Episode 5 of Amplify is live! Listen in below or read the transcript to hear Brad and Kiannah interview SAFFE Furniture to better understand what it is like to be a customer of BUILT Systems.
Brad Schaefer: [00:00:02] Welcome to Amplify, a podcast created to inspire our listeners to write about today’s modern workspaces. I’m your host, Brad Schaefer,
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:00:08] And I’m your host, Kiannah Vandenberg. Today we will be interviewing and talking with one of our customers, SAFFE Furniture. We are honored to have two guests here today, Brandon Gerard and Jen Dobberstein. How are you guys doing today?
Brandon Gerard: [00:00:21] Wonderful. Thank you for having us.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:00:23] Yeah, thanks for having us, guys.
Brad Schaefer: [00:00:24] I’m assuming this is your first podcast interview.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:00:28] Yes.
Brandon Gerard: [00:00:29] Sort of.
Brad Schaefer: [00:00:30] Sort of. OK.
Brandon Gerard: [00:00:31] I’ve been on the radio.
Brad Schaefer: [00:00:32] Oh, cool. As I said earlier, just kind of relax. We are going to have a little bit of fun. I do want to ask if you’re nervous.
Brandon Gerard: [00:00:39] Extremely.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:00:40] Yes,
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:00:42] Well, to kick things off we are going to start today’s podcast off with another question. So this question is a little interesting. What is the temperature when it’s twice as cold as zero degrees?
Jen Dobberstein: [00:00:53] Oh, no.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:00:57] Brad, feel free to answer as well.
Brad Schaefer: [00:01:00] You know, I came at this from a mathematical side of things, and zero is zero. All right. You can’t divide zero by anything to make it smaller. But then again, the negative numbers come into play. But then if you look at the temperature scale.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:01:16] Yeah see, I was thinking, if it’s zero Fahrenheit, that’s like maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. I don’t know science very well. Don’t quote me on this, but zero Fahrenheit is 32 degrees Celsius.
Brad Schaefer: [00:01:25] No other way around.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:01:27] So if you’re looking at 32 degrees or if it’s zero degrees Celsius, then that means it’s thirty-two Fahrenheit. So then it’d be 16 degrees.
Brad Schaefer: [00:01:36] Ok, that’s one way to think about it.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:01:39] That’s my thoughts.
Brandon Gerard: [00:01:40] I am not going to even answer. This is out of my league.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:01:45] I agree with you there.
Brandon Gerard: [00:01:46] Cold is cold.
Brad Schaefer: [00:01:48] It’s getting colder here in Michigan too, which is unfortunate.
Brad Schaefer: [00:01:51] In today’s episode, we want to talk a little bit about what it means to be a customer of built systems and how the partnership that we have created and developed works, and what you like about it.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:02:02] But we don’t want this to be a work-only podcast. So let’s get to know you guys a little bit first and then we’ll dig into the work stuff. Could you guys both introduce yourselves.
Brandon Gerard: [00:02:10] Yes, I’m Brandon Gerard. I’m the CEO of SAFFE Furniture, also the founder, and we’ve been in business for a year now and serving the educational market with unique furniture offerings.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:02:23] Well said, Brandon. And I am Jen Dobberstein. I’m the chief strategy officer at SAFFE Furniture, and I handle everything having to do with a strategy.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:02:33] That’s awesome. So what kind of things do you guys like to do in your free time?
Jen Dobberstein: [00:02:36] I have two young boys. I have a seven-month-old and a two and a half-year-old. So they take up a lot of my time. And I also like to run. I just ran a half marathon last weekend. Oh, I run with run Muskegon on Wednesdays every week. So it’s fun.
Brandon Gerard: [00:02:52] Yeah, I have a lot of different interests. Typically I usually like to go hiking out in the mountains. That is one of my favorite things to do. Also game. I’m a little bit of a gamer and tech geek, so I sit around and play on computers a lot in the evening and try to help my kids understand technology from a different level.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:03:15] That’s awesome.
Brad Schaefer: [00:03:17] So you explained a little bit about what SAFFE Furniture is and did you have a reason why you started, why you wanted to create this company that specializes in what you guys do?
