Collaboration: The New Way of Doing Business

Manufacturers work hard to build and elevate their brand equity, carefully crafting their stories and articulating their mission statements to ensure that their brands are well represented. At the same time, decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms also work hard to build their brand and craft their own story.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen more brands collaborating and/or working with other brands in ways that I hadn’t before, and it made me wonder: If you’ve spent years building your brand, is the next logical step collaborating with another?

What is the value that collaboration brings, and what are the pitfalls? Does everyone need to play in the same sandbox? I spent some time looking at the upsides and downsides of collaboration and spoke with a few manufacturers and a showroom owner to learn more about why collaboration works. This month, I’d like to share some of those insights, as there is growing evidence that collaboration may well be the way of the future.

DESIGNER VISION

LAUFEN, a 120-year-old manufacturer, has been creating and producing ceramic bath vanities and furniture for an audience eager to embrace contemporary design. It has made a practice of collaborating with some of the best-known and sometimes edgiest product designers in the industry to advance its brand’s designs and identity.

It’s almost a fearless high wire act for companies – to find and work with designers such as Peter Wirz, Stefano Giovannoni, Wiel Arets, Hartmut Esslinger, Andreas Dimitriadis and Ludovica + Roberto Palomba. Many of these designers’ other products are a far cry from bath products, but the understanding on both sides is that good design can be a cross-platform endeavor. For LAUFEN, the upside is broad.

As Mike Teresso, president of LAUFEN North America, said, “Being Swiss, we are a multicultural organization (Swiss, German, Italian and French) and therefore, we naturally embrace collaboration. LAUFEN prefers to collaborate with many designers with different backgrounds. This way, our product line never becomes one-dimensional or synonymous with one designer.”

It’s precisely this type of philosophy that leads many manufacturers to seek product designers from completely different disciplines. Zephyr, the manufacturer of innovative contemporary ventilation hoods, had similar thinking in mind when it approached Robert Brunner – an industrial designer best known for his work with Apple.

From the outset, you might wonder why a designer from Apple might be interested in designing a range hood. But for Brunner, the “hook” was that he enjoys re-imagining “useful” products, so for him it was a perfect match.

Watermark Designs, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer of decorative plumbing fixtures, has had a number of successful collaborations. It had a very successful collaboration with the renowned designer Clodagh. Clodagh and Watermark Designs collaborated on a faucet that spoke to both her earthy design aesthetic and to Watermark Designs’ ability to say “yes” to her out-of-the-box thinking. The result was Sense27, a hammered finish faucet that is one of Watermark Designs’ most popular designs.

Watermark Designs recently collaborated with another manufacturer. It is working with steam shower manufacturer ThermaSol to offer matching steam shower controls and aromatherapy retractable steam heads for its expansive bathroom line. This type of collaboration is different, according to Avi Abel, general manager of Watermark Designs, because, “when collaborating with a designer, it’s much more about the design, and when working with a manufacturer, it’s more about the engineering.”

Abel said that the benefits of collaboration are cross promotion, cross marketing and cross branding. “When you work with well-respected brands and designers, it really becomes a win-win scenario.”

SHOWROOM COLLABORATIONS

Collaboration between manufacturers and showrooms are also intricate, and sometimes reflect the personalities of those involved. But when they work well, everyone benefits.

Jeff Burton, owner of The Bath + Beyond, a luxury bath showroom in San Francisco, has been successfully operating since 1986. Burton’s feeling is that showrooms are still vying for every dollar, and many showrooms still make the mistake of trying to sell everything to everyone. His recipe for success involves selling fewer, more carefully targeted items, and he focuses on unique items and brands that are not seen elsewhere.

Another way Burton chooses to differentiate his business is to partner with manufacturers and brands that he knows he can work with closely. He prefers to work with manufacturers that are not opening dealerships on every corner, further enhancing his reputation for providing unique or hard-to-find products.

What does it mean for a showroom to work closely with a brand? The Bath + Beyond has worked with a number of manufacturers on private label products, designed and produced specifically for the showroom, ensuring differentiation and exclusivity.

Showrooms need to brand themselves as much as manufacturers do, according to Burton. And one way to do this is with unique offerings.

Burton also points out: “[Manufacturers] need to consult with their showrooms more often. They need to talk to their dealers – bring us in and talk to us before products are designed because we are on the front lines, and we have a very good sense of what the customers really want.”

Collaboration has many upsides, as long as everyone subscribes to the basics: choosing great partners, managing expectations and communicating from start to finish.

 

Jocelyn Hutt is a senior account manager at DRS and Associates, a luxury brand marketing and public relations firm. Prior to joining DRS, she was the editor-in-chief of HomePortfolio, a home design Web site focused on luxury home design products. Hutt has been involved in the home design industry for 20 years.

DPH Perspectives is published regularly in Kitchen & Bath Design News under an exclusive strategic alliance with the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association.

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