Telling Authentic Stories - John Edelman - Defining Hospitality - Episode #106

Dan Ryan: Today's guest is highly skilled in modern furniture, retail, and textiles.

He's the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the New York School of Interior Design. He's passionate about the hospitality space and design in general. He has a detailed eye for highly designed products. He's the executive chairman of Crypton Fabrics. He's the former CEO of Design Within Reach. He's the president and CEO of Heller Furniture.

He's a magnificent storyteller and a fellow nut. Me, John Edelman. Welcome John.

John Edelman: How you doing? I love the intro.

Dan Ryan: It's, well, I love the intro too, and I'm really honored that you're here to spend time with me because the amount of companies that you've taken from A to B and the stories that you have to tell around them, especially as it relates to design, is really. It, uh, it's just stellar. So I'm just honored to like, share your knowledge with all of our listeners. Um, but before we get into that, because obviously this is defining hospitality, what does hospitality mean to you or how do you define it?

John Edelman: I mean, I always think of hospitality as such a broad term, but in general, it's how you wish to be treated when you go to someone's home or how you would like to treat people upon entering your home. And I've had a chance to practice that definition in a few different businesses. Right? We had 15 showrooms and element leather.

We had 40 stores at design and reach. And, and what's the first impression you'd like to have? Um, and just quickly, you know, at design and reach, I had a, a whole system where as you walked in, we handed you a water. We didn't shake your hand. We, we, we put a water in your hand. So the first thing we did was welcome you with a small gift.

And, um, that was my way of practicing hospitality on the outset.

Dan Ryan: that's in the actual stores. Right. And then I'm also curious as far as when you find a business that looks really interesting to you and you love the story and you can tell the story and amplify the story, when you're building that team, how do you take the idea of that idea of hospitality, of giving them a water, and how do you apply that to the team that you surround yourself with?

Because obviously, You're great at finding these companies, but you're all, you can't build all these companies and grow them by yourself. You need a great team. How do you, like, how do you give your team that big hug so that you can get ready for takeoff?

John Edelman: I mean, sometimes it's literally a big hug. You know, I'm six four and people call me a a hugger. You know, I'm one of those guys. Um, But you know, in people's resumes, honestly, if you go back, I love to find out if they were a bartender, a waiter, a waitress, or some part of that industry cuz they understand people, they understand how to treat people and, and you know, everybody, I always teach people, like when they come into a store to a showroom, you're their bartender.

And you can't imagine what they tell people on the floor of a regular retail store. They're so much more open with them than oftentimes they're friends. Right. And I practice the, the concept of whoever asks the most questions wins. And I always tell everybody, you wanna know how many children they have.

If they have children, they entertain, not entertained. How many often, how often do they go out? How often, how much time do they spend in their home? Because nobody, if you're, if you're practicing the concept of hospitality, you're never selling anything. You're defining a need and then servicing it.

Dan Ryan: I love that because I, if you're never selling anything, you're really focused on that relationship with the space between you and the person you're talking to, and it's really listening and, and looking for the, the needs that they have because it might be your product or it might be something else. I always say I just, what lights me up more than anything is shortening other people's journeys, whether I'm involved in that or not.

As long as I've left a positive impression and and shortened their journeys, I feel like I've done the right thing. How does that resonate with you?

John Edelman: Oh totally. Who, nobody wants to waste their time. So I, my experience with that, my best example is I was in the Flatiron design within Reach door. And the client came in and I had been teaching the staff and coaching them how to beat docents and telling the romantic backstory of the furniture. And this client came in and the one of my salespeople walked up and greeted them at the door, gave 'em the water, and then gave them the best presentation I've ever seen in my life of the Eames lounge and Ottoman.