Brandon Gerard: [00:03:27] Well, first and foremost, SAFFE Furniture stands for simple, affordable, fast, furniture, and equipment. And when we started this organization that was our primary focus was to offer simple, affordable, fast furniture. We feel the need in the market is being creative, being innovative, and being different. But also you have to make sure you’re meeting your customer’s expectations on lead times.
Brandon Gerard: [00:03:53] So getting furniture when it arrives for the third time’s not on time that you know, as a manufacturer, we would rather just have more time to get the product out there. There’s always some type of operational lag or supply chain issue. And we believe heavily in trying to get the furniture or the customer request to them when they need it to meet their times.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:04:18] And our tagline is we deliver. And that not only applies to delivering on a timeline but also delivering on all of the expectations of the partnership. And we take that very seriously.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:04:30] Awesome. Thanks for that, you guys.
Brad Schaefer: [00:04:35] So let’s talk a little bit about the history of the partnership that we have in the one first question that comes across as how did you stumble upon built systems?
Brandon Gerard: [00:04:43] I’m trying to actually remember how I came across built systems. It was by accident, partially looking for STEM equipment and finding a unique offering of somebody that could build what I would consider robust industrial furniture and luckily built already was doing that. So the products that you’re offering inside, you know, manufacturing lent well to what we want to do inside education and bring what’s being used in a manufacturing facility into the education world.
Brad Schaefer: [00:05:21] Cool. Um, well, so what intrigued you and what drove you to go, hey, I want to really work with that group. Was that one inspiration? Are the couple of things I wanted you to pursue that partnership.
Brandon Gerard: [00:05:33] Well, Brad, not to give you too big of a head, it was you when we sat down and started kind of mapping out a couple of requests, you took the effort to actually draw a vision, create it, render it, and send it back to me. And it was like one of those magic moments where, like, this is awesome. And this was, I think in the first week that we ever had a conversation together. And it was pretty awesome to be able to talk to somebody. I’m not an engineer. I’m not a designer. So just to map it out and actually see your vision come to life, it was pretty awesome.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:06:10] And after the first meeting, it was just apparent you guys had a really positive attitude. You’ve been great to work with and you have great solutions and also the ability to customize, which is really important to us.
Brad Schaefer: [00:06:22] I have a smile on my face.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:06:26] So, well, changing focus a little bit. How did the covid-19 pandemic kind of affect and change SAFFE?
Brandon Gerard: [00:06:35] I’m going to pause for a second while I’m thinking about that, but I would say covid-19 first was unexpected, right? When you start a company, especially when you, you know, make the decision to build an organization, you don’t plan for the worst-case scenario ever. And so we were, you know, early, you know, started in November. Let’s just say I think it was March twenty-third is the date that sticks in my head was like the world ended type situation. And so that’s four months into our business life and. It caused us to pause for a second and actually think about why we started an organization, and one of the first things that we did when we started SAFFE was we sat down and wrote down a couple of key philosophies, core values. And one of them is that we will define ourselves by the worst times, not the best times. So as soon as covid happened, we realized that you know, this was a big issue. We didn’t actually know how big of an issue. We didn’t know how long it may impact us. But we realized it was kind of that opportunity to define us.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:07:55] Yeah, the opportunity to step up, definitely.
Brandon Gerard: [00:07:57] And so we made certain decisions to make sure that we were protecting our employees. We also were very empathetic to our customers. We knew they were going to be going through the situation and we decided to be human and set down and reach out to people and ask a lot of questions. Let them know that we don’t know what’s going on. We’re here for them. And then also we made certain decisions that we weren’t going to, like, freak out. We knew everyone was going to be doing this. So it allowed us to actually step back and, you know, pause our business a little bit and look at what are we really good at doing. And one of the things that we set up the company early on was to be remote. I like to work from home. I don’t always like to be at an office. So it was easy to make that switch to go, hey, we don’t need to be in this building. Yeah. Work from your countertop. We also were already we were doing Zoome before Zoome was cool.
