Founder, president, FOB Charlotte
Sourcing and ensuring quality of student housing furniture requires going the extra mile — sometimes thousands of miles.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain, our flight time today into Shanghai is 15 hours and 12 minutes, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” Almost immediately, the businessman sitting next to me looks over and asks, “is this your first time to China?” I respond politely, “no, sir, this is my fourth trip in the past four months.” He then asks, “so what kind of work do you do that requires that much travel to Asia in a short amount of time?” I tell him we provide and install furniture for student housing, as I put my noise-reduction headphones on and settle into what has become my routine for sourcing and customizing furniture from China to the United States.
Easing the Pain for Student Housing Owners
To expand my response to this fellow’s logical question, I would break it into this simple answer: product development, sourcing, quality control and logistics. These are the same reasons many student housing owners often tour their properties and construction projects. It’s about controlling a process in order to arrive at a desired result.
I have seen and heard many property owners’ horror stories about furniture gone wrong. I’ve seen the dining/desk chair that was impossible to sit in because the pitch of the back is too vertical. Then there’s the example of the metal bedframe that collapsed within the first week of setup. Another heartbreak was the cabinets that arrived with false drawer fronts instead of actual functioning drawers! I am sure all of these products looked great in the pictures, but the functionality was overlooked. It is absolutely critical to test the functionality when designing a new piece of furniture. The factory might get the sample 90 percent correct based on the pictures they were given, but the functionality and the comfort is in that next 10 percent.
We write a very detailed specification for each product and then test it for functionality and comfort before it is ever put into production. Once the specification and testing are complete, now we have to ensure that the mass production is done in compliance with the specification. We monitor our factories based on performance to a known requirement. Our quality control personnel inspect every single piece of furniture prior to shipping, while following a guideline on what is expected.
Complete QC, Not Random Sampling
The time to find out you have a problem is at the source, not after furniture has shipped and been received. Whether it’s an existing piece of furniture or a customized one, we have a third-party quality control (QC) team in place to analyze every piece of furniture before it’s shipped. Random sampling is not good enough. Yes, this process takes time, money and expertise, but this is what every client should expect. Control really is at the core of a successful furniture production and distribution process. Most of our furniture travels from China, so even after the goods have been efficiently and successfully designed, created and packaged, they still have to survive a long 15-day journey across the Pacific. Of course, sometimes the seas aren’t smooth or perhaps the packaging or wrapping isn’t effective at protecting your precious cargo. Our packaging has to be lean, sturdy and protective. At FOB, we have sustainable and repurposed materials throughout our furniture manufacturing and shipping process, which costs more, but it is our philosophy that it’s the right thing to do.
Logistics: the Final Key Step
Scheduling is another crucial component in this process. College schedules don’t fluctuate. The fall semester isn’t going to shift because your furniture got held up in customs. Logistics is one of the final essential and important parts to a successful install. We provide furniture for Campus Crest Communities, and one large property can have more than 6,000 pieces of furniture. Its critical that every piece be perfect and in its place before move-in day. With a methodical logistics plan that is customized for the nuances of each project, there is a calculated flow – for a higher probability of a smooth, timely move-in and setup.
FOB’s tagline, “Design, Direct, Deliver,” is the distilled sound bite for our process, but in the end what’s truly important is the satisfaction and happiness of the student housing company and its students.
— Brian Hunt is the founder and president of FOB Charlotte. He is responsible for the overall direction and managment of the company but is hands-on in installations and deliveries. Hunt graduated from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., with a bachelor of science in business administration.