Cliff Levin CEO Furniture For Life, transforming the business while delivering lasting profound health and comfort benefits

BLP Levin | Furniture For Life

BLP Levin | Furniture For Life

Have you ever sat on a chair and wished it was more comfortable? Comfortable furniture is really important because we spend lots of hours of our day in them. For Cliff Levin and his company, Furniture for Life, their mission is to make the world a more comfortable place through a variety of well-designed, well-made furniture products with health, wellness, and comfort-related twists on them. He guarantees that everything they do and touch is going to have an underlying health message, and that there’s real value to buying the luxury and high-quality brands that they make and represent. He says the passion and the way they care about their customers is core to their success.

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Cliff Levin CEO Furniture For Life, transforming the business while delivering lasting profound health and comfort benefits

We have with us the Founder, CEO and President, Cliff Levin, of Furniture For Life.

Happy you joined us here, Bob.

Cliff, thanks so much for taking time with us. Tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.

We’ve been in business eleven years. Our mission is to make the world a more comfortable place. We do that through a variety of well-designed, well-made furniture products. We talk to discerning consumers who care about the quality of product they buy and they’re interested in something that’s healthy and comfortable. That’s who we’re after.

When I first came in, there’s a showroom that we were in. There’s a quantity of high-tech furniture, you didn’t get to test drive one of these pieces of furniture and it looks like a very high-speed, sleek, easy chair, the one that I was in. At least that’s what I would call it.

All of our furniture has a twist on it that’s health, wellness, comfort-related. The core of our business is massage chairs, that’s how we grew up as an organization. We’ve branched out from massage chairs into the recliner that you were trying, which is a True Zero Gravity recliner under the Positive Posture brand name. We also carry a Norwegian brand of chairs where we’re the North American distributor that are healthier than your average office chair because they introduce a level of movement into your day that isn’t possible in a typical static office environment. Everything we do and everything we touch is going to have an underlying health message.

The health message is not you and I chatting about it. There’s research that’s been done that supports your assertions on what you’re talking about and being a healthy piece of equipment.

For example, this Norwegian brand I’m talking about, the brand is Varier, there is a Move stool. It encourages you to fidget. When we sent that Move stool to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and there’s a research lab there. There’s a guy named Dr. Levine who is deep into researching how to make Americans and people around the world more healthy in the context of this sedentary way of life that people in advanced economies live.

The Move stool is something called NEAT-certified. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It’s a very fancy way of saying how much are you moving and how much energy are you burning when you’re not exercising? It turns out, according to Dr. Levine’s research, that that kind of activity is as important, if not more important, than making a point of exercising 45 minutes a day, in terms of your long-term health and vitality.

I’m in the office environment and I’m sedentary through much of the day in front of computers and doing what I do. You think about the various things to sustain energy and stay competitive in the business environment and there were applications. Like the chair, when you move and fidget, I’m going, “That’s exactly what I’m doing right now is I’m moving and fidgeting, and I have an urge to twist back and forth.”

Perhaps not a good thing when there’s a video camera trained on you because it will drive people crazy, but that’s what it encourages you to do.

You were talking about your timing being so impeccable coming into this business.

In 2006 I had stopped what I was doing before, which was running a chain of back specialty retail shops on the East Coast primarily, the DC area. I moved here to Boulder and through a variety of lucky breaks I ended up jumping into the massage chair business. A business that I had understood and known from the health specialty store business, and it felt like a matter of months later that it was announced that the United States was in the deepest recession in modern memory, and there we were, brand new company. It was me and a couple of other folks, and that’s the moment when I thought, “My timing couldn’t have been any better.”

We were lucky, we got through it. We got through it because we were small. We got through it because we were starting and we were also talking to a slice of the American consumer that was relatively insulated from the worst parts of the recession. They were able to afford our, what turned out to be, luxury products. It took us six months to do our first million and that was before the deep recession. When the recession hit, we continued to grow through that, which isn’t a reflection on our capability or intelligence. It’s that we were coming off of a very small base and we happen to be starting right then.

Everything we do and everything we touch is going to have an underlying health message. Click To Tweet

For the folks out there going like, “Is your product in furniture? Is it for me?” who’s your typical client?