Brandon Gerard: [00:09:03] And so getting on and doing teleconferences right away, you know, just reaching out and told our customers we’re here. All of our team is very, very good at what they do. And so we’re all individually can just do what we like. If somebody has a request, we can get inside the system. We don’t rely on a huge staff to do the work for us. We kind of do it ourselves. And so we’re hands-on. So we were able to start helping out our customers at a different level with a lot of companies have people that, you know, certain teams, they in a lot of organizations, they, you know, the sales team can go be remote, but they lose their support staff and all of a sudden you start having breakdowns in the business. What we are our own support staff and we wanted to support our customers. So we just stepped up our customer experience. And what is really cool is that has helped us, even as now that we’re going through the covid situation and we’re in a different level of how it is, is we stress customer experience. We understand that that is our number one focus and it lets us be more competitive. So in many ways, covid was an opportunity for us to get better. We still don’t know. We don’t have all the answers. I’m sure we’re doing some things majorly wrong at some levels. But we can really focus and go. Everyone’s dealing with us. And, you know, I always look at it and I’m going to give a small analogy. But when you think about winter and if you’re an animal like a wolf, there’s good winters and bad winters. And if you want to survive, you’ve got to go find food regardless.
Brandon Gerard: [00:10:59] And the easier the winter is, everyone finds food. But in the wild, bad winters, the weak die. And I don’t want to be in the not living category. So no matter what whatever situation happens, political situations, economic situations, I still want to get out and feed my family and feed myself. So these are always opportunities, no matter what, to go do something. And, you know, I’m a positive person. So, like, you know, the world can be close to ending. And I got a smile on my face going, how do I make the best of this? And we have a team that believes in it.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:11:41] And we like to say that we’re relentlessly resourceful. And being still in the startup phase, I think it was easier for us to pivot and create some unique solutions thanks to the help of our suppliers. But we were relentlessly resourceful and we’ve just tried to make the best of it, you know, like all of us have.
Brandon Gerard: [00:11:59] And circling back to our unique suppliers, built came through huge with some unique products or materials to help us be more effective during the covid situations. And those items helped us be competitive, helped us supply our partners, and we offered a lot of essential products to help essential workers be safe and also offer products for schools to be safe when they were getting ready to reopen.
Brad Schaefer: [00:12:33] Cool.
Brandon Gerard: [00:12:34] There’s nothing better than a safe school, by the way.
Brad Schaefer: [00:12:37] I love it,
Brandon Gerard: [00:12:37] And that’s with an extra “f” SAFFE.
Brad Schaefer: [00:12:42] So looking at SAFFE, obviously, is an acronym for Safe, Simple, Affordable, Fast Furniture and equipment. Cool and built, a lot of times we focus on the ergonomics and the the the the comfortableness. Is that a word? Oh, So is the comfortableness of the people that are working at the desk. So is there do you see a push for some ergonomics and some of that stuff in the education market?
Brandon Gerard: [00:13:09] Most definitely. We love ergonomics. Yeah. So first and foremost, we want to have furniture that’s fit and functional for a space. And people come in a lot of different sizes especially. And we want to make sure that we can have furniture that meets everybody’s needs.
Brandon Gerard: [00:13:28] And a lot of times having the ability to have different heights in a space is critical. The ability to have products that lift to meet different needs is critical, the ability to be comfortable. So sitting in a chair properly, whether you can sit at the desk space and work so you’re not creating fatigue in your shoulders, in your back. And, you know, you want to make sure that when you’re at the space, you can be productive without creating, you know, long term problems. And it starts early on in education. Even for the teacher that’s working there all day. We like to focus on having stuff that allows them to engage students, but also be able to get back into their productive space and stay on top. So having lift tables and moving around, so its ergonomics is huge. It’s probably one of the most important things you can have in a space.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:14:28] Yeah, I have to agree with that. Being comfortable is definitely it. It’s easier to be productive when you’re comfortable, in my opinion.
Brad Schaefer: [00:14:37] And I was sitting you’re thinking I’m going. I love the ergonomics side. I think that obviously is what we do with a career. And I’m thinking back to when I was in school, and this is obviously a long time ago. Most of the time it was the fitted desk that was spaced, you know, three feet apart. And, you know, we’re thirty kids in a small classroom. And then a teacher sat at one of the old school metal desks. You know, does that environment look different now?
Brandon Gerard: [00:15:06] Most definitely. I mean, well, there’s a lot of schools that still look like that way. Yeah. Yeah.
