If you work in a modern state-of-the art office of a multinational company in Tokyo, the chances are you are sitting in a Herman Miller chair or working at a Herman Miller desk. Long regarded as innovative and design-oriented, Herman Miller goes way beyond great chairs, desks and other office furniture; it is also a pioneer in solutions-oriented office design, an area of growing importance as more companies come to understand the relationship between the working environment and productivity.
This is where Gregory Lyon comes in. One of Herman Miller’s main dealers in Japan, Lyon and his team facilitate furniture & carpet procurement as well as project management for clients. Born in Connecticut, Lyon first came to Japan in 1997 as a JET. After two years, he studied Japanese intensively for six months in Saitama, then developed business for a shipping company for 15 months. In 2001, he joined Herman Miller and in 2008, Lyon formed his own company, Gregory Lyon Inc, which focuses on supplying Herman Miller & InterfaceFlor products to the Japanese market.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Lyon at his office in Higashi-Azabu to hear more and try out some ergonomic chairs.
What are your products and services?
Besides Herman Miller furniture, we offer InterfaceFlor carpet tiles & complementary furniture products from Allermuir & Grand Rapids Chair Company. InterfaceFlor is one of the best-known tile and carpet manufacturers in the U.S. and is a very good fit with Herman Miller. We also offer work place solutions, such as space planning and office optimization, to meet the specific requirements of clients. Our clients’ employees may not think about the design or layout of the office on a daily basis, but if something doesn’t work, it will certainly frustrate them and this has a direct effect on employee satisfaction and productivity. As such, there is a lot of planning involved with creating a specification for furniture, the floor plan, and selecting colors and finishes.
How does the distribution system for Herman Miller work?
Herman Miller normally doesn’t sell directly to its customers but rather through independently owned companies such as mine. This allows Herman Miller to focus on their core competencies, which are work place research, design, manufacturing and distribution. This also allows me to have a laser sharp focus on supporting clients’ needs, so it is a very powerful system.
Who are your clients?
My core client base is multinational customers. My focus when I worked at Herman Miller was managing both the Korean market and multinational corporate (MNC) projects in Japan. I have built the company to support such projects in Japan and we have a fully bilingual team, meaning everyone on my staff speaks both Japanese and English. We really need to serve both sides of an MNC, both the foreign side which may or may not be located in Japan, and the Japanese side, which normally has the task of implementing a complex project within a high performance organization. We also serve local and Japanese clients who are looking for both top quality products and the creative ideas that a reputable furniture dealer can provide.
How many projects can you handle?
I have a very strong team and work with very well run suppliers. We support hundreds of accounts and can manage a number of projects simultaneously. The market is surprisingly seasonal; our clients are all very high performance, so we need to be prepared at all times to support multiple projects.
How has the recession affected business?
We’ve been fortunate. Our sales have grown every year since we started. Where the recession does affect us is that project size is smaller now, maybe offices with 50 to 150 people, whereas 5 or 6 years ago, it would have been up to 2,000 people. While some clients have decided to take advantage of a softer real estate market, a number of companies have also scaled back operations. The best-case scenario for us is when companies are growing or new organizations see opportunities in Japan. I expect the market to gradually come back, within this fiscal year, and that our sales will continue to grow. I also expect us to take a larger piece of a larger pie in the years to come.
How do you market yourself?
As a manufacturer, it is relatively easy to market yourself through product launches and showroom events. For a furniture dealer such as Gregory Lyon, Inc, marketing comes from consistently performing at a high level for our clients and with partners. Furniture is not a difficult business, but it is very easy to get it wrong. What matters most is to have a strong system in place and employees who are experts at what they do, create proactive solutions, limit the possibility of mistakes, and then fix those mistakes immediately when and if they come up. By developing the organization this way, we have received a number of referrals and have developed a good amount of trust in the market.
What do you think of office design in Japan in general?
The difference between a multinational and Japanese office here is pretty striking, right down to the furniture, lighting, office design, kinds of partitions, seating, keyboards and ergonomic instruments. Ergonomics doesn’t exist here at the level it does in other markets. The office in Japan is typically seen as place for employees to go to and work for the company. That’s fairly true across Asia. Whereas in Western markets, it’s reached a point where the atmosphere and environment are created with the aim of helping you the employee to do your best creative work. We can do our best work with clients who see the office environment as a strategic tool.
Do you get much feedback from clients?
Japan is great for feedback. If you’ve missed something, you are certainly going to hear about it. When I was at Herman Miller, we once had a client return a classic chair because the box had a small hole in it. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the product but since the box was damaged, it did not match the client’s expectations. This is a rare and extreme case, but I can understand the sentiment. I get a very strong satisfaction out of meeting Japanese clients’ needs and the lessons I have learned in working with them are invaluable.
What do you tend to focus on?
I always focus on new business development and try not to rely on phone calls from existing accounts. I prefer to look at what the market wants, which new customers are coming to the market and what they will need to be competitive in Japan. By staying as current as possible, both by working with a number of suppliers and going to various trade shows, we are well-positioned to both help new and existing clients with fresh ideas.
How many in your team?
Beside myself, I have four – a designer, sales manager, project manager and an administrator. I’m not saying this because I selected all of them, but I would put my team up against anyone’s in the industry. It is not just about speaking English or knowing some key phrases; it is about getting clients what they want and communicating clearly and proactively. I believe very strongly in my team and what they can achieve.
What is a typical day for you?
I often have early morning meetings but will get to the office at 9 or 9:30. I am in the office 50-60% of the time and am on my iPhone almost always (a tool that I’ve invested in also for my people who spend most of the day out of the office). The rest of the time, I will be out meeting with partners, project managers, clients and making sure everything is covered. My days also start quite early because I get up with my son at 5 a.m. and my daughter is up at 6, but they’re a lot of fun, so mornings are great.
Do you travel much?
I get to a few industry events, visit factories and clients overseas, and attend training events put on by the manufactures that I represent.
How do you relax?
I play squash and soccer. Weekends are spent with my wife and children.
Any Herman Miller furniture at home?
Lots. My wife says we have too much. But she has her eye on a new bench that Miller launched last year, so we may be adding to the collection.
For further information, visit www.gregorylyon.com© Japan Today