Imagining Better Spaces

Better spaces, Sandi Jacobs, SideMark, Silicon Valley, Bay Area, commercial furniture, design, office space,
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Imagining better spaces throughout the Bay Area.


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]andi Jacobs is president of SideMark, which provides interior design, furniture services and workplace consulting. SideMark serves a full range of commercial, government and institutional markets through distribution relationships with Teknion and more than 200 other manufacturers of furnishings, materials and workplace technologies. Jacobs, a certified interior designer, joined the office in 1989. Now she and her brother, Bruce Paul, senior vice president of finance and operations, have purchased the company.

TR: How did the decision to purchase the company from founder and CEO Randy Horton come about?

JACOBS: I thought owning SideMark wouldn’t be much different than running it. It’s only been two months, and I was wrong. It’s not about added responsibility or stress; that hasn’t changed much. It’s the opportunity to dream—“What if?” What if we had a fleet of electric cars for our employees that helped them be more productive with their time and helped us have a smaller energy footprint as a company? The ideas keep coming, and they are exciting!

I started working at SideMark in 1989. We were a small firm of five people, which we’ve grown over the last 25 years. I took over running the company six years ago and have been the CEO, Randy Horton’s succession plan. Whether it’s ambition or insanity, I haven’t determined yet. Maybe it’s a little of both. I am fortunate to have my brother, Bruce Paul, as my partner. He joined me in running SideMark a couple of years ago. His vast business experiences bring a clean perspective to our business in driving change for the future. This insanity must run in the family.

TR: As your Silicon Valley clients open offices in San Francisco and scale up to a larger footprint in the Bay Area, how does SideMark help them through that transition?

JACOBS: Young talent wants the city life. They want to be in the action and be in a hip and cool place while they are young. Our clients know that their space is a tool to attract and keep top talent. They are going to where the talent is. As you travel around the Bay Area, you can see construction going on everywhere. San Francisco’s skyline is peppered with cranes. It’s an exciting time in the Bay Area, as many of our clients and potential clients strategize to meet a pent up need for space and growth.

SideMark is an engaged, active part of the team supporting our clients’ growth. This team includes the design firm, project management firm and construction company; and is the dynamic force that brings the clients space to life. SideMark’s portfolio of services is designed to ensure success for all of the business partners on the team. The partner stakeholders on a project become our clients as well.

TR: What does it take for SideMark to be a leader in this industry? What can you offer your clients today that truly differentiates your approach from others in your industry?

JACOBS: This is what we’re working on! Our industry has evolved to the point that what we sell, furniture, is commoditized. I believe that we have to be more than the furniture we sell. How do you offer an experience as a differentiator?

The client’s success is our primary goal. Over the years one of my favorite moments has been in the early morning, sipping my coffee as the trucks start rolling in to begin the installation. This is where the plans come together and become reality. Today my favorite moments are when SideMark provides the right team for a client. There’s a strength of connection and ease to the process when we’re able to match our team to the client’s needs and communication style. That connection and client experience is our differentiator for our clients.

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TR: Are you optimistic about 2015? Why?

JACOBS: Yes, I’m very optimistic about 2015 for multiple reasons. First, the office isn’t going away. It is surely being redefined. We want to work with our clients to understand why and how they come together to work. Each client and project is different and each solution, team and services need to meet those unique client requirements. Clients in the Bay Area are pushing the envelope more than we see in other places in the country. This “front line” workplace design challenges us to do more research and be a collaborative resource for our clients and their design teams.

I’m also excited because it’s SideMark’s 30th year! We’re redefining ourselves, focused on disruption and transparency as an organization. As we learn from our clients we work together in applying that knowledge to ourselves.

TR: What will your biggest challenge be in 2015? How will you overcome it?

JACOBS: To be seen as more than furniture. Selling a chair is not an exciting career. When I talk to our team about purpose, we discuss that we aren’t curing cancer and so what is our higher level purpose as an organization? We are part of a team creating the environments that people spend a significant amount of their lives in. We make work feel good!

We can overcome this by learning from our clients, influencers and the market. This market is on the leading edge of workspace design. Changing needs create opportunities for new thinking and offerings. Our clients are looking for customized solutions that meet their individual needs as an organization.

TR: As tenants keep pushing to reduce the square footage per employee, what challenges are becoming more evident that you are forced to resolve?

JACOBS: Visual noise. Our reduced workspace per employee has created collaboration, varied spaces to meet and work differently within the office. Now the challenge is: Where to do heads-down work and concentrate? Statistics say it takes 10 minutes to get absorbed into your work, and 20 minutes to get back to that level when you’re interrupted. Is collaboration coming at the cost of productivity?

Lower workstations were still allowing for visual privacy when seated. This reduced visual distractions, “visual noise,” when an employee is doing heads-down work. Today we’re seeing an increasing use of height-adjustable desking, a positive trend for allowing sit-to-stand work throughout the day. While height-adjustable desks are a positive trend in many ways, they also create new challenges to providing privacy.

Is there a possibility that providing different workspace solutions for people with different work styles is in our future? Can working remotely on a periodic basis provide the concentration workspace people need? We’ve been talking about the multiple generations in the workspace for years now. As we see more and more millennials [in the work place], will the current dynamics continue to change? These are all questions that industry experts are discussing and companies are evaluating.

TR: What can the industry do better to support the changing environment of workplace design? Are you driving those messages back to your suppliers, and how receptive are they?

JACOBS: One size doesn’t fit all. Our focus with the client’s team is specialized in meeting the needs of each client. We used to sell cubes and the question was, “What size and what color?” We’re taking a curated approach to projects now. SideMark’s major manufacturer partner is Teknion, and they work with us collaboratively in customizing client solutions. In addition, the SideMark team members are pulling solutions from a wide variety of manufacturers from local custom houses to international online resources. We’ve provided popcorn machines, golden gnome side tables, vintage Danish lounge furniture and so much more.

TR: What trends are you identifying in the industry that give you pause? How are you preparing SideMark to deal with them?

JACOBS: Velocity—things needs to happen faster. Pair that with clients not wanting an off-the-shelf solution; this speed-to-market drive brings its own challenges. How do we work faster, better, smarter? Our industry has bettered its lead times. The process to design, plan and execute a client project is still a long cycle. This is counterintuitive to velocity. In many cases we’re the team of client, design firm, construction company and other stakeholders that has come together to solve these challenges collaboratively. It’s exciting to think outside the box and challenge ourselves within that process.

In response to the increasing need for speed, SideMark has spent the last two years optimizing technology. Talk about pain… Change gears to go faster and lose traction on the downshift. Fortunately, these changes have positioned us to make huge strides in 2015 around process velocity to better service our client’s needs.

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