I told the story of Charles and Ray Eames winning the design contest from the MoMA when they were at Cranbrook and how modern was born. And they were with Florence, no at the same time. And how Mona was being born at the Royal Danish Academy. At the same time with Clint as the, as the, uh, dean and, and, uh, Vegner and all the other great designers in school and how the bent plywood, and it's supposed to fit you like a glove and like I'm crying by end of the presentation and the client says, thank you so much, but I'm looking for a bed. You know, so, so that's like, he screwed up. It was a terrible way to, to do it. He, he was telling the client what they wanted versus finding what they wanted. And in to use your terms, lengthening that journey. That wasn't cool. So, so

Dan Ryan: Well that's the opposite of what I like doing. He lengthened it. I like to short it.

John Edelman: that's what I'm saying. It was, it

was a mistake.

Dan Ryan: So as you're spouting off all those great designers and the story of design, um, I've sat there and listened to you go on and on, transfixed on, you know, when you, you, you're, you're so good at tapping into that vision of what the original designer's vision is, and now you're taking that vision and, and getting it out to the masses.

How do you see, like since you were at the helm of Design within Reach and now Heller, like how do you see the role of design and furniture in shaping that overall idea of hospitality? To make how you make others feel, but also like to filling those environments where they go.

John Edelman: Yeah, so I'm also, uh, uh, on the ch uh, on the board of directors of Be original Americas where we fight for authenticity. And that story is the kind of reinforcement of authenticity, telling the story of the pieces. And let's say you check into a hotel or go to a restaurant and the furniture's fake. How about the food? I mean, what's gonna happen then? where does it stop when you imitate? So I think telling those stories and knowing the stories of the product reinforces the brand stories as well. you, can't have a fake chair in the lobby and say you're giving real truffles or something, you know?

It's like the whole thing bleeds into each other. I think the story is everything. The better the design is, the better it integrates those stories into the, into the design, into the overall fabric. Like, so if you have a couple of Danish pieces, how do they relate? Were they designed at the same time or do you mix and match and it's adjust to position of stories, but the romance is always there.

Dan Ryan: Hmm. I, I love how you put that because I've often found some of my best ho specifically hotel experiences are where everyone from. The bellman to the housekeeper, all the way up to the general manager are well versed in being able to tell those stories so that as you're walking through to your room or you're coming out of your room or they're taking your luggage and you're, they, you, they find you looking at a piece of art or a piece of furniture, they can jump in and tell the story.

How do you educate? Not necessarily the customers are that are making the buying decision for your product, but how do you get them to educate all of their stakeholders that are interacting with their guests to be able to tell the story? That's like storytelling at scale, if you will.

John Edelman: I did it once. We were the, I think it was with, uh, a Loft Hotels. We did a a, a a co-branding deal with Design within Reach, and we had the catalogs in the room of the product that was in the hotel, and people understood those back stories. I haven't gone beyond that. Um, I've been to a hundred hotels where I love the design and I've asked the front desk who the design firm was and they didn't know.

Dan Ryan: That's a

John Edelman: And it's a crime because there's a reason they hired the design firm. There's a reason I asked, it's cause it was, it was beautiful or, or I want, you know, and I wanted to get the backstory. They didn't know. I think it's oftentimes it's, it's a lost. Art. Um, and it's a shame, but I, I don't wanna like disparage anything cuz there's high turnover and things like that.

But knowing that backstory of design, I think gives value to the, to the end product to, to the, to the, to the, uh, establishment itself.

Dan Ryan: I completely agree, and it makes it a lot stickier. Oh, I don't know. More impactful and a stickier experience for the guest as well. Um,

so. I, I teed you up there also as like a masterful storyteller, and you really are. And one of the things that, like I was transfixed on in a story you told me we were, I think we were having coffee or something down in, we at the train station in Westport or something, but it was, uh, Just how you would go around and identify companies like a design within Reach or a Heller or others, identify these companies and, and like see the vision that they might be missing and then figuring out how to get them more market penetration and scale them.

So really, you know, via acquisition and then getting your vision implemented. Like walk us, can you just walk us through your. Your process on how you do it, because for all the entrepreneurs listening, I think that we could all benefit from hearing about that.