I’m going to split the group in two. Let me talk about massage chairs. Massage chairs are big, they’re bulky, they’re expensive and that’s a long way of saying it’s a big decision if you’re going to bring one into your home. We have affluent customers who are stressed out by their lives and are looking for a way to escape for 15 minutes or 30 minutes every day. For them it’s not so much the expenditure, but it’s the commitment of space, it’s the commitment of a decision to bring this object into their house. They bring it in to run away a little while from their busy lives. That’s one set of consumer. Well-to-do families, well-to-do husbands and wives who know that this moment away from it all is going to be beneficial to their mental health and well-being. That’s one side of it.

The other side of it is, “I’ve got serious chronic neck, back, or shoulder pain. I don’t care how much money I make, I’m going to solve this problem.” It’s interesting and heartwarming to me that we talk to a lot of people who are buying our products who are financially stretching to own our products because after they try them they believe in them. There’s where the real testimony lies in terms of what our product capabilities are. Somebody who’s may be a mechanic whose work is killing their bodies and choosing to step up and buy one of our chairs. Our most popular chair is $9,000, and saying, “This is what I need. I’ve tried them all, this is the best thing on the market.” Both of those groups are groups that we speak to. Both of those groups are important to our business.

When I was doing my test drive and you were saying, “Let me show you basically the Zero Gravity attitude of this particular chair,” and you were talking about the benefits to the customer of the Zero Gravity. Let’s touch on that for the folks who are going, “Maybe this is the solution for me.”

Let me organize our products into groups here, because this is going to get a little confusing. We have massage chairs and we represent multiple luxury brands of massage chairs. One of them is the DreamWave brand, that’s our high-end brand. One of them is the Panasonic brand of massage chairs, and everybody knows the Panasonic brand. We are the exclusive United States distributor for the Panasonic brand of massage chairs. There’s a third brand, which is a brand that we developed, called Positive Posture. We have massage chairs under all of those different brand labels and they’re slightly different flavors and they feel different and certain consumers will drift one way and others will drift another way, depending on their needs.

Under the Positive Posture brand, in addition to massage chairs, we also have True Zero Gravity recliners. The novel ability of True Zero Gravity recliner is that it can get your ankles and your calves well above the level of your heart. If you happen to be an old weekend warrior jock and you tweak your ankles regularly or you’re diabetic and you’re suffering from edema, swelling of the ankles or the calves, the ability to raise your ankle or calves above the level of your heart is tremendously therapeutic. It will reduce swelling in a matter of a few minutes. If you’ve ever had any kind of surgery, wherever it is on your body, the surgeon will tell you, “If you’re able to elevate that part of the body,” and that’s precisely what a Zero Gravity recliner is capable of doing with your calves and your ankles, in addition to the fact that it’s ridiculously comfortable. Most people buy these True Zero Gravity recliners from us because they find them comfortable. Some of the people buy them because they absolutely need the therapeutic benefits that the recliner offers.

When I was in the chair, but you were talking about it’s almost like a traction effect on the lower back. I don’t know what degree it was, but you literally could feel the pressure come off your lower back.

Precisely what the recliner is designed to do. What happens is the posture you’re in is a semi-fetal position. If you can imagine lying on your back, this is why we call it True Zero Gravity. Imagine an astronaut floating in space in a relaxed posture. You have that bend at the hips that you always see in an astronaut and I refer to it as the semi-fetal position. People with low back pain frequently can’t sleep on their backs at night, what they’ll do is they’ll turn on their sides, and then pull their knees up toward their chin a little bit, and that will instantaneously give them relief, and that’s what this recliner is able to do, while you’re lying on your back and sitting in it, put you in that semi-fetal position.

You started out and it was basically you and a couple of folks. We’re right adjacent to everybody. The place is awesome. The tables move up and down, pretty much everybody is in the same chair that I’m in. Many of them are standing up at their desks. For me I like to write on walls and there’s one wall that’s designed to be written on. How many folks do you have in your organization now?

We have 42 people on the payroll.

How you have the groups organized? Because you have a luxury premium product, you have a focus on a particular area or a couple of areas within your organization.

In order to share the message, we have a fairly robust marketing effort, that’s absolutely necessary. We want to rise about the clutter and we want to make the argument to consumers, in case any consumers are listening right now, that there’s real value to buying the luxury and high-quality brands that we represent. Part of that value then comes to another critical area of the company, which is the service side of the company. Once you buy one of our products, either directly from us or through one of our dealer partners around the country, at that point we’re engaged. That’s the first day of our engagement as far as we’re concerned.

