Herman Miller Opens a Retail Store at Hudson Yards, NYC

Herman Miller has opened two new stores in the biggest cities in America, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Normally it wouldn’t be a milestone for a major brand to open brick-and-mortar stores in luxury shopping malls in New York City and Los Angeles, but nothing is normal in the age of Covid-19.  So while Herman Miller’s plan to open new stores certainly antedates the pandemic, opening them now is a milestone nonetheless.

On Nov. 20 Herman Miller opened a store at The Shops at Hudson Yards, a gleaming office and high-end retail complex on the Hudson Riverfront that could be compared to the luxury shopping palaces of Singapore and Dubai.

The Vessel with The Shops at Hudson Yards in the background. Photo Courtesy of Related/Michael Moran

The Shops at Hudson Yards are next to an alien-looking 16-level sculpture/walkway-stairway/observation tower/Instagram photospot called The Vessel . Designed by Tom Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio as a public art installation to set-off the development’s plaza, it is a tourist magnet for selfies with the gleaming towers of Hudson Yards or the Hudson River and New Jersey in the background.

On a recent visit, there were mask-wearing tourists there, but far fewer of them compared with this time last year. And the masks were about the only indication that they’re visiting the Big Apple while it’s in the throes of an upswing in the deadly epidemic that has just shut down the city’s schools, again.

The Herman Miller Store at The Shops at Hudson Yards. Photo courtesy of Herman Miller

Mask-wearing tourists who venture inside The Shops find the kinds of businesses that cater to well-heeled clientele; like Lululemon, b8ta, Rhone and Peloton. “We are well-positioned among our peers,” said Debbie Propst, president of Herman Miller Retail. She said her neighboring businesses attract the tech-savvy, athletic-minded customers that she wants to walk into her store and sit in her chairs.

Debbie Propst, President, Herman Miller Retail. Photo Pippa Drummond

Herman Miller describes its stores as 1,500-square-foot “immersive vignettes” where customers can sample the chairs with their various features at the “performance seating bar.” Many of the customers who walk into Herman Miller stores already have a decent idea of the chair they want, and now they want to test drive it – which they can only do in a physical store, explained Devon Torrey, general manager of the store at Hudson Yards.

“The chairs are almost designed like car seats,” said Torrey, wearing a mask while sitting in an Embody gaming chair that looks like it just rolled off a starship. “They want to try it before they buy it.”

Front and center in the layout of the Herman Miller store is a display of a home office that might best be described as corporate cyberpunk, leading with its newly-released, futuristic-looking gaming chairs, including the Sayl, the Embody, and a souped-up version of its classic Aeron chair. A new gaming version of the Embody was released in July in collaboration with Logitec, the gaming version of the Aeron came out in September, and the Sayl was launched in October.

The Sayl is a streamlined task chair with a sci-fi vibe, backed with a web-style seat inspired by suspension bridges and woven with varying strands of 3D Intelligent suspension. The Sayl includes elbow support and a battle-ready upright locking seat that’s flexible on the edges for freedom of movement. The Sayl sells for $616, –  considerably less that the Embody Gaming Chair, which has a price tag of $1,495, but offers a more commanding look. While the sleek Sayl might appeal to gamers, hackers and geeks, the Embody looks like it was salvaged from an Imperial Star Destroyer. Either way, the style is meant to help propel the gamer to virtual worlds.

Front and center in the layout of the Herman Miller store is a display of its gaming furniture.

While the sci-fi home office display dominates the front of the store, the rest of it features corporate layouts with the Aeron office chair, a classic that debuted in 1994 and has since become omnipresent in offices throughout corporate America. Aeron chairs even showed up in the presidential debates, with candidates and moderators perched on them while millions watched, according to Propst.

While office furniture sales have encountered strong headwinds this year, the winds are also shifting, from the office-office to the home-office.  Herman Miller reported a 15% drop in net sales during the quarter ended Aug. 29, which covers the summer of Covid-19. But the losses were partially offset by a sales surge in the home office category, which grew by 300% that quarter as workers went remote and outfitted their home offices. Perhaps they got tired of sitting stiffly in dining room chairs all day or loafing with a laptop on the couch from morning till night. Whatever the rationale, many work-from-home employees realized it was time for an upgrade.

A home office display with the performance seating bar in the background. Photo courtesy of Herman Miller
The Performance Seating Bar, Photo CGM

The layout of the store reinforces what has already been confirmed in the Michigan-based company’s earnings reports: that office furniture sales are currently shifting dramatically toward the home office. Corporate offices are staffed by skeleton crews, while people are working from home in greater numbers, and that trend supports Herman Miller’s opening of retail stores as well as the layout with products for the home office front and center.

Devon Torrey, general manager of the store helping a customer at the “performance seating bar.” Photo courtesy of Herman Miller

“Everyone is working from home,” said Torrey. “And everyone is realizing the importance of a chair that they would normally go to an office to use.”

“We’re in a time where many find themselves sedentary, working from home, sitting down for more hours than ever before, and the dining room chair just isn’t cutting it anymore,” said Propst. “We can do better, especially when it comes to our well-being.”

It’s a bold move for Herman Miller to open new stores after the coronavirus pandemic cratered the economy and shut down storefront retail in many cities; albeit temporarily. On Nov. 10, it opened a store at Westfield Century City, a commercial complex in Los Angeles, and reopened its other New York store on Park Avenue, which it had temporarily shuttered during the pandemic. The company plans to open two more stores in December: in Austin, Texas, and Tokyo, Japan.

Aaron Smith is a seasoned reporter who’s written for Forbes, CNN, People magazine, High Times and the Boston Globe, and also newspapers in New York and Maine. He’s covered the gun industry, the cannabis industry, the markets, business, the police beat, white collar crime, the courts and the military. He’s also written a book called “Circus Jerks,” about his adventures riding the rails with Ringling Brothers. He is new to the office furniture industry, but he’s a quick learner.