John Edelman: so just to be clear upfront, 50% is luck and being in the right place at the right time. Um, so with that said, like there's no, I'm not a genius. I've been very lucky, you know, tons of times. Um, I think having a brand that is ahead of the business is key. So design and Reach had this amazing brand, you know, the right people knew about it.

People that love modern furniture knew about it. It was urban. Um, they didn't know that it was, you know, almost on a verge of bankruptcy that had started doing knockoffs and making all these mistakes, and they had left the core mission right, which was to be the world leader in authentic modern design.

They stopped saying that. So John mcfe, who was my business partner of 30 years, who's now the ceo, E O of cwi, uh, we were together on board there and we realized that we just had to tell the truth. And just explain to people what our mission was, be consistent about that mission, and then and, and talk about it, and then expand upon it because you can't just resell product.

I think people get bored with that. Our job was then to find the next modern and bring people in. So I also say, if you've been speaking superlatives and tell the truth, you've won Edelman Leather, literally the world's greatest quality leather. It's just, it was, and when you start with that line, then you explain it, design and then reach, uh, you, uh, the, the world's largest collection of authentic, modern furniture.

True. You know, and Heller Supo are our evolving, but we're, you know, we're the largest collection of, of authentic modern design, uh, for indoor outdoor made in America. And, uh, and we're expanding upon that. So you have to choose something, be very honest about it, and then expand upon it. If you see a company that's not taken advantage of where it's.

Position is that's an opportunity.

Dan Ryan: And then when you say, to be very honest about it, that's really just staying in tune with the values that you've either acquired or reestablished within a company.

John Edelman: Yes. So in the leather business, my father and mother founded the company, Edelman Leather, and all his romantic stories were rooted in truth. My father was one of the greatest stories of all time, but he invented the stories and we tell these 30 minute elaborate stories about chips singing off the Russian coast and being pressed underwater for 200 years.

And the, and the, and the bottom of the ship's wood ingraining the leather. With that, not only the scent, But the pattern of the wood, and we spent years researching and re replicating that pattern, even the smell. Now, there were some origins in that story that were true, but in general, my father made the stories up, and if you asked about it, he'd always say, library of Congress.

I got it from the Library of Congress. So that was storytelling. But then if you can tell stories that are actually authentic, you just win. It's just the, it's the way to go. And that's what I, I really discovered at design with the region and in collecting of modern furniture, is the stories are cool and, and they're real.

And people who care about design want to learn the stories. They're learners, right? They're professional learners. And if you can teach people something, they've had a better day. And so have you, my grandfather from Rush, my, my father, actually, every day he'd say, what'd you learn today? If you learn something, it was a good day.

So we go about that, we teach, um, and, and tell those romantic stories. I think that's, that's the best way to go about it.

Dan Ryan: I think it's also really important because so many of the hotel designers that oftentimes the front desk doesn't even know who did it. The amount of time that they spend, like rule number one is develop the narrative of how you connect that design to the location of where it is. And if you can find product or have a story for a product that well designed product that can dovetail in nicely with their narrative, it just, it only makes that.

Kind of sticky and impacted, um, guest experience, all the more impactful, um,

as you think about, so there, there was the design within reach, but then I know you're, you said 50% of it is luck, but when you think about where you are with Heller and how you found Heller, like how were you lucky there? How did, how did you, how did you set the table for luck?

John Edelman: We bought Design rhythm reach in 2010. We started work January 4th, 2010. The New York Times, uh, did an interview with me and it was my greatest honor to be interviewed by the New York Times. Like, to me, that was. And still is, I mean, just the biggest deal. And I waited for the article to come out and I'm like, it's gonna be heroic.

