit of a pre and post March. Before March, the Knoll branded business, juggernaut, beautiful blend of classics, as well as kind of pioneering workplace innovations from a product perspective. You mentioned there were some key acquisitions, as well as the legacy of this company that goes back to mid-century, pioneers and name brand designers, and others. Could you talk about sort of coming into this period pre pandemic, the evolution of Knoll and sort of where the brand and the business was entering into maybe February of 2020? And then we'll kind of talk about how you see the future of work given all that's happened.

Kimberly:

Yeah, yeah. So, great question Bill. Knoll has been known as pioneers and innovators, which is an overused word right now, right. Innovation. That's all that people ever talk about, but you know we are this constellation of design driven brands, and we work together with our clients and our customers to help them create inspired modern interiors that really draw people in. So right now the modern interior is, are people's homes. So like I said before, we really have to meet them where they are. We've spent a good bit of time. We in, let's see, typically in June in our industry, there's a big industry event called NeoCon. And last year, Knoll decided to move out of the merchandise mart into an amazing space in Fulton market area in Chicago. So we rebranded an event for that time period when we know a lot of our customers and design partners are in the city of Chicago, to be Knoll design days.

Kimberly:

So, this year comes around, and obviously people aren't going to be traveling, right. The event went virtual. And so we decided to do a digital first ever event of two days. So we did programming of inviting inspirational designers to come and talk about what's next. So we did Knoll design days 2020. I mean, even so much as so, as recorded a cool, a really cool track of music during it, that you're able to go online and download from us. So it's really an amazing virtual experience that we had to reinvent ourselves and create. So that was amazing. And how you're now recording things, and sharing things, and podcasting like we're doing today, that that's all new audiences and opportunities for people to grow and share their word to get to people. How is it that you're, everybody's behind a laptop, and how do you really connect with communities that you don't know are out there, right.

Kimberly:

So, looking at things like social media, looking at things like how are people getting their news? What are people reading? Those sorts of things have been really super important. But the virtual Knoll design days was really an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves. And during that, our team, the research team was asked to do a projection and re-imagining the workplace posts pandemic. And so we did a thriving, holistic workplace. Our thoughts around how are we going to create a new level of togetherness? How are we going to bring people together in a “phygital” experience? Where we are going to have a combination of a physical and digital. And I was asked the other day by one of our executives at Knoll, what are you hearing from customers? What are they saying? Which everyone is asking, right. And my answer is that employees want everything. And the question is what does that mean?

Kimberly:

What it means is that employees want both, they want the flexibility to decide and be empowered enough to decide when they want to work from home, and they want the office. So, the office is not dead. It's not going away, but we're definitely seeing that people want the opportunity to come together, because you miss out on the culture of the organization. You miss the comradery, you miss people, you miss your ergonomic workplace with a great task chair and flat screen monitor arm, a good task light, something like that. So employees do want a place to go. They want the opportunity to go to the home base, where you have a branded environment that's going to be a space for your team to feel connected to an organization.

Kimberly:

So, some of the companies that have said, oh we're going to be all remote, they're going to miss the opportunity to really create that brand experience of having an environment that reflects the brand of who they are and connects people to their organization. Sitting here behind a screen you could, it's like universities, it's like anything you can use. Why would you pay a high tuition to go to some named university, if you weren't already part of the collective or the community? So the freshmen class in 2020 this year, the universities were really faced with a major problem. Companies are going to have that same translation if they decide that they're going to go all remote. There's going to have to be some sort of level of satellite offices, is the idea of... Yeah, like this idea of expanded geography. Are people going to start to look at a distributed workforce and an expanded geography where they might have satellite offices smaller in some locations.

Kimberly:

So that's to be determined, but I think a lot of companies are looking to dialogue around this. Because we don't know the answers, right. We haven't lived through a pandemic before. So we do know what we hear. We started gathering together just to sort of get a sense of the approaches that people were going to take when they were going to do a phased re-entry back into the workplace. So we assembled research round tables that would be peer to peer. So those facilities managers, like I talked about myself being at Merrill Lynch. So we gathered a bunch of those facilities managers in house and let them talk about what their ideas are. What is the landlord doing? What's the vertical transportation? What is the signage that we need to provide to really direct people in new ways to safely social distance? So that's been a really big, big part of our work in recent, since March, right.

