A lot is changing in the furniture consultancy field and Scott Lesizza is a trusted advisor helping firms make smart furniture decisions and revolutionizing the contract furniture industry. Scott’s decades of industry experience, combined with his passion for design and commercial furniture, make him the perfect figure to lead the contract furniture renaissance. He emphasizes the importance of a brand agnostic approach to allows clients to identify cost-effective options while keeping the desired design and brand aesthetics intact. We had a chance to interview Scott and asked about his story, how he founded his business and the future of Furniture Advocates.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
I have spent a large part of my career as a partner at a large office furniture dealership servicing New York and the Tri-State region. There are five major furniture manufacturers in the U.S. (with 1.5 billion annual sales each), and each only sells through a select dealer network. My previous firm, Workwell Partners, was an aligned dealer for Haworth, a 2 billion dollar family-owned furniture manufacturer based in Holland, Michigan. Our clients were some of the most prestigious companies in the world including, the NBA, ING Bank, Health First, and Michael Kors.
Around three years ago, I noticed a rapid change in the way my clients were purchasing new office furniture. This shift was caused by two major factors. The first was the move towards “open” office space, with elements like sit-stand desks and lounge furniture taking the place of cubicles and private offices. The second was a change in the way the average user buys products. We had clients coming to us asking to procure products that they saw at Restoration Hardware or at West Elm because they were trying to replicate home in the office. They wanted to achieve this aesthetic at a low cost with a short lead time, and didn’t care which dealer had access to which line of furniture. The contract furniture industry traditionally has 6-8 week manufacturing times with very little stock product. This created an opportunity. I found that clients expected a furniture “advisor” rather than a dealer that could simplify the entire furniture process. They were looking for someone to give unbiased advice; whereas their design firm and dealer were suggesting products that were often out of budget and took too long to deliver. There was a clear opportunity for us to help clients with this dilemma.
How did you come up with your business name?
My current partner Joan Simari and I both have reputations as vociferous client advocates, and wanted our company to have a name that very directly told clients what we did: we advocate for our clients when it comes to their office furniture, assisting throughout the entire process.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
In contrast to furniture dealers, we do not sell furniture at all. Clients hire us at a flat, pre-negotiated fee to set the furniture project roadmap for them. Our fee is justified through a more efficiently run project and significant product and labor savings. The roadmap includes interviewing stakeholders in order to understand the client’s business, culture, and future goals. We then use this information to create a custom roadmap for the client that includes: scheduling, coordinating showroom visits, developing a furniture design package, bidding, and assisting with vendor selection, providing oversight of all vendors. We let the client’s design firm focus on building a beautiful space, while we aggressively manage the furniture options. Designers create stunning spaces, but the skill set for leveling and negotiating a furniture bid is different. Aesthetic preferences are paramount for designers, and that doesn’t necessarily make for a well-informed furniture purchase. We ensure that all products chosen are as “future-proof” as possible so that they will not only look beautiful but also outlast any design trend.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
Furniture Advocates is one of the only 100% brand agnostic office furniture consultants in the New York Tri-State area. Our philosophy is that due to their increasingly complex nature, large furniture projects demand a dedicated project manager whose primary area of expertise is in contract furniture. We ensure that the client is being advised on their furniture purchases based upon five equally important criteria: aesthetic, function, price, lead time, and lastly, ability. We then set a roadmap for an efficiently managed project.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
I see the importance of our role continuing to increase. Smaller furniture dealers are being gobbled up by the big guys. Fewer dealers means less leverage and lowered competition for the client. I also foresee more furniture manufacturers cutting out the dealer altogether, further necessitating a furniture expert in an advisory role for clients. In three years, any furniture purchase over $2.5 million will necessitate a furniture consultant. Furniture Advocates will be the industry benchmark.
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
Find a mentor upfront. I never had one, and although I’ve learned a tremendous amount from mistakes over the years, it could have saved me a lot of headaches if I had someone to look to for advice. Also, build a network EARLY. If I had focused on building up my business network back in college, it would have made things WAY easier.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
Jimmy Valvano’s quote crosses over to life and business (as so many great quotes do): “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.”
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
The relationships that I have built-and kept-over the years are what I value as my biggest business achievement. And building and maintaining those relationships is an ongoing process that I look forward to each and every day.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
Read incessantly. We are so privileged to have access to so much free information. Soak it all up. Be proud of what you do. Life’s too short to be stuck doing something you don’t enjoy.