Durable Yet Aesthetically Pleasing
By Rich Palzewic | Staff Writer, The Business News
GREEN BAY, WI – Innovative, adaptable, sustainable, versatile and aesthetically pleasing – that’s how Green Bay-based KI describes the most recent addition to its furniture lineup.
The Tributaire Collection, set to release in a few months, is a project KI has been working on since 2020, Melissa Jorgenson, senior product marketing manager, said.
“Shawn Barrett is the designer of the series – he’s an amazing visual person,” she said. “He’s not a KI employee, but it’s common in the furniture industry to use external sources. There was some give and take in the design with Shawn. Every touch point in the visuals, that’s what he is hired to do. The functionality parts of the product are more KI’s (role).”
Jorgensen said she thinks Tributaire is a great product, and “we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback so far.”
“What’s different with Tributaire is it has a high focus on design and details,” she said. “KI is known for functionality, but maybe not for having the most beautiful product – Tributaire closes that gap.”
The Tributaire Collection is made up of nine pieces – training tables, post-leg tables, café tables, c-leg tables, conference tables, occasional tables, storage, lecterns (which Jorgenson said has received the most interest) and nesting screens.
“Many times, meeting spaces have various products that have to be used in the same space, so having a collection of products like Tributaire where you have all of these pieces with the same design language makes it easy for the designers to plan the whole space,” Jorgenson said. “Having different products with different designs can be chaotic, so this series eliminates that chaos and makes it more calming. The nine pieces of Tributaire look like they are all meant to be with one another.”
Jorgenson said though Tributaire pieces are elegant, they are also durable.
“KI has always focused on durability, but Tributaire focuses on design, aesthetics and functionality,” she said. “Designers like functional things, but they don’t want to see all of the mechanics (of the product). The Tributaire design hides some of those mechanics.”
Jorgenson said the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot in how people use furniture and space – “it is different from what it used to be.”
“Some colleges have seen a decline in enrollment over the years because of COVID,” she said. “They have these big buildings with fewer people in, so a collection like Tributaire can also maybe help with that – it’s a highly functional and aesthetically appealing product that can help make students want to come (meet in person). Also, more people are working from home as remote workers and want nice, functional office equipment – things have changed.”
Because KI is perhaps best known for the functionality of its products, Jorgenson said it has a combination of internal and external beta sites used for testing.
“We try to install beta sites for our products so by the time they get into the market, we know how things will be used,” she said. “We do a lot of beta sites internally, but if we can find customers externally, that’s better because a lot of our products are going into education – students might use and abuse the products a bit more. It gives us a true indication of how durable the product is and what might have to be changed.”
Depending on the product, Jorgenson said the K-12 market is typically KI’s biggest customer.
“(The Tributaire Collection) was designed more for the corporate world and higher education,” she said. “We have a big test lab here to do BIFMA testing – which are the safety and durability standards for our industry. That’s not to say Tributaire won’t sell in the K-12 market because they will typically buy anything we make. Diversifying outside of K-12 is good, too.”
Why introduce Tributaire now?
Jorgenson said the release of Tributaire in a few months is a strategic move to help keep things fresh.
“I’ve been with KI for six years, and one thing (I’ve learned) is you have to come out with new products,” Jorgenson said. “I knew our Pirouette product (another KI furniture line) is coming up on being 10 years old, so we needed to come out with something fresh. Tributaire is the largest collection KI has launched at once. Typically, we’ll launch something and keep adding to it. That’s still the goal of Tributaire – we’re already working on Phase 2 … you have to keep going. This collection is the core stuff, and Phase 2 will fill in the gaps.”
Jorgenson said KI has traditionally worked with steel, but with Tributaire, that’s about to change.
“We are investing in an aluminum robotic welder at our Bonduel facility – which was a big investment,” she said. “Transitioning to aluminum is a different welding process and skill level. The benefit of aluminum is you can craft every detail with the design instead of taking metal and welding pieces together. This opens up a big capability for KI moving forward.”
Jorgenson said like most bigger furniture products, some assembly is required on-site “because sometimes it’s not practical to ship products in one piece.”
“We have KI people who travel to sites to assemble as needed,” she said.
The timeline for Tributaire’s release, Jorgenson said, is slated for early 2024.
“The robotic welder is being installed in January, so we’re officially launching Tributaire in February and shipping product by early April,” she said. “We’re trying to get the word out and hit the ground running when February rolls around. We don’t have pricing on everything quite figured out yet, but we’re getting close. I’m excited about the product – it’s fun to see the physical product come to life.”
For more information on KI and the Tributaire Collection, visit ki.com/tributaire.