From that point on you’ve joined the family, we are going to take care of you and your problems we see as opportunities to make you delightfully happy. I like to think that we do a good job in the way we answer the phone and the way we handle warranty issues and even post-warranty issues. We do it pretty well, it is certainly something we’re passionate about and care deeply about, and I believe it’s core to our success.

For the organization in where you’re going with it, what do you see as the key things that are coming in the next two to three years for the company?

We’re getting more complex. We’re adding products, we’re constantly upgrading our technical capabilities, and we’re taking on more challenges as they relate to designing products. I see our ability to weather the increasing complexity and dumb it down to the extent that we can by ignoring the things that don’t matter to the business and really focusing on the things that we do, and that’s much harder. It’s easy to say and hard to do. The complexity can bury us, and if we don’t keep up with our personnel systems and our technology systems, it will put a hurt on us. We’re doing okay, we’re trying different things and we’re taking a very different approach to how we organize the company in an effort to address this wave of change and complexity that we see coming to us.

This is heading toward probably my favorite part of the podcast, is where I get to quiz you to death, which is fun for me because I’d love to hear your answers. One of the things that I talk to business owners is their recent reading. What’s the most recent book or most influential book that has altered your perception on being a CEO or how you run your business and why?

BLP Levin | Furniture For Life

Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business

Have you heard about this book called Traction?

I haven’t.

There’s this guy named Gino Wickman and there’s only one possible answer to this question right now because our whole organization is now built on the concept of putting in place an Entrepreneurial Operating System. Once all the pieces of that are in place, this guy, Gino Wickman, informs us that at that point you have something that he calls traction. You’ve got grip, you’ve got movement, you’ve got momentum, and you’re going in a direction. Traction involves a fairly painful process of trying to understand who you are as an organization. It’s only recently that we’ve gotten to 42 people. For a long time, the company could exist on people knocking on my door and going, “Cliff, what do you think of this? Cliff, what do you think of that?” It worked. It no longer works at 42 people.

We think hard about precisely who we are, how we’re going to focus, what our core values are. From there we develop a one-year plan, a three-year plan, and a five-year plan. After we’ve got those big blocks in place, and it sounds simple, it’s difficult to execute. It’s a big change for me and it’s a big change for a lot of people in the organization who are used to a much more informal environment. After you’ve broken it down like that, you then take your year and you chunk it out into quarters. There are all kinds of rules and commandments that we’re going to live by under this Entrepreneurial Operating System that ensure that we’re all pulling in one direction.

The most compelling aspect of it for me was the notion this guy, Gino Wickman says, “If you ask any successful business executive,” and we have a few business executives in here, “do you have a clear idea of where you’re going?” Anybody worth their salt will have something to say that’s pretty clear and pretty good that sounds a lot like a mission or a vision statement. Gino says the problem is not that good thinking people don’t have a clear idea of what they should be doing; it’s that they don’t agree. It’s that one executive and one executive has got one idea and another one has got another idea. It starts with people sitting in a room hour after hour whittling this thing down. I chime in every once in a while but the effort to get on paper clearly who we are, is a group effort signed off by me. Once it’s there we go, “We all agree this is what we’re doing,” and that’s the magic, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

I think about the entrepreneurial spirit, and you go, “I got that in the sales department. I can see that.” How does that entrepreneurial spirit manifest itself in the service department?

It’s interesting because we have this debate all the time, how much energy does the service department put into revenue-generating activities versus pure customer-loving activities? We tip way over on the customer love side of things. We all accept, me, the CFO, everybody else in the organization, that that is a cost center, that is not a revenue-generating center. The entrepreneurial spirit for them is tied to key measurements related to things like how long was it after the first call? How many days did it take to solve the problem? A lot of calls we get are solved in two minutes because it’s teaching the user something, but for real service issues. Call came in. Was it two days? Was it a week? Was it two weeks? which is a disaster. That’s how we measure them, and their goal is to come up with creative methods and systems to make that process more painless for the consumer and more efficient for us.

Have you ever met the author of the book?

No, but I would like to. I would like to tell him two things. You’re making me work way too hard, and when it clicks, the light bulb goes on and it’s amazing.