You know, Edelman and McPhee come in to change the, the world of design and save design within reach. And the title of the article was, is there a Solution Within Reach? And the photograph on the first page was not of me, it was of Alan Heller holding a chair over his head, suing desire within Reach for knocking him off. And he had sued not only the design reach, he had sued the buyers. Uh, personally, he was hated in the company and he was a hundred percent right. Des Island Reach did the worst thing you can do. They copied his chair for, for short term profits, and on top of that, they called it the Alonzo just to rub it into Alan Hillary, you know, making fun of his name. And so we went up there, we bought the company January 4th. We were in his office in February. And I said, Alan, you know, You're right. I, I apologize. I'm for my predecessors. We'll, we'll get rid of all the knockoffs immediately, not through the stores, through the outlets, with no advertising, and, uh, let's build a business together.

And that's where the friendship was born, and he really just appreciated that.

10 years later, uh, we built a beautiful business with him. We were his, by far, his largest client. And, uh, after I left the business, I was like, Alan, I'd love to buy your company. And he, and he tortured me. Like, he tortured me. You have to deal with my widow.

I'm gonna get buried with all the, uh, molds, you know? Uh, and then he, then he come close with me by the company and he just back off at the last second. And unfortunately, I didn't realize he was, he was ill. And it was true. I ended up buying the company from his widow. But I put myself in the right moment with him because I was desperate to run Heller.

I don't know what it was. It was a fantasy that of all the businesses out there, of all the different opportunities, I wanted to own Heller. And it's that, that my other experiences haven't been like that. You know, before Adam Leather, I spent eight years with my brother in the shoe business, you know, making shoes, living in Brazil, living in China, and I acquiesced to my father and mother and came home design within, reached the acquisition honestly.

I had a friend that knew, a friend that had, was the largest investor, and John MCee, and I had met with him within three months. We were owners and, and running it. It, it, it was just happened very quickly. Heller was my passion. That was the difference. I, I worked and worked and worked to get this business.

Dan Ryan: I had no idea that, uh, that that was the photo from the New York Times article that you were so proud of. And actually, as you think about it from a story, That's like a playwright. Couldn't think about that.

John Edelman: I know, I it is turning a negative into a positive.

Dan Ryan: Yeah.

And, and it's also just being, it's being authentic, right? You just, the first meeting you had was to go straight, to like enter the danger zone, if you will, to meet with him and talk with him and, and set everything straight and just be your authentic self in front of him.

John Edelman: But Dan, you've, you've defined that you're in an industry that rewards that. And, you know, we have a very small industry, um, a mailing list for you if it's excellent. We've got 30,000 names, um, 35,000. And, you know, they see through you in two seconds. If you start telling stories, if you're inauthentic, if you don't work hard, you're out.

It's not forgiving, like, and it shouldn't be. Uh, so, so I think it, it lends itself to this industry and, and you know, we've an entry that demands quality and if you ship them bad quality, you're out. They see it. If they want a custom color, well, you better make the custom color exactly right in a combination of natural light with Fluor, whatever they tell you to do, that's your job to do it.

So there's really no room for a lack of authenticity.

Dan Ryan: Well then if we were to bridge the gap between, I know we're talking about designing with in Reach and Heller and now the hospitality industry. Where do, how do you see Heller approaching? The hospitality industry? Like if I were, if you were to look three years out, 10 years out, what, like what do you see?

What's your vision as it pertains to hospitality?

John Edelman: I see it's a go-to brand for indoor outdoor, modern furniture, right? Like, and I know what hospitality needs. They need it in stock or very quick delivery, you know, check, uh, they need a sustainability story. That's true. Check, uh, they need fantastic design. I should have said that first. You know, check. It's not, we're not reinventing the wheel, although they do demand fresh product, so we don't reinvent the wheel, but we, we will invent like the lounge chair or the look of it, and we'll have a new product coming out.

But I see it's like, as a go-to friend of the hospitality industry, it's not, you know, it's not the most, it's not easy to do, but, but it's not curing disease or, or, or. Or really doing things that'll go down in the history books besides the, the world of design.

Dan Ryan: Yeah.

