AT: Wings Over America #3

AT: Wings Over America #3

Maxwell Ryan
Oct 1, 2008

Chris & I with John Gabbert, founder of R&B

Last Friday was our final day of travel, and we spent it entirely at Room & Board's main offices outside of Minneapolis. For those of you in the furniture & design business, this is one dreamy geographic location....

(At left is our inspiration for the title of this series: a favorite album from 1976)

Central to the offices is this outdoor courtyard with meeting spaces tucked all around it. We had two meetings outside at the table you see, while dragonflies buzzed around all the flowers (definitely not like NYC).

Since 1980, when John Gabbert started R&B in an effort to create an "American Ikea" (he, too, was a huge Ikea fan), he's built a company based on good design and a certain simplicity that influences the company's culture like growing slowly, only having one catalog per year, never having sales, and building a majority of their furniture in the US with high environmental standards and with companies whom they've been working with for a long time.

A quote from JLo emblazoned above one fo the doorways to a conference room. ;-)

R&B has changed over the years (see old catalog pic below), and its furniture is of much higher quality than Ikea, but the core mission has remained consistent: providing unique, well-designed furniture at good prices that will last a long time.

Not only do they have a staff gym and wellness center, but - this being Minnesota - floor hockey is a staple activity as well.

This is a real feel good operation and their main offices set the tone, with plenty of sunlight, lots of room and small touches like a vegetable sharing section in the kitchen where folks bring in extra vegetables from their gardens to share with others. Like Warren Buffet sitting out in Omaha, one gets the feeling there is a certain wisdom to building a company away from the busyness and static of the coasts.

Here are some pics:

>> Room & Board

Their photography studios are a football field long. When we were there, they had six separate shooting areas set up and were working furiously on the 2009 catalog.

This is what the shoot for this chair looks like when set up.

This is what it looks like through the eye of the camera. Almost all pictures are taken in-house, which makes it easy to move the furniture in and out from the shipping floor.

This is the side of the room where all the call in orders are taken. All orders are taken by folks here, on site, by folks who really know the products and what is going on. If they have any questions that they can't answer they can walk in any direction to the department that has the answer.

Here's a pic of the original catalog back in the 80's. Color was a foreign concept then and the idea was to just give customers all the info they could. Don't you love how dated these styles are?

This is the shipping floor where all phone orders and midwestern store orders get assembled and shipped out. The guys here are REAL good at assembling furniture fast.

Here's the gang that had lunch with us. Note: this was an incredibly beautiful day and being outside was a joy. When I brought up the winter ahead, talk would quickly change to that of not going outside again for many months....

The garden vegetable rescue station in the company kitchen. Got extra in your garden? Bring it in.

Don't miss our current Ohdeedoh/Amy Butler contest, which ends tomorrow night!
>> Amy Butler's Little Stitches for Little Ones Contest


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