How long ago did you do this?

We started in earnest five months ago and we are six or seven months away from going, “We got it.”

Seeing some good symptoms?

Yes and some pain. It’s a struggle for me to not screw it up because I’m used to a very different way of operating and that’s true for some other people too.

What was that moment like when you said, “We got to do something different?”

It wasn’t me. It was the people around me. I wasn’t the one that said, “We have something we need to fix.” It was people coming to me and saying, “Cliff, it’s not working,” and me finally going, “You’re right.”

Here you are, “This is not working,” and you now start down this journey of, “What am I going to do?” How did you run across this book?

I can’t take credit for that. There are a couple of other people who were at another company before they came here, happened to be the same company, and they had gone through this process, this precise Traction process. They had seen it transform the way another CEO behaved and the activity and effectiveness of the organization they had been a part of. They’re the ones that agitated almost from the ground up. It was a popular uprising. I was almost deposed. That’s how it happened, and I give them credit and I call them out all the time and they were very skillful in how they went about it.

It wasn’t that long. It was about a year ago that we hired our first and only HR manager because we reached the point where people needed that resource in the organization. They had started to convince the HR manager that this is something that should be brought to me and should be pushed, and they were introducing these ideas quietly in meetings. One day I said, “We’re going to do this,” and I wasn’t sure about it at all. I had read the book a couple of times, but it was getting into the process and a lot of entrepreneurs are likely to look at all these systems from the outside with a lot of skepticism. I was one of them.

You were successful to that point.

I looked at it with skepticism because it was this system, like all systems, that announced that this was the answer, “This was God’s gift to any company struggling with anything.” After we started to go through the motion, I referred to it as hearing the drumbeat of what Traction is, getting the cadence right. It involves a very structured set of meetings, a very structured set of goals, and after doing that a few times, it’s like the first time you try and shoot a layup, everything about it is awkward. You’re learning to shoot a left-hand layup, everything about it is awkward but after you do it a thousand times, there’s nothing about it that’s awkward. We’re in the process of shooting a left-hand layup.

This is an old cliché, but leaders are readers or readers are leaders, however you wish to say it. I would never suggest that this one book is providing us with a user’s manual for how to operate a company, but there’s so much more critical information that needs to come in from every sector of the organization. Certainly in my case and in the case of many of the people that work here, the best ideas are going to come from a general interest in reading, not just business. Understanding a little more about life, realizing that the world is bigger than Boulder and bigger than yourself, and absorbing all that and bringing some of that general knowledge to work is critical.

If we don't keep up with our personnel systems and our technology systems, it will put a hurt on us. Click To Tweet

I can’t imagine not reading. I’m usually on one or two books pretty much at a time. This might be an interesting thought. What failure, or at the time apparent failure, has served you or your company best or set you up for future achievement and why?

We’re still going through this. The biggest failure that we made was being over-enthusiastic of some of the ideas, and those ideas were specifically manifested in products. Getting too excited about some products and over-investing in them and very specifically, over-investing in inventory. This is a common and dull problem that many companies who have to hold inventory have, I’m sure of it. Even though we’re eleven years old, we’re young in terms of growing from a tiny company into a small midsize company into a midsize company. We made some mistakes with inventory that we’re still smarting from and still working our way out of, and it’s a big distraction.

With those problems in mind, was Traction able to address some of the systems that would help you with that better?

It is helping us get out of those issues, but what I am confident of is because of the pain that we have been through that has been related to those issues, we won’t repeat that. The institutional memory of what happened is not going to be lost.

If you could put an ad on page one of the local paper sharing your company message or advice, what would it say and why?

Talk to us, try what we have to offer. If you become our customer, you’ll feel better than you’ve ever felt before.

Not a lot of companies could say that. What’s the best allocation, either of time or initiative, that’s helped your company most and why?

Of late, technology. We’re invested, not me because I’m a dope when it comes to of the deep technical matters, but we have a team, a core team of very capable people who take our behind the scenes operating systems. We run on the Salesforce platform, molding that piece of clay into a form that works well for us. Salesforce is constantly becoming this better and more refined tool for us. That’s a big piece of it, but then also technology as it relates to our products. We’re investing in accomplished designers from the visual and functional standpoint, but also we’re investing in the intellectual property of the underlying software that drives the sensations that come out of a massage chair. I’m absolutely convinced that the investment on the back side systems and the investment in the products, both of which fall into this general technology realm, are huge and important pieces of our future.