Kimberly:

In fact, two weeks, not even two weeks, the second week, I should say. So it was after the first week, we got a call from one of our big financial customers in New York. And he's asking us if we could pull together some peers, and that's really the genesis, and we thought this is great. This is an opportunity for us to connect a community of people that are naturally not understanding what they should be doing yet. So that was really a big learning, and really a big opportunity for us to offer a platform for people to come together and talk through the pandemic.

Bill:

Yeah. Well, and what a... You're right. So much of this is unfolding, and obviously some of it depends on external factors, such as the public health response... But so much of it depends on to your point, hearts and minds of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, about what they're comfortable with, and what their office and workplace enables. And whether they're sort of industry and day to day is conducive to remote work, or where there's a really strong sort of call to get back. But, you mentioned how it seems at this point at least, that there's a strong value proposition, both for the home and for the office. Are there any other sort of nuggets of sort of how Knoll is seeing the world these days, given the pandemic and beyond understanding that there's a lot? You mentioned priorities around learn from home and work from home. Any other just sort of emerging principles that you might be confident of at this point, understanding that everything else is going to change?

Kimberly:

Well, the uncertainty, the word uncertainty and confidence are sort of in conflict, right.

Bill:

Yeah, that's true.

Kimberly:

But what we do know, because we went out and interviewed people as well for that Knoll design days I was telling you about and said, what is it that you miss about your workplace? And it was resoundingly, people miss people and their collaborative workplaces. So that connection with people is so important. Like we've learned through coworking, right, in the last decade plus, coworking model of bringing people together to network, giving them the opportunity of having space to go to that's professional space. That's not sitting at their counter in their kitchen, or standing at their counter in their kitchen. So, I think that there's going to be from a big picture perspective, there's going to be a big shift in real estate, right. So, whether that's retail real estate that's street level from restaurants to retail shops. If there are vacancies, what could we... What's a fresh perspective? What's a new idea for those kinds of spaces? Will people think about the satellite model or like a popup opportunity to go to a city and test a location for a while?

Kimberly:

And I do think that the major real estate companies are also going to be more flexible in their workplace, like lease terms will get shorter, right. So, giving people sort of that uncertainty is going to translate into a natural progression of business, meaning instead of a 10 year lease, someone might be more willing to commit to a two to three year, right. So that would be an important part from a big picture perspective. And then also understanding the need for culture and creating culture. So for example, we've been hearing a lot of new hires that it's next to impossible to onboard someone properly by not having them shadow and mentor, and really get connected to the company and the organization, and the brand, and the culture. So that's really been very, very difficult. So we do know that moving forward that the opportunity for people to come together.

Kimberly:

And we're sort of going back to what we used to call years and years ago, magnet space. People are going to have to have this draw to come in. If I can work from home, why are you, why would I go to the office? So, we've been helping people solve that question for themselves and their organization lately, by saying, what is it that people talk about missing out? What are they missing out on? And it's definitely the live conversations and feeling real, right. Like a conversation with someone where you can really read the room, understand what's going on, and body language, like we're missing that in this two-dimensional video conference world. But we really do need that understanding people and seeing responses of people nodding heads, or raising eyebrows, or squinting at you if they think they disagree. So I think that that is an important part that we're sort of missing, the visual cues of people, of live people.

Bill:

Yeah. No, there's no doubt about it.

Kimberly:

This week our CEO invited us to lunch, which was so lovely. And completely social distance outdoors, et cetera, et cetera, and a small group of people obviously coming together. But it was so nice to just sit down, because I haven't gone out to lunch with anyone since March, right. So it's been nice to really just do that simple thing. So, moving forward, I do know that even though we may be doing things, a fresh approach, a new way, that some of the things about the people side of things are still going to be super, super important. And if you can work for anyone because you're working out of your home office, what are going to be the decisions that people make from an attraction and retention perspective, right. How would Finch Brands say, oh come work for us if you're not really... Like your full picture is maybe a great workplace that's really encouraging and innovative, and a place where people come together and it's got this amazing energy that you feel you want to be a part of.

