How two friends named John reinvented the design industry


One of the design industry’s most significant partnerships began in 1991, in San Carlos, California, at the offices of a shoe brand called Sam & Libby Shoes. The, John Edelman worked hard in a company founded by his older brother Sam (“Libby” was Sam’s wife). One day came in another John—John McPhee. The two were the young guys in the office, and almost immediately they befriended each other.

“John was so nice, he came in and said, ‘Let’s have dinner! “,” Edelman recalled to the host Denis Scully on the last episode of The Home Business Podcast. “I don’t think we realized what it meant that day.”

For both Johns, personally, it meant a lot – for the design industry as a whole, maybe even more. The couple went on to work for another Edelman family business, Edelman Leather, and grew it enough to sell it to Knoll for $67 million in 2007. After that, another challenge arose: take the Then-struggling retailer Design Within Reach, known at the time for cheap knockoffs and turning the tide.

When the associates went to meet the employees of the company, it became clear that the task was difficult. “They looked at us with such suspicion. It was the worst address I had to deal with a group of people working for us. They did not know what to believe; we had to return them. It wasn’t pretty,” Edelman says. The duo set about canceling production on counterfeits, rekindling supplier relationships and reducing numerous leases. It was a bumpy ride at first.

“Neither of us had ever been to Salone. We had no idea what we were getting into. We had a brand new head merchant, and she heard that John and I were going to Salone without her, and she said to herself: ‘It is not possible!’ “says McPhee. “Thank goodness we listened to her. We had 40 appointments in five days with all of our major European suppliers. And we didn’t just go out there and say, ‘Hey, we’re John and John.” We thought, “We need you to start shipping to us again, and no, we’re not giving you a letter of credit; no, we’re not going to give you money at the advance; you have to give us 60 days, but we are good guys, believe us!

In the end, it worked out – beautifully – and eventually DWR was sold to Herman Miller for $154 million in 2014. The two Johns stayed on to help with the transition but eventually moved on to other adventures. Today, Edelman is resurrecting favorite design brand Heller (ironically, one of the very first challenges he faced at Design Within Reach was a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Heller’s founder Alain Heller). Meanwhile, McPhee is now CEO of Chilewich, where he is looking to expand the brand far beyond its origins as a placemat manufacturer.

Although both Johns now have their own businesses, the two are still involved in each other’s business (McPhee’s son was Edelman’s first hire at Heller) and continue to share ideas about an evolving industry. fast. In this episode of the podcast, they reveal the thinking behind some of their biggest moves, explain why economic downturns are opportunities to grow smart, and highlight why, in times of consolidation, betting on great design is always good business.

“I like acquisitions, I like mergers, but I think people have to care about design. We don’t make widgets. We make things that require passion, vision, and quality,” Edelman says. “J hope people keep this in mind first. With this, you can always succeed. You may take a short-term leap, but with good design you will succeed forever.

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Crypton.

Home page image: Peter Hapak

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