About adopting or any technology, there’s that period of time where you learned how to drive the thing. Takes a bit of time. If I was to talk to some of the folks here and say, “What is your most unusual habit, or what others may consider out of the ordinary that’s helped you or your company most?”

There is an expectation for the way a CEO is going to behave. Traction tries to overcome some of this too, but there’s a built-in reluctance of the people who report to me, which is everybody in the organization, to tell the god’s honest truth about what’s going on. I hope that time and time again I’ve proven through my behavior that I’m maybe different than other CEOs or big executives that they’ve dealt with. I’m perfectly willing to listen to the contrarian view or hear the bad news without going nuts on somebody. It’s critical to the smooth operation of the business that all of the important issues, that are negative, bubble to the surface. People are reluctant to tell me that my idea is bad, and that’s dangerous, so I constantly try to work to overcome that. I don’t know if they see it as a quirk, but I do think they’ve accepted that Cliff is willing to get his ego out of things pretty quickly.

Over the past three years, what belief or protocol have you established in your company that has most impacted you or your company’s success?

Traction and all the KPIs that are involved with that, and the nature of communication that it facilitates.

For folks, KPI?

Key Performance Indicators. The fact that we have documented our vision very clearly. It’s our business Bible. It’s our touchstone; we go back to it all the time. It’s a trail blaze. If you want to check whether or not you’re on the right path, if you’ve taken the fork in the right direction, pick this up, read it and ask that question again.

What advice would you offer to a new CEO that’s assuming the role of CEO for the first time?

Modesty. Definitely focus and follow through on your ideas. As you are challenged with real information, to the extent possible it should be real information, be willing to start to shift your ideas a little bit. You may need to shift your ideas because of the team you have and their specific capabilities, which might not be a perfect fit for what it is that you want to do. You might have to shift your ideas because the real world is telling you you’re wrong. It’s important for companies to make decisions quickly and go a strategic direction quickly, but after that decision is made, it’s important to start to refine that direction. Which ultimately may mean, not overnight but over time, that you’re going 180 degrees the other way.

As you were talking about setting your one, three, and five-year plan, and then you’re talking about this type of operation. At some point in time you go back and look at your KPIs and go, “Are we on board? Are we off? Did we think about this wrong or did something change?” What’s that old cliché, “If you can measure it, typically it will improve”? You guys are actively measuring.

We’re actively getting better at measuring. We’re still in the middle of this implementation process. It’s interesting that in Traction they call it the Entrepreneurial Operating System. The way I explained it to my team was because it’s an operating system, like a Microsoft operating system, we’re going to discover some bugs, we’re going to discover ways to evolve it, we’re going to discover ways to make it work better with changing times in the world as outside forces require us to improve the operating system.

BLP Levin | Furniture For Life

C: The best ideas are going to come from a general interest in reading, not just business.

Like any operating system, think of what it would be like for a company like Target to update their point of sale system. They have a massive legacy system. How long does it take for them to shift from system A to new and better system B? You get a sense, and then if you think of your Entrepreneurial Operating System as the software of the organization. You have a legacy system which was maybe knocking on Cliff’s door, bad legacy system, and we are replacing it with a brand new collection of methods for running the company. It’s a time-consuming process, and that’s what we’re learning.

What struck me as you were talking, there’s the Cliff before and the Cliff after. What’s the chief difference that you see in your day between before and now?

I’m way more relaxed. It is a way for a CEO and other leadership in the organization to feel more in control, more clarity, sleep better at night. You’re not casting about every day for a new direction or a new answer. It’s a hugely relaxing thing, for lack of a better way of saying it. The guessing that other teammates have to make about which direction the company is going, the uncertainty that people feel about what their role is in the organization, none of that is good for anybody in the company and none of it’s good for the company. Have we solved all those problems? No. I don’t even want to hint to you that we’ve got this thing nailed, but as I’ve expressed, I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.

As that you feel more relaxed and so on, have you had a-ha moments from this change for you?

The big a-ha moment is we were faced with a challenging competitive environment and there are so many things we have to address. It feels like we can do that now, so the a-ha moment was, “How the hell are we going to do that too?” We’re going to be able to do it and there’s a huge gap.