Kimberly:

Because we do think when we're finally safe enough to get back into the office... This week, it's funny every week Bill, this conversation changes, right. But what's funny about this week as we're starting to get to the point where schools are going back, right. In some level, when people are like, okay, I can deal with this, this X, the next quarter is going to look like this for me, from a childcare perspective, or school perspective with my family. You sort of say, okay, I can sort of digest this. But what we've been talking about is once that, the flood gate opens, if you will, and people do start to feel more comfortable to get back to the cities and the offices, et cetera, in greater numbers and greater percentages, we're going to start to see the FOMO, right. The fear of missing out. That people are going to say, well, I'm the only one not in the office, and I'm missing the side conversations. I'm missing the water cooler conversations, which are so important sometimes.

Kimberly:

And I think a bigger thing that I always point out to people, I'm like, a lot of times for me with being so busy, and getting so many emails, and connecting with so many clients, et cetera. That people become a visual cue for you. So if I see you and I go, oh Bill we never scheduled the podcast recording, we should probably do that, right. So when you see someone, you remember a task or something that you were going to do with them. Or, you just say something about an opinion you have, or an idea, and then someone has an expanded thought on that.

Kimberly:

So that's the way innovation happens, where people creatively come together and start to talk. And you're sort of inspired by a different way of thinking about something. So we're definitely missing that. Because the Zoom and video platforms are so much more intentional, right. So there's so much more, you have to say, okay, I need to connect with this global business division manager of XYZ account, right. So you know you have to connect with someone, you intentionally contact them and schedule time, where we're not having those chance interactions anymore without being in a work environment.

Bill:

That's true. I think it, just from our perspective, and again, we're a 25-person business, so we're not sort of large in a traditional sense, in terms of having, to really think deeply about space planning. But yeah, I mean the two things, missing colleagues, and we're probably plus six in terms of head count, in terms of, within the quarantine. But, boy it's got to be weird for them. It's been really hard for us, we're, or at least, I don't know hard. I hope it's gone well, but we've tried to create personal connections even though we're not there with new team members, as well as with all of us. We've tried to create moments, you've tried to... But you can't replicate completely what it feels like to be in a room with a colleague, or to grab lunch with a colleague or whatever.

Bill:

And then the other thing... And I would imagine, Knoll for so long being associated with these real trophy offices that are client-facing, that are beautiful, that are statements about what an organization values and means, I've missed that. I've missed sort of the value, and I mean we interact with clients all the time, but to be able to travel to focus groups, or host a brainstorm. Just the conversations that happen over the buffet lunch or whatever. That stuff is what creates sort of strength and relationships, and bonding, and makes those fibers stronger. And yeah, we're really, you really don't get that as much as your, as much as you try to sort of replicate it.

Kimberly:

Yeah. Well you know what's so funny. One of our big consultancies said that, I thought this was very important, and this was early on. She said, we're going to have to really connect people, give them a great reason to come back. Like the thoughts around, a really cool thing, like a five star hotel, right. That you are really drawn to amazing amenities, that there's no way that you would miss out, right. So, and to your point of the luncheons, or something like that where people come together over a meal, that's all being thought through differently right now with fear of a virus. And we haven't had to deal with a public health crisis like we've had to with this.

Kimberly:

But I think in every sort of moment of change there's opportunity. So if you can look to the positive and say, you know what, we were sort of going through the motions of that, it wasn't working great. So how can we, we have an opportunity to really, really rethink things and say, a better way of doing it for us in our organization is this. So we've really been having a lot of great conversations with our customers, regardless of size and scale about all of this, how important it is.

Kimberly:

And to your point of being a 25-person office compared to the multinationals that we work with sometimes, that have to think from a scale perspective, at a much higher number. It still is about people, regardless of who you are, what you do, et cetera, it's really, really, really about people. So, I think there's some industries that we see. I think there's going to be a bigger divide from a business sector perspective, meaning some companies that are just so busy, tech is super busy. Finance is super busy. All these places and spaces that are sort of seeing shifts as a result of the pandemic are definitely accelerated, right.

Kimberly:

But you know, people are still needing to have this idea of like ubiquitous technology, right. So, we need to have easy technology that people can connect regardless of where they're working. So that has really been accelerated by COVID. So that's one thing that we focus on in the research group as far as trends go. We try to help people understand things. Not that they're trends that you should be following, Knoll has a very different approach to research. We listen, share, and apply what we learn. But this idea of the demand for flexible work is unbelievably high lit. I talked about that from a big picture corporate real estate perspective. And we are going to see a little bit more long-term business uncertainty, no question about that. Because sort of the fallout after everyone's sort of back, if you will, and connecting people from a digital perspective, right. How do we sort of...

