Choosing the Right School Furniture Supplier

03/03/2017
Facilities
Rich Bova and Angela Webb  |   Photos Courtesy of School Outfitters

The pace of change in today’s education landscape is unprecedented. Schools face different and more complex challenges and must keep up with the demands of 21st century learning environments, technologies and teaching methods. Today, a classroom’s physical environment is considered a major player in the learning experience. In fact, some researchers and educators have dubbed the physical space of a classroom the “third teacher.”

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Rich Bova, Vice President of Sales at national furniture and equipment supplier School Outfitters, says it’s “vital” that a classroom’s furnishings match the pedagogy.  

That’s why it’s more important than ever that school districts choose and cultivate a meaningful relationship with a furniture and equipment supplier that can take a comprehensive, solutions-based approach to projects, and deliver custom solutions.

Before you choose a new furniture supplier — or evaluate the services of your current one — for an upcoming project, here are a few things to consider:

The Goals and Realities of Your Project

Before you call in a supplier, it’s important to evaluate the overall goals of your space.  What does the space need, and what are you trying to accomplish with it? What are its limitations — or advantages — and what stakeholder concerns must you contend with?

Be sure to assess the current or desired teaching methods for the environment as well, as this can help your supplier determine the right furniture and equipment. “The most successful projects begin with the teachers because they’re in the space every day,” says Bova. “Most principals and administrators want to give teachers what they need.”

Once the project’s vision has been articulated, look for a supplier who will work hard to understand any challenges you may face and what exactly you’re trying to accomplish.

“When we begin work with a school, we really look at their needs and what they’re trying to accomplish,” says Angela Webb, Director of Sales at School Outfitters. A project is more likely to stick to its timeline — and budget — if the supplier and all stakeholders involved completely understand these details.

Your Budget

A great vision can only go as far as your budget. “Be sure the vendor you’re working with is knowledgeable of manufacturers and pricing structures,” says Webb.

Bova says that you should look for vendors who can handle pricing for new construction — generally long term projects with a hefty budget — remodels and renovations — short-term projects with a mid-range budget — and quick turn projects.

Before any major purchases are made, ask if the supplier has any special purchasing programs for your district. What co-ops and contracts are available? These generally make the buying process less complicated and more affordable.

Regardless, whether you’re outfitting a single classroom or remodeling an entire school, the vendor should be able to work within the decided, finalized budget.

Supplier Services

Once a project’s overall vision and budget concerns have been thought out, it’s time to research and select a supplier. It’s best to start with the basics here: “They [schools] must first look at whether the supply company answers their questions and is knowledgeable of their needs,” says Bova. “Secondly, they need to determine if the vendor they’re working with knows about different laws, regulations and compliances. Lastly, is the company able to hit the deadlines they need necessary to meet their goals?”

Go for a company that offers a wide variety of manufacturers, and, ideally, exclusive brands. A company with exclusive brands can generally offer better and more flexible pricing options, plus faster shipping. A selection of furniture and equipment to match current trends in the industry — like “breakout” or lounge areas — is a plus, too. “Every space is like a coffee house,” says Webb. “Schools are looking for furniture that is cozy and comfortable.”

You may want a supplier that can assist with the design and layout of your space as well. Can they provide CAD drawings or room layouts with recommended products?  This can ensure that the furniture you’re considering will fit (and match) the space. Both Bova and Webb say that a solid vendor should be able to assess the environment — see the actual space — maximize its effectiveness and bring it to life.

Finally, assess the company’s delivery and installation capabilities. A comprehensive vendor should offer custom services, such as lift-gate delivery, product assembly and placement, furniture haul-away or debris removal.

Of course, service shouldn’t stop at delivery or installation. Your vendor should follow through post-project to gauge how satisfied you are with your new furniture and equipment and the overall project experience. It’s ideal if your vendor can file any product warranties on your behalf too, as it will speed up the process and save you considerable time.

At the end of the day, selecting a vendor “who understands the changing needs of the modern classroom is of utmost importance,” says Webb. “You’ll want all stakeholders to feel great about the space your students are learning in for many years to come.”

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Issue 18.3 | Winter/Spring 2017

Southeast Education Network

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