Brandon Gerard: [00:15:11] And then there are schools that are pushing the boundaries, offerings. They’re trying to make it more engaging spaces. A lot of it is, you know, we say we want to enhance a learning environment. And the major focus is how do you help students? You know, first and foremost learn and every student learns a little differently. How do you create engagement? How do you create collaboration? How do you help create creativity? And the one thing that is definitely happening in the world is the jobs that are going to exist when these students are at school today. You know, they don’t exist today. So they have to make sure that they’re giving skills for something that is going to be there twenty years from now. So you go back to when we went to school, the workforce was very similar to what it was twenty years before that it was, you know, very industrial. You know, you learned your skills. You went into the workforce to do a specific task. Now, kids need to be able to ask questions, problem-solve, and the resources are there. I mean, Google didn’t really exist when I was a kid. I didn’t know the Encyclopedia Britannica or whatever it was called, probably messed that one up.
Brandon Gerard: [00:16:37] But it was you know, you went there and you pulled the book out and you found what you were looking for and you’re like, oh, well, now Wikipedia is doing that. But it’s, you know, a million times better than that book. It gets updated daily. And I look at kids today, they don’t really need to know all the facts. You know, they’re going to have Google and don’t just talk to it and it gives them the answer. So how do you ask Google a better question? How do you go problem solve two different issues and bring that information together? How do you research how do you build a compelling story? And that is really where I think education is going to do lead. When you look at STEM and, you know, the fact that a kid can be in a space and be learning math and science at the same time, you know, working on a robot, and they’re learning how to code and they’re learning the industrial complexities of those parts, they may be working with CAD software to look at the inside components that they can’t see when they look at that robot, but they know they exist. You know, that’s cool stuff.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:17:51] And when we were kids, there was a lot of desk time and a lot of lecture time. Nowadays, they’re integrating stem and steam in elementary schools and the students are always up and moving around, and having mobile and flexible furniture that can enhance the learning environment and help them make their projects easier is very important. They’re getting together in small groups and big groups and problem solving, and we need furniture that can help them in that process.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:18:17] Yeah, so looking at these kind of like new environments in schools, what is your process in coming up with new designs and how do you choose which products for this market that you want to move forward with?
Brandon Gerard: [00:18:29] A lot of times it’s more customer requests. We listen to our customers. I will say this. We don’t always sit around thinking about the idea of building something that we don’t know if the customer needs. So we have the ability to listen and respond to the market. So it’s unique that a lot of teachers or educators, I should say, influencers. They come to us with a unique request and we have to have the ability to respond quickly to those unique requests.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:19:07] Yeah, I would agree. A lot of it comes from customer requests. We also everyone on our team has a lot of experience. So if there are things that we haven’t seen in the industry that we see an opportunity for, those are things that we explore. Um, and also just making product improvements based on the feedback we get along with requests, is important.
Brandon Gerard: [00:19:26] We like to at least when I look at products, there’s the enhance phase. So what can I do to a table to enhance it? That’s where height adjustability can come in. Maybe a unique shape, a different size. Where can I extend that that product? So if I’m using it in a classroom, where can I bring it into. So we might have it in the classroom one day and I might be in the Commons area the next. It could be in a media center, it could go, it could be an instructor’s desk one day and then be what the superintendent is using because we can extend our products into a lot of areas. And then where we usually have built come in is where we can evolve a product.
Brandon Gerard: [00:20:07] So we get that request and then we evolve it. We make the small change that could be critically impactful for that individual, but it could be critically impactful for all kinds of different individuals once at once. We want to go through it. So I always look at it through the enhance, extend, and evolve stage of a product.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:20:29] And I like to add, I think it’s fun for some of your product lines to have just these little like the lighter aspects. So maybe it’s a matching edge band that makes it look seamless. Maybe it’s a fun color leg or a different style top. So I like to have products that are reliable, but also they have a little fun aspect that maybe you don’t expect.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:20:49] Yeah, it’s very cool.
Brad Schaefer: [00:20:52] I have a question here that says what role that built play in the help you with developing new. You kind of answered that already developing new product. And I know I’ve been kind of a go to, and I really enjoy working with you guys and I love the idea, hey, I have this idea.
Brad Schaefer: [00:21:09] Can we make it work? And I think it’s been a great relationship at this point.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:21:16] Yeah. So looking forward, you guys kind of touched on this already, but just kind of your final thoughts on what does the educational workspace of the future look like?
Brandon Gerard: [00:21:27] I will say this. The space of the future is going to be highly mobile, highly effective for kids to adapt to height adjustability, combination for collaboration, and interactivity.
