Just over three years ago, furniture design and manufacturing company Model No. saw an opportunity to address a widespread frustration with the long lead times associated with custom orders. In the years since, fulfillment delays have reached all levels of the industry, but thanks to the forward thinking of its co-founders, and the company’s growth under CEO Phillip Raub, Model No. has remained impervious to the costly and frustrating delays.
The secret to its success lies in its manufacturing process: by maintaining an aptly-named “microfactory” in the Bay Area, Model No. produces only what is needed to fulfill client orders, which are automatically sent to production using on-site 3D-printers.
“By not holding inventory and making products on demand, we reduce the amount of natural resources and energy required to manufacture our products,” says Raub, who has helmed the company since 2020. “By sourcing and manufacturing our products domestically we can significantly reduce the carbon footprint on shipping directly from our micro-factory and deliver our products in a matter of weeks, rather than months.”
There’s no question that Model No. is an innovator; with recent showings at ICFF and San Francisco Design Week, it appears the industry is taking note—and taking interest. In an exclusive interview with Surface, Raub shares how the company plans to change the game of furniture manufacturing.
Can you share a bit about your background and how it relates to your decision to join Model No.?
Throughout my career, I’ve been instrumental in identifying new customer segments and growing brands across a variety of categories like apparel, video games, connected home, and retail. Most recently, that focus has occurred at the confluence of technology and consumer products. In Model No., I saw a company and founding team that shared my passion to make a paradigm shift in the way that furniture is both manufactured and distributed.
These days, design-minded, sustainability-focused consumers have so many options when it comes to selecting furniture. What makes Model No. products unique? What do you wish was better understood by consumers shopping directly from the company?
Time and materials. I have a great deal of respect for the craft of furniture making and lighting design. But a commissioned piece might take months if not years to produce. At Model No. we are using technology to speed up the development process, but are still including the element of high design and detailed handcrafted finishing. So what might take six months for an individual to design and craft, we can produce in six to eight weeks. Additionally, through the 3D printing process, we have the ability to use a non-petroleum based plant resin to manufacture many of our products.
I’m really interested in something I read on Model No.’s blog, which indicates that furniture can be customized to order at no additional cost. How is this possible when it takes time and attention to change a digital design file or CAD template?
Because we don’t carry any inventory other than raw materials, we aren’t wasting production time on excessive prints. Through 3D printing we have the ability to print a chair and a light shade, for example, using the same printer during a continuous print run. These production techniques allow us to minimize our labor and material costs, thus keeping our costs in line with our industry peers.
How does Model No.’s proximity to the Bay Area’s tech community impact your vision of scalability, growth, collaborative workflows within the company, and innovation?
It helps in attracting talent and having access to a community that understands our progressive vision, but being in the Bay Area isn’t essential to our long-term growth—in fact it’s important that we quickly step outside of the technology shadow. The biggest obstacle that we currently face is getting more people to touch and feel our products. The minute consumers see our products in-person they instantly appreciate the quality and craftsmanship that goes into our work.
How has the company grown since you joined? What are your goals for the future?
When I joined the company two years ago, it was primarily in the research, development, and learning phase. We were still exploring our capabilities and learning a lot about our customers. In the past year, the biggest change I’ve seen is in two areas. One is the people and our team; we have a highly passionate and talented team that is focused on developing exquisite designs, making quality products with an unwavering care for the customer experience and the environment. For the second, we are leaning in and trusting the technology to improve our speed to market and expanding our design and production capabilities. My hope and biggest fear is that we aren’t too early. I’m very confident our model is the blueprint for the future of furniture manufacturing and I hope we can share our experiences to foster change.
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