Our Company History
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, and 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, since everyone's needs and styles are different. He began by inventing a tool-free, customizable product line, and then combined it with one of first web-based design tools in history. He called the model "Design on Demand", and while it may seem like a relatively familiar idea today, it was a lot harder to explain a decade ago...
DO Try This at Home: There is No Monopoly on Good Design
In other words, believing that no one designer or retailer has a monopoly on "good design", Culp created the Smart Furniture model so that customers themselves can 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.
Smart Furniture is located in Chattanooga, TN, and the Smart Furniture flagship product is still manufactured, warehoused, and shipped from the local area. But, why?
Among 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 wildly different elements into something entirely different, and arguably, something 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, takes a fairly traditional industry -- furniture -- and adds two elements not often associated with furniture. First, it leverages the power of technology to democratize design, particularly customized design. Then it adds 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 the first days in the garage.
Inventing the First Product: "Legos®" for Adults
In workshops from Silicon Valley to Chattanooga, the Smart Furniture flagship product line was designed to fit the web—and let customers design and get what they want, when they want it. The results include patented, tool-free designs that let customers create custom solutions 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 SmartDesigner
The next step was to leverage the model with technology—technology that would personalize the customer experience by empowering them to design, order, and receive everything from individual units to interior layouts-- online. The result was a revolutionary front-to-back-end solution incorporating state-of-the-art 3D design, ecommerce and fulfillment capabilities that can often deliver orders from concept to customer within a week.
Focusing on People: Technology and Customer Service Are Not Diametrically Opposed
Smart Furniture promises the best service in the industry by investing in its team, its technology, and its 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.
Respecting Design, and Designers: No Knock-Offs
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, Blu Dot, Cherner, Gus Modern, Stanley, and more.
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, and to meet those needs, Smart Furniture relentlessly pursues innovative ways to personalize its products, technology, and service to the unique needs of its 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 thousands of customers. From coast to coast, from woodshop to web, from one "Valley" to another, Smart Furniture demonstrates 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...