That’s hope.

That’s a good way to put it. It gives us hope, it gives me hope.

I guess looking over this change for you. What do you think the misconceptions were about you as CEO before you went through this process?

I have said over the years as a CEO, and even more as somebody who’s labeled as an entrepreneur, there all these notions that the world around you has of who you are as an entrepreneur, as if there’s this monolithic idea of what an entrepreneur is. I never felt like I fit many of those things. I’ve always told my people that whatever the outside world is telling you, the victories are ours together, they’re not mine, and they’re not because of my idea. I might have been the guy stupid enough and crazy enough to start the company, I’ll take credit for that. Fine, but now most of the credit belongs to other people. I guess what I would say to the world about entrepreneurs is when you look at them, look past them and look at the team that they’ve got and you’ll figure out how well they’re doing as an organization.

You see that a lot in the military as well. Can they function without leadership?

The general gets all the credit, but I bet in the back room the general is going, “I know it’s not me, guys. It’s you.”

Looking back over the past few years, what would or should you have said no to and why?

Many things. I was accused of having a shiny object problem. We tried lots of products and failed. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. In times of success, I do believe firmly that you should be experimenting constantly. You should have a petri dish of stuff growing that could be the next new big thing for the organization. At times when things are leaner and tighter, perhaps that’s not the best thing to engage in. When the flywheel of the core business seems to be spinning fast, you’d be wise to throw a lot of things against the wall. The criticism I have on myself is we threw too many things on the wall.

When I walked in I got to enjoy one of your projects. Talk a little bit about the thought process to go ahead and design your own piece of furniture and the process of going to China, and lessons learned maybe out of that process.

As an organization, we were fortunate enough in our very first days to link to a superb factory in Japan. We were all alone at the top of the massage chair marketplace. The competitors in this country, and around the world, saw our success and started to knock off small parts of it, in terms of the feature and functions set of the chairs that we had. Over time more and more and more of it, until on a feature chart it’s hard to distinguish our chairs from the competitors. On the performance chart, different story. Features and performance are two very different things.

I tell people, “Think of our chairs as a Ferrari, but understand that there’s also the Ford Fiesta on the road.” They both have steering wheels, they both have gas pedals, they both have a transmission, and they both have a brake pedal, but nobody in their right mind would argue that these are the same car. In fact, the Fiesta may even be more feature-rich because a Ferrari is a pretty bare-bone car, it drives really well. If driving really well is what you want to do, then you want a Ferrari. Even though our massage chairs may not be super feature-rich, they’re still so carefully built that they’re the Ferrari of the marketplace.

What we discovered is that we needed to take our own fate into our own hands. We needed to not be reliant on the technology that manufacturers were coming up from their manufacturing side and their manufacturing brain, which is limited by, “What do we think the factory is capable of doing easily? What have we seen and can copy from other people?” To iterate on what we have and slowly evolve, we’ve taken that and we’ve said, “Let’s go talk to super designers, let’s go talk to people who understand furniture, understand massage, understand how to think, that are established three-dimensional thinkers that will let us bring novel product with real benefits to the market.” We’re engaged deeply in a project to do that now. I can’t say too much about it.

As you are challenged with real information, be willing to start to shift your ideas a little bit. Click To Tweet

It’s fascinating when you look at what’s the big thing that could take and damage the company, if your sole source supplier goes away and decides to do something else.

We have a plan in place to make sure that we’re okay.

When you come in on any given day, do you have a self-talk or a dialogue that goes on between your ears when you come in for the day to take and to stay focused and whatnot?

Yes. I like to walk in the mornings and it is a great time for me to think about my day, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think about personal matters, but frequently I get good ideas when I walk. When I come in here, my hope is that there is enough time where I’m silent. It is way too easy for me to get, and it’s not true of me but of other people too, in the organization, where you can go from meeting to meeting. I don’t think you can offer your best work or your best self constantly in dialogue with other people without coming back to your desk and standing, in our case, for a moment and perhaps staring at your computer screen for a while and disconnecting from the flurry of activity that is this office.

The good ideas, people always say that you don’t get good ideas out of committees. There’s a lot of truth to that. The question becomes if you’re always sitting in a committee and you’re always in a meeting and you’re always being pulled in a whole bunch of different directions, what is the idea you’re going to have that’s not part of a committee? You got to tear away and separate from that stuff.

