In September 2013, AIREA Inc., a commercial furniture dealership based in Farmington Hills, Mich., opened AIREA STUDIO in the Compuware building in downtown Detroit. The 2,500 square foot showroom, work lounge, and event space is open to the public and serves as both business development tool and product exposure incubator.
The AIREA team designed the STUDIO to be a constantly evolving space where they could showcase the latest in furniture, materials, and technology. But that’s where the similarity between AIREA STUDIO and furniture showrooms as you know them ends. Sure, AIREA’s promoting its products—according to Dave Kiwior, president of AIREA Inc., they’re “tracking leads and opportunities that [they] wouldn’t have engaged in if wasn’t for this space,” and they’ve had a “measurable amount of business” that they know they wouldn’t have had if not for the new STUDIO. But they’re also promoting a sense of community and promoting new ways of working in a city where work has been rocked to its core.
“Detroit is a startup city,” said Amy Bos, the director of design and marketing for AIREA Inc. “Whether that means a startup company or a startup individual, we depend on networking and hearing what each other are up to make things happen. This space embodies that. It’s about connecting. It’s about contributing to a greater good. It’s about relationship building.”
Erica Kimber, a designer at AIREA, said that a common refrain from visitors who work for startups is that they don’t have office space yet, but when they do, they want it to look like AIREA STUDIO.
Early in the conceptualization process the team agreed that the STUDIO would have to be the “Swiss Army knife” of space. They set out to:
Showcase Haworth in a new, different, and unique way
Showcase new and innovative products that are ahead of the curve
Create a constant activity, buzz, and “ballyhoo” around AIREA’s brand
Host events like CEU presentations and other community gatherings
The STUDIO is an incubator for their own ideas and for the community’s, as well as a marketing tool to showcase their products, the types of interiors they can design, and the different types of business models that they can design for. in the lounge area—it’s awesome to be a part of it. It’s happening everyday here.”
In their first year of business at the STUDIO, AIREA has had over 4,000 people visit the space and use it in some capacity: passers-by stopping in for quiet time, employees from neighboring businesses using it for meetings, or customers in for a walk-through.
“Now that we’re here, we’re a part of this connected community—people know,” said Dave Kiwior, president of AIREA Inc.. “It’s impacted our business in so many ways from street exposure, to a more creative reputation among A&D firms, to new clients who see us here and want to [absorb some] of our creativity.”
Kid Rock—proud native son of Detroit—had a hand in the concept for the STUDIO and the larger rebranding effort AIREA Inc. He’s quoted as saying, “If it looks good, you’ll see it. If it sounds good, you’ll hear it. If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it. But if it’s real, you’ll feel it.” That final sentence is now emblazoned on the back of every AIREA employee’s business card.
“The emotional connection to customers and people is a major part of our brand,” said Kiwior. “People walk into this space and they feel good. In the dealership world, you’ve got customers visiting four or five different dealers, they walk out of that process and they go: I know who I want to work with. I connected with somebody. It’s all these intangibles that play into that feel good.”
Bos pointed out that many of their visitors report a lack in meeting and conference spaces in their actual workplace, so they scoot down to AIREA for a quick chat. Kind of like a coffee shop, but with an even better vibe.
“Not a lot of offices are inspiring, so you kind of want to get out of your everyday, ho-hum [space],” said Amy Bos, the director of design and marketing for AIREA Inc. “They come down here and get re-energized. And Detroit has a huge startup community, so there are a lot of people who don’t have an office to work in yet.”
And not only that, it’s the very fact that they’re leaving one location and they’re walking down here: you’re not sitting when you’re doing that. You’re getting up and you’re moving around,” said Dr. Michael O’Neill, who leads workplace research for Haworth.
“That’s the other evolving aspect of work that you’re seeing, people are working in all of these different locations. It was not too many years ago that people plopped down in their cube or office and didn’t move all day. So you’re actually adding to the health of the community by giving them a place to get up and go, take a little micro-break, even if they do sit here.”
Indeed, Kiwior indicated the space was consciously programmed to be a “stop”—not a full destination.
The opening of AIREA STUDIO in September 2013 coincided with a company-wide re-branding effort. The STUDIO, though, was paramount to the re-introduction of the company to the community.
The message we give to people, whether it’s a client or someone off the street, is that we don’t suggest an entire office to be programmed this way. It’s not realistic and it’s not good for the psyche,” said Bos. “We advocate integrating moments like this within an open plan to break up spatial monotony. Also, these zones create the synergy needed to foster culture and camaraderie within an organization.”
O’Neill said that this is yet another example of how the reasons we build office space have shifted.
“Not many years ago, you built office space because people had to come up to a location to do their work. Their computer was in a cubicle, fixed in place—it was a big sixty-pound box. Their phone was wired to the wall,” he said. “You had to be there to do the work. And now, people don’t have to. They’re extremely mobile.”
In AIREA STUDIO’s first year, the choices, the variety, and the flexibility in their model are what have drawn over 4,000 people into the space; generated numerous opportunities with new customers; bolstered their reputation as a creative company within the A&D market; and attracted more employees to AIREA Inc.
People are working in different ways now, and here, we can show that.
Dave Kiwior, President, AIREA Inc.
Founded in 1996, AIREA Inc., a Haworth dealer, has been based in suburban Farmington Hills, Mich. since its inception. A few years ago they began looking at how to match the way their clients’ businesses were evolving with an evolution of their own, and thus the idea for a satellite space was born. AIREA STUDIO is a constantly evolving space showcasing the latest in furniture, materials, technology, and design. At the end of the day, their goal is to serve as a catalyst in the development of projects across a multitude of disciplines throughout the City.