As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson, Pair’s Co-founder, brings more than twenty years of experience to the workplace furniture brand. Wilson leads his team in creating high functioning furniture centered on adaptable work spaces that give users privacy on demand. Listening and responding to clients’ needs drives Pair’s design ethos; Wilson values agility and iteration to solve clients’ specific problems and fill gaps in the market. Because Brian is also the co-founder of Two Furnish, a Steelcase dealership, he and his team have intimate access to the workplace A+D community and can directly learn about what those clients want and need, which helps them develop products for Pair. He previously worked at Steelcase, Knoll, and One Workplace.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have a design background and I have been in the design industry from the start of my career. Pair originated as an industrial design practice within a furniture dealership, Two Furnish, which we founded as a collaborative of different talents: interior designers, decorators, industrial designers and project managers. One of our service offerings was developing unique, one of a kind solutions with our clients. The approach took off. We saw a deeper level of engagement and emotional connection with the solutions that we worked on since the client had co-authorship of the product and process. We incubated Pair and launched it as an independent business after developing a collection. We saw an opportunity to grow Pair into a national brand.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
More recently I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s Infinite Game. The book is especially relevant given that we’re making a lot of tough business choices about Pair’s future. Pair is a small yet growing organization and we’ve focused on building a business for the future instead of focusing on near term profit and rewards. We think that those things will take care of themselves as Pair’s design is adopted and we grow our fan base and believers both inside and out. The book reinforces my thinking about taking the long view and focusing on the wellness of our team.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From the onset we wanted to create a unique client experience, both at the end-user level and the client who makes the design decisions and selections. The interior designer/ client experience offers the designer some level of authorship over the product by collaborating with our team. Think of our products like clothes on a rack. Someone can take a basic shirt and print their own design on it or tailor it to fit their body. Our products are built on a simple kit of parts so that clients can swap out parts to fit their needs, change colors, leg styles, and corner shapes to fit their aesthetic. Our second focus is the user experience. Creating wow moments through materiality and surprises with detailing. We want to hear, wow- I hadn’t thought of that or that is interesting. All our products use honest materials: we only have one plastic part across our entire line and we don’t use glue. There is a simplicity with that. We don’t have our own production facilities and don’t tool, which enables us to be nimble, flexible and source what we need in order to bring a concept to life.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Our guiding principle during the highs and lows has been focusing on our employees and partners. We need to enlist the best talent and take care of the team and in return we have always seen reciprocation; our team takes care of each other and the business.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Personally, the most challenging part is not seeing folks that I work with. I thrive on the interpersonal and love the in-person experience and not video conferencing. I have compensated by check-ins with my leadership team and connecting on a personal level with the team by phone. Those steps have been helpful. By making it mostly personal, showing my own vulnerability and how I have processed the past few months has built deeper connections with my team. I want them to know that they are not alone.
Educating our daughter has also been challenging. No one was prepared to take on homeschooling at this level. We recognize that we are not educators thank you to teachers out there and we realized that we needed to enlist tutors to help balance out some of the areas that she isn’t excelling in and where we couldn’t help. There are a lot of older kids and college kids right now ready to help in a multitude of subjects. In the areas we can work on, such as math, we see where she struggles first-hand and we adjust to methods that work for her.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have had a lot of tough conversations with the team about measures we needed to take to help Pair thrive through this period. It’s always hard to convey nuance through video calls in large groups. The large group format is good for one directional information sharing. I have made it a practice to follow up with teammates in smaller groups to create a safe zone to ask questions and I have also encouraged people to email those questions prior. Again, it allows team members to ask questions if they are not inclined to speak up in smaller groups. Lastly, bringing it down to the individual level and making yourself accessible is tremendously important. We know team members have processed the last three months in different ways, interpreted the actions we have taken in different ways and have ridden a wave of emotions and feelings. We need to convey that we might be alone at home but we are together in spirit and have made that our guiding principle for managing an organization remotely.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
First, I recommend parsing news sources to a few reliable channels. Most of my family is in New Jersey and is a coast away. I have made it a point to have more regular check-ins and make sure my Mom is doing well.
I have found it helpful to expose my vulnerability by opening up about my concerns, fears and thoughts for the future. Whether it is friends, family or a colleague, I encourage processing this experience together. I have found valuable insights by talking to people about their outlook and feelings. Everyone is at a different place and opening up, sharing and handling it together has been helpful as a form of collective therapy.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Most companies in the commercial space; real estate professionals, manufacturers of all sorts and interior designers are talking about two time horizons. There is the immediate “return to the office” with a tremendous amount of precaution, protocol, and limits on space density. We are looking at a period of adjusting to that reality and likely most people, given the option, will avoid the office altogether. It is a stark reality but a realistic one. The second horizon is truly Post-Covid. This one is exciting because I think that there will be a new renaissance in creativity. The office won’t need to justify itself for existing because I believe that people will crave the social, intellectual, psychological and educational benefits of being in the office. It will need to inspire, entice and be purposeful. That is a huge opportunity for Pair because we care deeply about design, the user experience and the emotional fulfillment of being in the office. We have two strategies — helping clients through that first horizon and then the second horizon is blue sky design opportunities for Pair.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Post-Covid, I believe we will revert to something that resembles the past. I don’t think that our interactions will dramatically change. We have already seen that begin to play out in some states and cities that are relaxing restrictions. That said, I believe that there will be a new level of mental preparedness similar to that of an earthquake or natural disaster. The scars and trauma will trigger an immediate response and collective acceptance of what we need to do to get through this.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Foresight is paramount right now and anticipating several possible futures is going to be critical to our success. When we have something as disruptive as what we are going through we know there will be new paradigms such as new real estate strategies and new ways of working, planning and technologies. We are listening to our customers and looking for signals and cues that might indicate a trend. Some of those signals may trigger a new line or concept that we invest in.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Similarly, I think leaders and owners need to be planning on two horizons: the near term with the recession as the backdrop but keeping an eye on the long view. You can’t lose sight of new opportunities on the other side of this or your business could be disrupted and miss a chance to innovate. Balancing those two will be critical to survival and developing a business to thrive Post-Covid.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Maya Angelou’s quote is relevant: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
On our website www.madebypair.com
On our instagram: @madebypair
And on Facebook