MFLEX from Marshall Furniture: Customizability Meets Simplicity

With its new MFLEX line, Marshall Furniture has found the perfect midpoint in its product portfolio.

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MFLEX from Marshall Furniture: Customizability Meets Simplicity

When a company earns a reputation for giving customers exactly what they want, it’s both a huge competitive advantage and a perpetual challenge. Marshall Furniture, the widely respected, Antioch, Ill.-based provider of custom presentation and technology furniture, has devoted the past 37 years to ensuring its solutions meet clients’ specs, aesthetic and functional requirements. During that time, the company broadened its offerings beyond the original custom line. Its portfolio came to include the Quick Ship line of pre-engineered solutions to facilitate simplified sets of choices and even more attractive price points. But, Marshall found, some Quick Ship customers craved the more extensive customization options they knew and loved. So, now, the venerable company has rounded out its portfolio with a midline product family that combines the best of customizability with the virtues of simplicity and economy. It’s called MFLEX, and it’s about to launch.

Here, we’ll dive into all of Marshall’s product lines, how the team identified a gap and the thoughtful way they’ve now filled it with MFLEX. We feature insights from Michelle Wille, managing partner; Tom Feldkamp, director of business development; and Ariel Blaha, sales manager.

The Custom Line from Marshall Furniture

From Marshall’s inception, customizability has been its hallmark. Although the original custom line sometimes is associated with being very high end — and it certainly can be — it’s foundationally about starting with a blank canvas. “It can be built to any size, any style, any material selections,” Wille explains. “It can be integrated however it needs to be [and] built to spec.” Thus, although you could easily find a Marshall custom piece in a five-star general’s office, the line is really about having limitless flexibility to be responsive to client, dealer, architect and consultant needs. Indeed, Wille underscores the centrality of architectural elements to the custom line, explaining, “We have the ability to custom design it to the spec in terms of style, millwork, finish, material [and] size.”

As the name would indicate, the custom line can take innumerable forms. Blaha notes that, sometimes, customers simply want to add à la carte options to an existing Marshall design. Meanwhile, other customers wish to build something unique based upon an architect’s schematic. Catering to the second group of clients has burnished Marshall’s reputation from its founding in 1986 because, Wille says with pride, many clients simply can’t find what they need anywhere else. Blaha reinforces that point, saying, “It’s always having that availability to provide whatever it is that the customer’s looking for, if that’s not something they’re finding elsewhere.” Thus, the company, serving clients looking for the absolute best and customers seeking customization to maximize simplicity and value, has become the go-to resource.

Establishing the Quick Ship Line

On the subject of simplicity and economy, Marshall about a decade ago heard increasing customer desire for those attributes; the company responded by creating the Quick Ship line. “Quick Ship started with the demand of, ‘Hey, I need a simpler lectern that’s lower in price,’” Wille recalls, noting that the line launched with a single bundled product. Over time, Marshall built out the Quick Ship family of pre-engineered solutions, offering limited sets of options for each. “The quality is still there,” Wille confirms, “but it’s simplified because it’s a pre-engineered solution with limitations.” For example, to accommodate various dimensions of AV equipment, a piece of furniture might be available in 25-inch, 32-inch and 35-inch versions. Blaha explains that customers still get to choose the finish of their piece, but they select from a limited set of finishes. That contrasts with her description of the custom mantra: In short, “We’ll match anything you want!”

These days, the Quick Ship family is expansive, encompassing conference tables, credenzas and many styles of lecterns. “If it’s something that we’re selling on the custom side, we have a solution that we can pivot to for a customer who has a lower budget or needs something a little bit faster,” Blaha declares. That value proposition has been particularly resonant among higher-education institutions. Indeed, Marshall’s engagement with colleges and universities only reached its current heights when the company bowed the Quick Ship line. Eliminating the complexity of infinite options and infinite customizability, while maximizing overall economy, has been quite compelling for higher ed’s institutional decision-makers, Feldkamp says.

Marshall Furniture Creates a Midline Offering

For a company like Marshall, which prides itself on being adaptable, attentiveness to customer needs is paramount. In recent years, the team became cognizant of a midline offering’s clear viability. “Initially, because of economic times, we found ourselves needing to pivot and figure out an alternative way to still allow for [robust] customization at a lower price point,” Wille reflects. Indeed, the rapidly escalating costs of the premium materials that Marshall builds the custom products with, paired with some customers’ desire for customizability beyond Quick Ship’s limited parameters, illustrated the need for the company to “meet customers in the middle.” According to Blaha, “People think, ‘Marshall will customize it. Marshall will give you whatever you need.’” She adds, “We will, but we needed to find a way to do it in an effective way from a sales standpoint.”

Related: Marshall Furniture: Built to Last

The word “effective” is key because, the team reveals, Marshall had actually been hybridizing custom and Quick Ship for years, on an as-needed basis, for large-scale clients. As an example, Wille points to higher-ed institutions looking to standardize designs on campus. “Our predetermined package wasn’t enough for them,” she relates. “They would ask, ‘Can I add this? Can I make that a little bit wider? I need to add [another] rack to it.’” And if a university wanted to outfit 20-something rooms, Marshall would hybridize its product families to meet the client’s needs. But, according to Blaha, it was creating a situation where Marshall had capabilities that only some clients knew about and could leverage. Saying the days of it being an “in-house secret” were over, Wille declares, “We wanted to make sure that we branded it, so everyone knew it was available to them.”

The MFLEX Line Makes its Debut

Planning for the MFLEX line began in earnest last fall. “It’s a semi-custom line that allows for versatile styles and options, and finish choices and material choices, for the client to pick from,” Wille explains. This level of customizability empowers architects and interior designers to easily specify their preferences from an aesthetic standpoint while simultaneously enabling AV integrators to implement their technical systems. Although Marshall’s original vision for MFLEX had been to start with an instructor station lectern model, the scope of the line subsequently expanded dramatically. MFLEX will launch with lecterns, workstations, credenzas and desks of various types, including a judge’s bench. “We’re really trying to jump in and expand it early on to allow for it to be useful for all markets,” Wille reveals, pointing to higher-ed, corporate and judicial applications in particular.

How does the customizability differ from the custom line? According to Blaha, the material selection and finish selection will be comparable, but the style variety will be more limited. “The MFLEX,” Feldkamp begins, “you can get in any finish, which includes the Quick Ship finishes.” But unlike the blank-canvas approach of custom — something that the team analogizes to writing a story — the selection process will be very straightforward. “The goal for this is to have simplified selection: easy to understand, easy to specify,” Wille confirms. Further increasing customer friendliness, MFLEX will include both premium and economy offerings, thus capturing a range of price points. “It’s allowing us to start from that entry-level price point that we want to be starting from with the Quick Ship side of things,” Blaha says.

The MFLEX Line is Coming to InfoComm

When you visit InfoComm next month, be sure to check out Booth #3251, where Marshall will be showcasing MFLEX products and answering customer questions. More tellingly, though, the new line has already proved its utility in the field. Feldkamp cites a recent project whose design incorporated many lecterns. “Budgetary issues came up on their end, and we were able to use the MFLEX product,” he relates. “[We were] able to downshift and maintain the same finish that they wanted and hit the new price point.” The customer was ecstatic, Feldkamp notes enthusiastically. Just another satisfied customer, adding to the countless number whom Marshall has served since 1986.

Learn about the new MFLEX products, as well as Marshall’s full portfolio of offerings, at

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