Custom healthcare furniture solutions: Manufacturer versus millwork

Designers will need design-specific information and processes to back up the custom furniture solutions healthcare furniture manufacturers offer. Some designers believe (without an actual process from the furniture manufacturer) the manufacturer is leaving both the designer and themselves empty handed.

This statement makes the argument for millwork justified. One may agree millwork is a less expensive option for most built-in patient room projects such as headwalls, footwalls, or custom casework. However, millwork typically is budgeted during the capital budgeting of construction and a realistic furniture budget is not. Often, planning and construction committees are unaware of the benefits for using top healthcare furniture manufacturers who provide custom and specials options such as headwalls, footwalls, and custom casework. Alarmingly to the millworker, manufacturered furniture pricing can be at times extremely competitive, and the craftsmanship accompanied by a lifetime warranty provides long-term benefits much more rewarding. This is something worth talking about, but first, let's answer two questions and then we can raise the bar for manufacturers who provide inspiring furniture solutions.

Question 1: How do manufacturers leave themselves empty handed?

Answer: By not providing sufficient marketing materials for this aspect of their businesses.

Question 2: How do manufacturers leave designers empty handed?

Answer: By giving the designer ideas and concepts to be inspired by and not a comprehensive plan of how to move forward with specifying the project with their product.

The following is a true comment from a designer who inspired me to write this article:

"Designers who are inspired conceptually by the manufacturer but who are left without a process to move forward find their inspiration fades". "If the manufacturer wants to compete, then we need better tools for estimating cost and seeing what our design options are, and then a 'how to' plan to make specifying easy."

I took the initiative to ask several other designers what they recommend and requested they share some tips. Here is what they have to say:

1. Factory visits are key elements to successful projects. There are many benefits to factory visits. Factory visits are educational and not to be misconstrued as "gifts" or "bribes", but actual educational experiences. Many manufacturers offer designer CEU credits. You should inquire about specific programs for your educational needs.

  • Factory visits provide concentrated time to explore all of the capabilities the manufacturer has to offer. (Seeing is believing)
  • The Designer has the ability to meet their support personnel face to face and to see operations at the plant. (Confidence of Knowing the Support first hand)
  • The factory visit promotes team, collaboration, and a deep level of understanding for providing the right solution. (Everyone on the same page)

2. Spend more time planning with your healthcare furniture specialist. Your healthcare furniture specialist will be able to walk you through the process. Ask questions and demand results. Design support is very important. We highly recommend working with a healthcare specific manufacturer rep who is experienced and knowledgeable and can provide a process for you to easily follow.

3. Choose a manufacturer with real life experience and lifetime warranty. In the long run, a lifetime warranty will provide the designer with confidence for completing the project with long-term success.

What do you think? Millwork or healthcare furniture manufacturer?