Brandon Gerard: [00:21:47] And the other thing that is critical is, and I’m going back to tech is the user interface. Is it simple? If I walk into the space, does it feel like the space that I can go to work in without asking one person a question about how to use the furniture, how to interact with the furniture? So if I walk into it, I should be able to raise and lower it without asking anybody. I should be able to move it without asking anybody. I should be able to connect my device to it without asking anybody. And it should be as simple as something as simple as that. When the four of us are in that space, we can all work at that that in that area. That to me is the. The space of the future.
Brandon Gerard: [00:22:34] Now that could still be a table that existed, you know, 100 years ago, I mean, four legs and a top can meet the needs of the future. It’s how do you just make it so that it’s easier and more functional for those students to know how that space is and what they’re going in to do it. So that’s really what our key focus is, is to always be thinking about that those people that are going to be using the space and also realize that no matter what, if I have the coolest piece of technology today, these kids, this is going to be the worst piece of technology that they interact with because in 10 years they’re going to have something cooler, better and who knows what it is.
Brandon Gerard: [00:23:17] You know, I go back to when I was a student and I know cell phones weren’t around. I mean, you were lucky to see somebody with a bag in their car, you know, connected to a radiation device rolling around.
Brandon Gerard: [00:23:34] And, you know, so the fact that you know, I look at this and people are really worried about A.I. and devices, you know, becoming more adapted. Well, this really is AI I mean, I’m connected to this, whether it’s in my hand or gets implanted in my head. This thing is a critical piece of my technology and it’s just going to keep getting better eventually. You know, there’s the glasses. I don’t know if you follow Elon Musk. He’s kind of an interesting character, but he has his neural net.
Brandon Gerard: [00:24:08] Oh, yeah. And he’s working on, you know, implants to go into your brain to do certain things.
Brad Schaefer: [00:24:15] Sign me up.
Brad Schaefer: [00:24:16] Yeah, Brad would be the first one.
Brandon Gerard: [00:24:17] And who knows, in ten years, we’re not doing a podcast talking into microphones. We’re just sitting here looking at each other and we’re communicating. Right.
Kiannah Vandenberg: [00:24:32] Thanks for tuning in and listening to this episode, look for our next episode, where we will be interviewing Kelly Shelton from Built Systems, anyone who has ever called BUILT has talked to her. So we want to let you into some behind the scenes of customer service.
Brad Schaefer: [00:24:48] So I have a question, what are your favorite holiday traditions?
Brandon Gerard: [00:24:54] Which holiday?
Brad Schaefer: [00:24:57] Let’s focus on the Christmas time holiday?
Jen Dobberstein: [00:25:00] Well, I think it’s easy for me on any holiday. It’s the eating part. I like Halloween candy. I like the pumpkin pie in Turkey for Thanksgiving and all of the treats and baking that goes around Christmas and of course, family gatherings, although that might look different this year.
Brandon Gerard: [00:25:16] So my family traditions have drastically changed. You know, you go through different life events. And so I have a blended family now. And our big thing is we like the elf on the shelf, but we’ve you know, we’re not the crazy Pinterest elf on the shelf family, but we love writing letters and having the kids interact with those. So that is one of our favorite film family traditions. And then also going on a finding like train rides and going to, you know, different types of tree farms. We’ve started really liking that this year. I don’t know if we’re able to do the Polar Express. So that is a blast. Got to get your tickets in June. So it’s hard to think about. But this year we’re not doing that one. So we’ll hopefully be able to go to a family, you know, tree farm and, you know, get the tree and drink hot cocoa and get a picture with the family that he was doing those weird facial expressions for great holiday times.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:26:23] I need to work on my family traditions. I said eating cookies,
Brandon Gerard: [00:26:27] Eating is a tradition of mine that goes along with all holidays.
Jen Dobberstein: [00:26:30] My kids are little. We have to build them up yet. I understand.
Brad Schaefer: [00:26:36] Please remember, you still have time to register to win a gift package from BUILT Systems, visit our podcast website at Anchor.fm/builtsystems and leave us a voicemail with your name and contact for your favorite holiday tradition. If you do prefer email, shoot us an email at email@example.com with your contact info and favorite holiday tradition. We hope to hear from you
Learn more about SAFFE Furniture.
Miss our previous episodes? Find all of our current episodes on our podcast website.