School’s back. Ready to purchase new school furniture? The process can be quite daunting, but fear not. In conjunction with our premier partner Smith Systems, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on ways to simplify the furniture buying process. As a leading pre-K-12 school furniture manufacturer, Smith Systems has decades of experience with new builds and revamping existing spaces. Read on to explore some of what we consider the ideal process.

Best Practices

We’ve been on a constant mission to lessen the learning curve for schools facing the budgetary responsibility of filling schools with collaborative and flexible classroom furniture. We enjoy the power of transforming the spectrum of simple classrooms into entire new school buildings with makerspaces, media centers, commons and more—and we’d like to share how you can achieve that too.

Leaders should never underestimate the role of modern classroom design as it relates to how it inspires a particular learning environment. Aside from ensuring that they receive the necessary educational funding, we want to also help schools understand how improved classroom design can positively impact student success.

Designing a School: A Sample Scenario

We’ll start with an example scenario. A bond referendum has passed and a superintendent is heading up the construction of a new public elementary school that opens in 18 months. A well-organized school furniture selection process with a reliable supplier can often take around nine months, depending on the size and scope of the project.

Step One:

Establish a project team and assign roles.

This will vary by district size, but a typical team often includes:

  • Superintendent: Establishes team, project vision and consistency with the district goals and timeline. This person is the ultimate decision-maker.
  • District Business Manager: Budget and procurement.
  • District Facilities Manager: In charge of quality assessment.
  • Principal: Articulates a school’s goals and manages teacher representative group activities.

Step Two:

Team Visioning.

First, the team creates a vision for key areas of the new school design with staff from each area.

For thoroughness, you can answer these essential questions:

  • Group sizes and teaching strategies used?
  • How do teachers want to re-imagine their classrooms?
  • The role of technology?
  • What types of flexible seating can be used?
  • Storage needed?
  • Budget?

Next, the team creates a list of current furniture challenges and needs or wants by the particular area:

TIP: Separate furniture needs into four categories to keep it simple: flexible student seating, student school desks, chairs, and tables, teacher desks, and overall storage.

Step Three: 

Vendor Selection.

The superintendent drives this process. It’s influenced by whether you’re already working with a specific manufacturer, a local furniture dealer, and/or your architectural firm’s interior designer. Keep the evaluation period short (30 days start to finish), so that you can use your chosen vendor to guide you the rest of the way. 

Consider these few things:

  • What qualities are you looking for in a vendor partner? For example: the ability to meet summer delivery and installation timelines, types of services offered, services provided, specific vendor reps involved, etc.
  • What projects have they successfully completed that are similar in scope to yours?
  • How will you find and invite vendors to participate?
  • What contract vehicles are available through each vendor vs. bidding out the furniture purchase?

Step Four: 

Begin Implementation.

Once you’ve chosen a vendor, let your vendor representative conduct a few initial meetings to understand your needs in greater detail. A few things to give to your vendor:

  • Your vision.
  • Your budget.
  • Spaces to be furnished—prioritized in case of budget changes.
  • Building layout with dimensions.
  • Specific furniture items to be evaluated, based on your needs.

Note: Some furniture dealers may charge for layout and design services, while others may not. It often depends on whether the school commits to buying its furniture through a dealer as its chosen vendor partner. Smith System provides free visioning, needs assessments, concepts, budgeting and in-service furniture education for administrators and teachers.

Step Five: 

School Tours.

Based on your goals, along with some initial education about furniture, your vendor can help arrange tours of a few schools, depending on geography and staff availability. These field trips will show real-world use of furniture that may align with your vision and goals.

Step Six: 

Furniture Visit: Sit, Touch, and Try.

Everyone on the project team should attend this event to hear the same message at the same time. Based on your stated needs, your vendor will:

  • Show furniture samples—brought to your school or to the vendor’s showroom.
  • Conduct a large group presentation on features and benefits of different styles.
  • Allow your team to get hands-on with the product—sit, touch, try.
  • Conduct one-on-one or small group Q&A to address specific needs.

Tip: Do this as a team. It’s valuable to hear one another’s questions and comments in real time.

Step Seven:

Plan and prepare for a trial classroom.

Based on outcomes from Step Six, the team should narrow down a list of furniture items to test in a trial classroom or two. Try several shapes, seating styles and heights. Be sure to allow for manufacturing lead time, delivery and installation.

Step Eight:

The trial classroom experience.

After the test furniture arrives, have your vendor conduct a quick refresher with the teacher(s) to review how each piece functions. Allow teachers (and students) about a month to experience the furniture, then have the vendor return to answer questions. This is a great time to fine tune selections, like shapes, sizes, accessories and options.

TIP: It’s unlikely that school furniture suppliers will provide a full classroom of furniture for free. But they may give you a one-time low price to try the furniture, for which you’ll get to choose all the finishes and own. In this case, it’s not incremental to your existing furniture budget, but rather helps your existing budget go farther.

Step Nine:

Design, budgeting, and lead time planning.

Narrow your team down to the superintendent, business manager and principal. You’re now ready to compile furniture specifications, quantities and a line item budget for each room. Lay out each room to ensure the furniture will fit and function right.

Allow enough time to make revisions (construction costs may have dented your original budget). Your dealers and manufacturers will coordinate lead times and advise your choices, based on your deadline. Most manufacturers require a P.O. (purchase order) by a certain date to allocate inventory and commit to a delivery date.

TIP: It’s important to have a cohesive plan for furniture colors and finishes. Factor in school-spirit colors and the need to differentiate spaces, but also consider coordinating color by grade levels where you have common furniture sizes so that furniture can be moved from room-to-room if and when classroom populations change over time.


Finalize the P.O. Homestretch!

The final step is to finalize and receive board approval (if required) on your furniture list, finishes, and cost. Then place your purchase order and congratulate your team on a furniture-buying mission accomplished!

Ready to start the process of purchasing furniture for your school? Contact our team of education specialists to get started today.