Smart Furniture: The Original Inspiration
The Smart Furniture model was originally imagined at Stanford Law School in the mid 1990s by Stephen Culp, a Naval Reserve Officer, attorney, athlete, and former Peace Corps Volunteer. The idea came during a visit to Yahoo!, a startup at the time, where growth was creating space-management headaches. Culp quickly realized that it wasn’t just Yahoo! but all kinds of people who needed to adapt spaces to unique and changing needs.
So, in a small workshop in a professor's garage, he set out to bring custom, personalized design to a whole new market—everyone.
Empowering Customers with Design on Demand®
In the Peace Corps, Culp had learned the value of helping people to help themselves. He applied the same principle to Smart Furniture. Instead of dictating what he thought was good design, Culp wanted to empower people to design their own shelves, since everyone's needs and styles are different. He began by inventing a tool-free, customizable product line, and combined it with one of the first web-based design tools in history. He called the model "Design on Demand." What seems like a relatively familiar idea today started right here at Smart Furniture a decade ago.
DO Try This at Home: There is No Monopoly on Good Design.
Believing that no single designer or retailer has a monopoly on "good design," Smart Furniture's early model was to give customers themselves the tools to design their own furniture and spaces—quickly and easily. Everyone – from homeowners to business owners – has a space they'd like to make more attractive, productive, or more organized ... if it were easy enough. And so our goal was – and is – to make it easier for everyone.
Smart Furniture is located in Chattanooga, TN, and the original Smart Furniture product, Smart Shelves, is still manufactured, warehoused, and shipped from the local area. Why?
Among possible locations to launch and grow a company like Smart Furniture, Chattanooga may seem an unusual choice. It is. Yet both Smart Furniture and Chattanooga combine very different elements into something that's constantly becoming better and better.
Chattanooga has a rich history in manufacturing, and yet has transformed itself into a renaissance city—where art and science, industry and environment, technology and tradition, public and private, old and new, are forged into a community like none other.
Smart Furniture, for its part, took a fairly traditional industry – furniture – and added two elements not often associated with furniture. First, we used the power of technology to democratize design (customized and, more recently, personalized design). Then we add something into the mix that has hardly ever entered the industrial vocabulary: customer service. These three elements (product, platform, and people) have been part of the Smart Furniture story from our first days in the garage.
Inventing the First Product: "Legos® for Adults.
In workshops from Silicon Valley to Chattanooga, our original Smart Shelves were designed to fit the web and let customers design and get what they wanted, when they wanted it. The result was a patented tool-free system that let customers create custom shelving of their own faster, more conveniently, and more cost-effectively than ever before. And while design aesthetics are a key element of Smart Furniture, the ability to have fun and be creative is just as important—like "Legos® for adults."
Building the Platform: The Smart Designer
The next step was to create technology ... technology that would personalize our customers' shopping experience and let them design custom shelving designs (everything from individual units to interior layouts) online. The result was a revolutionary process across our whole company. We incorporated state-of-the-art 3D design, ecommerce and fulfillment capabilities that can often deliver orders from concept to customer within a week.
Now that we've gone beyond solely selling Smart Shelves and offer products from such a wide variety of vendors, our platform needs have expanded as well. We've created SmartSpace to aid customers in planning their own rooms using our products. The SmartProfile Style Quiz uses each customer's preferences to personalize our entire site for him or her.
(We haven't started on our mind-reading app yet, but as soon as we know exactly which chair you're looking for we'll let you know.)
Focusing on People: Technology and Customer Service Are Not Diametrically Opposed
Smart Furniture promises the best service in the industry by investing in our team, our technology, and our vision. The combination of a team chosen for its integrity, creativity, intelligence, and world-class customer service ethic, and Smart Furniture's technology and Design On Demand model, has garnered recognition from the National Retail Federation, American Express, the NFIB, the American Electronics Association, Dell Computer, and the Better Business Bureau, winning the 2008 Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.
We can't talk about personalization without making reference to how great our customer service is. We're giving you a personalized shopping experience on our site because of our commitment to customer service.
Respecting Design, and Designers. No Knockoffs.
We still design our own patented line of furniture. We respect the design process, and we respect the designers behind it. So when choosing our partners, Smart Furniture is careful to choose brands with a similar outlook, such as Herman Miller, Knoll, Kartell, Steelcase, BluDot, MASHstudios, Cherner, Humanscale, Calligaris, and Gus Modern.
Moreover, since many of these companies design products with strong elements of personalization, Smart Furniture's Design on Demand platform helps those brands, and our customers, realize their unique visions.
Changing an Industry: Design on Demand Replaces Cookie-Cutter
We don’t expect customers to put up with cookie-cutter offerings, or lackluster customer service. Each one of our customers is unique, with unique needs. To meet those needs, we relentlessly pursue innovative ways to personalize our products, technology, and service to the unique needs of our customers.
From Silicon Valley to Chattanooga, from Woodshop to Web: A Culture of Innovation
What started as an idea in a professor’s garage in Silicon Valley has become a small-town company with a global reach. Smart Furniture continues to grow and improve through a revolutionary model, distinctively innovative corporate culture, and the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of customers. From coast to coast, from woodshop to web, from one "Valley" to another, Smart Furniture has demonstrated that industry-changing innovation can take root and thrive in a small renaissance town like Chattanooga, serving a world of unique customers.
Thank you for reading our story. There is more to come....