Flexsteel opens new Innovation Center to focus on furniture design, collaboration

A space in the Millwork District’s Schmid Innovation Center now houses a place for designers to collaborate on furniture designs.

Designers with Flexsteel Industries began working last week in the company’s new Innovation Center, 900 Jackson St., less than a mile from the company’s headquarters in the Port of Dubuque. The design team uses the space to test out furniture and design prototypes that meet current customer trends.

“We’ve never had a space like this in my time to take furniture and purely review it,” said senior designer Alek Eglinton.

Furniture from the company’s global suppliers is brought directly into the space, Eglinton said, so the designers can test out the pieces in person, then make suggestions.

The center also is filled with dry-erase boards for the team to write out ideas.

“The more we can bounce ideas off each other, the better,” Eglinton said.

Tim Newlin, vice president of product management, said the company began looking at spaces in the fall for an Innovation Center. The company ultimately chose a space in the Schmid Innovation Center that formerly housed RF2 Furniture Warehouse.

Newlin said that a space like the center is the first of its kind for Flexsteel. The company designs pieces for both the Flexsteel furniture brand and under the brand “Home Styles.”

“We feel like design, furniture design and product development is crucial to us being successful going forward,” Newlin said. “Focusing on that development for future generations, the best features, the best techniques and new and exciting pieces for the whole home required a little extra space to tinker, design and develop.”

The three people on the design team working in the new space are all part of the millennial generation, Eglinton said, and their focus is on designing furniture for their growing millennial customer base.

Newlin said it is important that Flexsteel remains in tune with the wants and needs of these future homebuyers.

Current furniture trends for millennial customers include a big interest in outdoor furniture, Eglinton said, as well as pieces that can furnish smaller apartments and homes.

Eglinton added that he and the other designers come from an industrial design background instead of a furniture background, so having a dedicated space to work out ideas and be creative is ideal.

“We’re a 128-year-old company, and we want to be around for a long time, and to do that, we need to innovate,” he said.

Newlin added that Flexsteel has adjusted to having staff work from remote locations since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the Innovation Center offers more space for various departments to meet and discuss products.

“We are embracing where the world has gone with being able to work remotely,” Newlin said. “If we need additional drop-in spaces, that’s certainly something we’d entertain.”