Jonathan Gaber’s four decades in furniture design has helped shape not only his business, but also that of his clients’.
THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2016[dropcap]J[/dropcap]onathan Gaber’s background in architecture and his keen eye for good design pervades through the Montgomery Street offices of Hogue Furniture. Hogue is the premier Knoll office furniture dealership in Northern California, and has been a supplier to the Bay Area commercial office market for over 40 years. Hogue’s project managers are known for their consultative approach and comprehensive knowledge of furniture and design trends, whether servicing a global law firm or a tech-start up.
Known for his close attention to detail, Jonathan is an active mentor at Hogue and loves seeing his team thrive. Off hours, he is an avid cyclist and movie enthusiast. His favorite piece of furniture? The “Power Play” chair by Frank Gehry, produced by Knoll, of course.
TR: You have been in this business for decades and witnessed several generational shifts in tastes and preferences. From a design perspective, do you think the millennial generation is really different, or are they just behaving a certain way because they are at a certain phase in their life? Are we putting too much emphasis on building specifically for one generational cohort?
GABER: Laying groundwork supportive of our future leadership is rather intuitive from my perspective. It is not so much the style of work that has changed, but understanding how individuals work. I think companies today are more in-tune with their employees’ needs and encourage a variety of working styles. Design trends will always fluctuate, but creating environments that are nimble and support a happy and healthy environment is a trend that is here to stay.
TR: Throughout the decades, what has changed and what has remained the same?
GABER: Strong relationships continue to be a key business driver, as they have in the past. Relationships take time to build. We earn our clients’ trust when we perform well. This foundation may lay the groundwork for an invitation to the “party” but is challenged by many factors including costs, creativity and flexibility.
Having weathered or being mindful of the last economic downturn, clients are keenly focused on costs. Why purchase furniture through a dealership when you have access to a host of items online? Hogue sells furniture, yet quality service is an essential layer for installation success. We have some incredibly strong relationships that are the fruit of many years of listening, advising and serving as a thoughtful service provider. Communicating the relationship value, in a market in which everything is available at the public’s fingertips, is at the core of our messaging. We lead by example.
TR: What are some of the biggest challenges that your organization faces today, given the strong economic climate that we are facing?
GABER: Maintaining quality service, a swift pace, balance and talent. Maintaining a high-quality level of service, while also keeping pace with aggressive project schedules, has been a challenge. From our inception, Hogue has been regarded as a company that provides highly professional, thoughtful service; we work hard to preserve this status while operating at an accelerated rate. The catch is to achieve this while maintaining balance. The people at Hogue are the key to our success. We are fortunate to have an incredible group of brilliant, highly educated individuals. Supporting their health and well-being, and setting forth a balanced environment in which their professional and personal lives may grow in harmony, is our primary focus.
TR: Are you concerned how long this cycle has been? How are you preparing your organization for the downturn?
GABER: San Francisco is experiencing an economic high that the majority of the country has not seen; we are extremely thankful for this good fortune. However—what goes up, must come down. With this in mind, Hogue operates on a rather conservative level, setting forth a steady realistic baseline. This approach served us well during the last downturn, better preparing us to field some of the economic dominos that fell. When things do shift, we’re prepared to successfully navigate the ride.
TR: Has the business model of independent furniture distribution companies changed at all and do you see anything happening in the industry that may affect the way Hogue and your peers conduct business?
GABER: As workplace strategies and environments evolve, furniture dealerships are playing a more consultative role. As clients evaluate their real estate and operational options, we often create furniture budgets, schedules and presentations about workplace and ergonomic trends for consideration in their due diligence exercise. Real estate decisions are made swiftly in this market of rapidly evolving start-ups, so providing quality furniture that meets the schedule expectations of a sector that is accustomed to immediate accessibility, is a challenge. The customized furniture solutions we represent are not available via Google Express or Amazon Prime, so setting expectations early on is imperative to ensure success for all.
TR: What will define a successful designer in the future? Is it harder to do your job today than perhaps it was in the past?
GABER: What makes for a successful designer today makes for a successful designer in the future. Listening to clients, understanding their operational, recruitment and business challenges—capturing their culture and working with them in visioning forward—all lay the ground work for solid design solutions. Regardless of industry or place in time, when these all work in concert, the results are a resounding success.
TR: In our ever-connected and diverse world comprised of individuals from different countries and cultures, how does great design transcend those differences?
GABER: That’s the beauty of design—it speaks a universal language. Design touches our everyday life experiences, irrespective of location, culture, gender, stature, generation. Thoughtful design has set forth a solution with the intent of making our lives easier, more efficient and full of visual interest.
TR: Are you optimistic about the next year and the immediate future?
GABER: Absolutely. The workplace, particularly in this part of the country, is a recruitment and retention tool. In this competitive landscape, companies of all sizes are keen to set forth a workplace environment that is supportive of and reflects a culture that resonates with their current and target talent demographic. Furniture—on both a functional and aesthetic level—is an important piece of the puzzle.
TR: What challenges are you anticipating in the near term in your industry and more broadly in real estate?
GABER: Space availability and affordability. San Francisco’s population leans quite young. Companies interested in recruiting and retaining this generation are sensitive to the fact that young professionals want to live, work and play in the city. Securing available, affordable square footage—on both a residential and commercial level—in an area with firm development parameters, is a challenge that touches us all.