Kimberly:

One benefit, which I always think about is this idea of geographic barriers. We used to say, when I was traveling, I would say, oh, I'm sorry, I'll be in Boston. I'm not able to be in New York at the same time. So, what's interesting now is I'm in like five different cities in one single day via Zoom, right. Or any video platform, we use Zoom that's why I keep saying it. But you can, so from a opportunity perspective, I think we're going to look, thinking about the future, business travelers are going to look at travel and determine whether they think there's a necessity to it. So I think that's going to be a big part of a shift in things. I also... What was interesting about the pandemic and the timing is that, March 2020 hits, we have Gen Z, who is graduating from college in June and entering the workplace. So that's going to continue obviously, but it's been slowed, right, by the pandemic because of the business uncertainty, if people have decided not to hire at this time, right.

Kimberly:

I think another part of this pandemic, you can think of it from a negative perspective, but we always like to sort of seek opportunity, right. Is the increased awareness of social and environmental responsibilities. I mean, those have been escalated to an unbelievable... I mean, we're behind the eight ball in environmental change, right. So we know that we've got look at the planet and make some big shifts and big changes as a result of that. But I also think that creating this equitable environment for employees is really big too. A commitment to diversity and inclusion finally really, really, really happening. And it's unfortunate that a pandemic and these social unrest is happening at the same time, but in my opinion, it's like finally happening, right. And then, if we can be open minded enough to continue this lifelong journey of learning, then we've got to bring great things past this pandemic.

Bill:

Now, well we've certainly packed it all in to a roller coaster of a 2020 so far.

Kimberly:

Isn't that true? Yes.

Bill:

And then hopefully the landing is a soft one. And hopefully it's soon, at least on the pandemic side of things. And hopefully the commitment on the commercial side is longer lasting. So some of the newsworthy things that Knoll headlines in terms of what's happening, you mentioned the sort of pivot to eCommerce around work from home and learn from home, super interesting. Knoll's in the textile business, I'm not sure everybody knows that, and just what you're doing day in and day out in terms of providing thought leadership to clients about how to reopen, about how to think about the future of work as this may be less stark dividing line between office and home, or home and road, whatever the case may be. Anything else that's sort of a big priority at the top of the table for you and your colleagues that deserves a mention before we let you go back and get going with some of it?

Kimberly:

Yeah, exactly. I'm getting buzzed for my next already, which is distracting, right? Like how do you avoid distractions…Well, as an opportunity, you mentioned textiles, we definitely have our finger on the pulse of all of our constellation of design driven brands. We acquired a couple of years ago, a Scandinavian company based in Copenhagen called Muuto, which is a great affordable brand that we thought aligned really nicely with Knoll. And that's been really transformative for us from a mergers and acquisitions perspective, and really getting them in the fold of Knoll, and really maintaining their own continuity of their brand, right. So they still have their own site, et cetera, but it's really, really come together between the three brands really with Knoll, Fully, who I mentioned before the eCommerce, and Muuto, and creating an opportunity for those brands to come together, to create the modern interior, inspired modern interiors that people could have in their homes. So, and offices.

Kimberly:

Because like I said before, employees really want everything. They don't want just the opportunity to work from home, or solely working from home. They want a balance of having some of both. So that's going to be the future and the next. This idea of a thriving, holistic workplace of creating that equity and really empowering employees to allow themselves to make a decision about where in, where they work and when, right. So that's an important part of this. And then another thing I think is interesting, is just keeping your finger on the pulse of the next generation. So we talk a little bit about Generation Z, which ironically are called Zoomers. Which I think is such a cool thing, right.

Bill:

I know right.

Kimberly:

I mean, of all times. Yeah, it's perfect. Before it even happens, right. But anyway what's interesting about that is really understanding their behaviors, right. Where are they living? Where are they working? How are they buying? So really the consumeration of things is really become very, very different. Where it used to be Knoll, when we started out, as you mentioned mid-century in New York City, there were these amazing showrooms in great cities, right. And New York was one of them, and people would physically go to the showroom and buy furniture, because they were, they saw these inspiring spaces that Florence Knoll, one of our founders really created. And that became really the hallmark. Like her table desk became the hallmark of executives making it, if you will, right. Where they would have a Florence Knoll desk. And it was just an amazing sort of visual that they, that she designed that was an opportunity for the buildings as they were, the towers as they were getting erected in New York during that time period.

