Pandemic Playbook from Amber Engine: Your Crisis Contribution

  •    Author: Mike Jasfer

What does the furniture industry have to learn about the current crisis by looking to history as well as contemporaries? Quite a lot, actually. Not the least of which is scrappy determination to succeed, creative problem solving and a grandstand of American spirit.   
During WWII, Detroit, MI transitioned from America’s auto capital to a military supply powerhouse. Ford built B-24 bombers, Chrysler manufactured tanks and GM worked on the design for the amphibious “Duck.”
Fast forward to 2020, when manufacturers halted the production of lotions, cosmetics, vacuum cleaners and booze to create much-needed supplies to fight the Covid-19 virus in their own unique, and sometimes remarkable, ways.
Take Dyson, for example. With mind-blowing speed, engineers made slight adjustments to their existing motor design to release an FDA-approved bed-mounted or portable ventilator.
GTech created something of equal awe by designing a ventilator with off-the-shelf, in-stock materials earning a 30,000 unit order. Plus, in the spirit of saving lives, they made their design free to the manufacturing community.
What, then, is your company’s contribution in times of trouble? Is there a way to answer the call of your conscience in a creative and inventive way? Maybe your furniture manufacturing facility makes a temporary switch to medical equipment production? Perhaps your lighting line transitions to make UV disinfection units? 
History and current events paint an amazing picture of the nimble, able and eager human spirit. In fact, our landscape is rich with examples of companies stepping up to meet the greater good. For example, in textiles, the EDPNC reports that the Carolina Textile District transitioned its product line to sew NIOSH-approved covers for N95 masks. These covers extend mask life until the factories working to replenish supply have a chance to catch up to demand.
Perhaps your part of the supply chain isn’t fabric or furniture based. Maybe you manufacture stains, shellacs, paints or other solvents. Companies like Bacardi stopped rum production to make hand sanitizer, L’Oreal pressed pause on moisturizers and cosmetics to do the same. Take a careful look at your production line to examine if a small change in the way you combine ingredients would impact the return of depleted products to store shelves or provide support for those fighting the virus on the front lines.  
In the face of the coronavirus crisis, manufacturers are nobly retrofitting their manufacturing facilities to create much-needed supplies for the medical community. Steelcase, Hanes Brands, Sharp, Ford and GE are pitching in on new cloth and plastic mask production. 
Even the furniture industry is getting in on the giving back and pitching in. Retailers are moving products online in an attempt to meet customers where they are . . . at home. But a few are having a little more fun than others! 
West Elm’s mood-lifting addition? A series of “backdrops” for Zoom virtual meetings that make your home office look showroom elegant – even when it’s a disastrous mess of school-at-home projects and your spouse’s messy laptop bag. Of course, the images are fully stocked with products from the retailer – to help potential consumers ‘see’ themselves living in a West Elm space. Obviously, the items are available for purchase when and if the user is ready. Feel-good fun that has the potential to move products – we love it! 
The download offers another unique perspective on the ways your furniture supply business might contribute. Not everyone can reconfigure a motor to create a ventilator – and that’s okay! We need crafty furniture suppliers to provide levity, inspiration and actionable lists, too.  
For example, Burrow launched an innovative Burrow House at Home platform. Customers book 15 or 30-minute virtual consultations that give the look and feel of someone coming into their home – from a safe and secure distance. The benefit is twofold – alleviating loneliness and feelings of isolation while providing a much-needed service and securing sales.
Stay Home orders and consumer fear have more customers shopping for furniture online – even those who wouldn’t ordinarily do so. In an interview with Modern Retail, Burrow CEO Stephen Kuhl said, “The segment of the population on the fence about online furniture shopping is being forced to consider it. It’s also forcing us to adapt the model and perfect it as we go.”
That’s a worthy guide for anyone looking to adjust their business model right now. Whether moving products online, offering curbside pick up or adding home delivery, it’s time to roll up sleeves and learn in the process of doing.
Some companies are using this time to develop technologies that will push us forward in the future. Virtual doctors are popping up everywhere. Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot Service helps with patient assessments from a safe distance. And Intel created and launched robots in China to transport medical supplies for the staff, again, in the name of safe distance and reduced contact. Intel didn’t stop there, either! Intel and others are working to improve distance learning solutions that more effectively send classrooms home. 
Can you imagine how these developments will improve lives in the future? Kids who are mentally astute, yet stuck in a hospital, can virtually join their friends in class. Elderly who are too weak to make it to the doctor can get the help they need with an online visit. And people who need to work from home will have the tools to set up an effortless virtual office – wherever they are in the world.
This is truly a revolutionary time for thinkers, dreamers and creators.
What about your business?

Evaluate your current ability to contribute. Are you financially stable and able to reallocate cash for your charitable endeavors? 

Inventory your inventory. Do you have products like alcohol, chlorine compounds, formaldehyde, peroxide, iodophors or peracetic acid on hand? Could you change production to help restock surface disinfectants? 

Meet clients where they are. Do you provide a furniture grouping, life office and patio furniture, or do you supply the individual materials that answer an immediate need? Let people know! Make sure your buyers know that you’re open for business and able to supply the parts, fabrics or furnishings they need to succeed inside of the “new normal.” 

As a furniture leader amid the pandemic, it’s imperative to ask yourself how can you see your business differently? What opportunities could you seize to see yourself and your workers through this crisis and into a brighter future? Take a step back from your day-to-day and challenge yourself creatively. Sometimes, there is no answer to satisfy the question. Sometimes, you’ll be the one to change the world. Either way, you won’t be guilty of living the unexamined life.


About Amber Engine: Amber
Engine’s innovative software solutions simplify work and empower
people. The company offers full-service e-commerce solutions for
furniture brands looking to sell in online marketplaces such as Wayfair,
Amazon, Houzz, and many more. For more information contact or visit the company’s website.

Furniture Industry News and in depth magazine articles for the furniture retail, furniture manufacturers, and furniture distributors.
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