As you were talking I was thinking about the folks that come in from other organizations. They may be used to sitting at a traditional desk with a traditional chair, and we’re anything but that here. What’s the chief take away from that new person, energy-wise or whatever, from standing or sitting?

We have a fairly formal interview process, nobody is surprised. As they go through that process, they hopefully walk away with a very clear understanding that we’re focused on health. We’re not outwardly looking at our consumers and mindlessly marketing this health message because we think it’s an effective way to sell a product. That’s not earnest. From us, it comes from the inside. We talk about health as an organization; we talk about being healthy as an organization, by being healthy as individuals. There’s an employee out there taking a massage that is 100% allowable at any time of the day, you can get a massage. We sell massage chairs, you should understand what our products do and you should take advantage of the benefits you can reap by clearing your mind for a little while during the day.

Walking understanding what that’s about, and there are dogs in the office. That’s a part of what it’s about too. There’s a lot of science behind it, but my belief is that people don’t produce their best work under stress. They can respond and you can get good results under stress, but the best thinking and the most careful strategies aren’t going to come out of the most insane situations.

How do people find you on social media?

The easiest way to find our website is to go to FurnitureForLife.com. Our brands Positive Posture, DreamWave, Panasonic, we’ve got social media pages scattered around.

Many business owners have particular quotes that they either like or use. Do you have a favorite quote?

Yes. “Don’t let perfect get in the way of better.”

In application, what does that mean to you?

That means that somebody is standing at the front of the room lamenting that we can’t do A, B, C, D, E, and F. Other people in the room are going, “If we can get A and B done,” and the person at the board is so wed to this perfect utopian notion of what the next step for the organization needs to be. They can’t let go enough to realize that organizationally we may not be able to attack the whole thing, but if we could get 40% or 80% of it done we’ll be in a much better spot than we are today. There’s a person’s ego involved in the way they’ve imagined and pictured the whole thing. They have to let go of that in order to not let perfect get in the way of better. It’s hard. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for humans.

If I was to ask colleagues what you were best at, what would they say and how do you utilize this strength on a daily basis?

They would say that I’m a pretty creative mind, but I’m not head in the clouds creative. I can spit out, hopefully I spit out some new and challenging ideas for people to maybe rethink situations or rethink opportunities. I’m very capable of living in the real world. I hope they say that about me. If you polled people, that’s what you would hear.

BLP Levin | Furniture For Life

Furniture For Life: Don’t let perfect get in the way of better.

Many folks have talked about creativity and innovation. When you’re faced with a challenge that may cause you to need to put on your creative hat, what do you do?

That goes back to that time you need apart. You’ve got to think and you’ve got to let ideas rattle around in your head. Maybe you’ve got to read or these days maybe you’ve got to Google something. You can go down a rabbit hole that you might emerge from with a possible answer. I don’t think there’s anybody in this organization that can play a useful leadership role that can’t go off and think on their own. This ties again back to reading. It’s all about putting your ideas in order, thinking it through, understanding consequences, and trying to organize all that in your head around a piece of paper, a Google Doc or whatever it is. When you articulate it and you’re asking the organization to move with you in a specific direction, you’ve thought it through. I’m not for one second a great writer; I’m not making that claim at all. I feel like I can write well enough. Writing requires structure. It requires organizing similar ideas in similar places on the page. That process of thinking helps you digest challenges and come out with thoughtful, non-crazy approaches and solutions, hopefully. We ask that of everybody in the organization.

You think one thing and you look about the evolution of what you do in the business end. We’re fortunate to have you as a guest on the podcast and thank you so much for sharing your journey and wisdom along the way.

It’s been good fun. Thank you very much, Bob.

About Cliff Levin

BLP Levin | Furniture For LifeA dyed-in-the-wool retailer who has wandered upstream into importing and distributing Japanese-made massage chairs.

Specialties: Retail Operations, Import, Distribution, Brand Development, Really Caring About Customers

 

 

Links Mentioned:

Furniture For Life

True Zero Gravity

Varier

Move

Dr. Levine

DreamWave

Panasonic

Traction

Gino Wickman

Entrepreneurial Operating System

Salesforce

FurnitureForLife.com

Positive Posture Facebook

DreamWave Facebook