Kimberly:

So, she was so innovative. She did a cool thing. I'll tell this funny story. She looked out the window as she was looking from one of the high story buildings as they were getting, working on a project. And she said, why aren't we putting our name on the top of the trucks, because that's what people are doing in New York right now, they're looking out the windows. So that was like a simple thing that she put the name Knoll on the top of, we owned our delivery trucks at the time. So it just made sense, right.

Kimberly:

So, thinking of fresh ideas all the time is something that we do. And you mentioned textiles. We often reach out to industry partners to connect within the textile... Knoll textiles' department, we often connect with fashion designers to design textile lines for us. Because we think that there's definitely a connection between the two of those industries. And then, for example, many years ago, we had a really talented artist called Stephen Sprouse, who was a graffiti artist. And he designed this really cool collection of Knoll textiles some years ago where he tagged the textiles, which, it's just innovative thinking out of the box, doing something away from the norm, so that people can create inspiration for themselves and connect to their brands.

Bill:

Totally. And what a perfect way to leave this with, because A, you have another meeting, and B our free conference call thing might kick us off. But, Kimberly Bombery Smith, thank you so much. I mean, what a fascinating set of questions that you're grappling with day in and day out, and doing it under the auspices of a brand with sort of the power and strength and history, and just beauty of Knoll. It's got to be a thrill.

Kimberly:

And it really is fun. People ask me all the time how can you love your job so much? I said, it's really because I'm inspired by our conversations that we have with our customers and our clients that... And the design partners, it's just an unbelievable opportunity and responsibility to help people really ideate around the ideas of what is going to make sense for them. So every project that I've worked on in the 19 years that I've been here, plus I have always... I've never had the same project twice. I mean, of course there's consistencies during time periods, maybe the same height panels, et cetera, or like a range of things. But what's interesting about it is that our projects are as unique as our customers. So when you're creating something that feels connected to the brand and the culture of an organization, it just makes sense. So that's what really inspires me every day, is the opportunity for me to help people as a workplace strategist, connect the dots and make meaningful spaces that inspire people to do their best work.

Bill:

Excellent. We're so grateful for your time and insight, and can't wait to see what comes next.

Kimberly:

Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

Bill:

Absolutely.

Bill:

What a fascinating conversation. And thank you to Kimberly for sharing her perspectives. There's so many dimensions here, and obviously we've been working through this as many others have from a perspective of team members, and collaboration, and how to build relationships while maintaining safety. And there's just so many things to think about, and to be responsible as Knoll is for providing leadership in an uncertain time. It's quite a responsibility, and Kimberly and team I know were very deep in it, and can't wait to continue to connect with some of the content that they're developing, and the research that they're conducting as well as some of the answers. Whether it is simple, but meaningful stuff, like how to learn, and creating eCommerce opportunities to access some of their beautiful furniture. But also just thinking about what safe reentry looks like, and really what the future is going to be. So again, thank you to Kimberly for her time and insight. Definitely a company that's cool, and a person who's amazing and really interesting and worth a follow up.

 

Bill:

Speaking of following, three ways to help us here at Real-World Branding, if you are so inclined, give us a rating and a review in the podcast app of your choice, that helps us get found by others who might find value in what we're doing here. Click subscribe. We're pretty much back on our every other week cadence, and that's how we intend to remain. But if you click subscribe, you won't miss a single one of these episodes. You won't have to find them every single time. And we'd like to think that we're bringing a range of guests with a unique perspectives that are valuable for this moment, and in general. And so clicking subscribe, make sure you will not miss out.

Bill:

And then let's keep the dialogue going on Twitter at Bill Gullan at Finch Brands. We love feedback and ideas for future guests and topics. And so with those three ways, we'll make sure that Real-World Branding is as strong as ever, as we all move into the fall. I mean, a lot of uncertainty for those of us who have kids in school at any level, and hoping that everybody stay, obviously stay safe, but also stay sane and productive and happy within their family lives. So we'll sign off from the cradle of liberty.