John Edelman: A Alan built this brand and he never called anybody back. He never went on a sales call for the most part. He went to trade shows and never scanned anybody or followed up. So like, I love that because now, like people who actually wanted to be a part of the brand can be a part of the brand.

Dan Ryan: So I call that he's like the field of dreams guy. If you build it, they will come.

John Edelman: Yeah, but they barely came. Like he had three customers, but he was happy. He didn't need to make money. He, he could care less about money,

um, but that also starved the company. He hadn't launched a product in 20 years, et cetera, but it was pretty cool.

Dan Ryan: So when you just mentioned those three or four points for hospitality of design, um, sustainability, quick ship, um, et cetera, et cetera, I'm really ha like, I'm very happy to hear that sustainability is coming back into the forefront in the discussion. From, you know, 2006 or seven or eight whenever lead first jumped onto the scene.

But now I feel like it's wholeheartedly back and it's authentically back. I'm curious, as far as, you know, Heller being predominantly plastic. How do you, what's your sustainability story? Um, and just let us know about that. I'd love to hear about it.

John Edelman: So it's, it's multi-pronged. Number one is great. Design has longevity. So Heller product lasts forever. It's been, it's trading on first dibs, trading on eBay, and that alone with the authorship and the story becomes a classic and then, and it lasts. Number two, we're a hundred percent recyclable. Which is huge.

I mean, people are buying, oh, I'll buy this cuz it has X amount of recycled product. But if it's not recyclable again, it goes into a landfill. So we are a hundred percent recyclable. Our new launches are gonna be a minimum of 25%, uh, post-consumer waste, which allows it to be, you know, it's amazing concept and still recyclable. Um, with our rocking chair, we've launched the first editor ever, N F t, that comes with the furniture giving lifelong guarantee of authenticity and lifelong recyclability instructions. We'll take them back, we'll take any of our product back and recycle it into new product for you.

Doesn't have to go through us, but it can.

Dan Ryan: yeah, I, a, a friend of mine, he, he, he works in carpet and he, he's saying most of the carpet companies that are out there, they all, all of them offer to take the carpet back and recycle it and make new stuff. But ultimately what happens, it's still because of the owners'. And the fast speed of the schedule, it winds up in landfill.

But he came up with this really cool plastic additive. I'll send it to you after, because I don't have the information right now where they add it to the plastic so that if it does wind up in landfill when it hits a certain, um, temperature and pressure, it biodegrades. And then they can measure, and then they can measure so many other things off of that.

And I just thought that that was really interesting. Um, but I'll, we'll, I'll, we'll talk about that offline. Um,

When you're going around and, and presenting Heller to designers in hospitality and everywhere. Uh, going on the sustainability front, how, how much, how often is sustainability the first question that people ask these days?

John Edelman: I mean, whether it's the first or fifth, I would say it's on equal ground. And I would say 98% of the time I bring it up, uh, as well. Uh, I don't think, I think it's a given today. I don't think it's, if you have a sustainability story, it's, it's, it's, what is it?

Um, and I think all the, all the consumers are demanding.

It's a consumer driven decision. Um, and I see it everywhere, not just hospitality, contract, consumer, but everywhere.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, I totally agree. And it's, I love that. Again, it's, it's back in the forefront and people are talking about it. It's on the tip of everyone's tongues.

John Edelman: Yeah. It's the right thing to do.

Dan Ryan: totally. And then as you're surveying the market out in front of you, you know, you're. You're in full on past launch mode. You're like entering orbit, like as you look out there with respect to yourself, your team, and Heller.

What's exciting you most about the future?

John Edelman: Need new product, like I just get crazy for new product. And I'll show you a, can you grab me into a little limbo? I'll show you a way that we're doing. We're we're, we're miniaturizing our collection, um, because of our materiality and when we make product, it's pretty easy to miniaturize. And I have the first sample of something we're launching on May 20th,

Dan Ryan: Oh,

John Edelman: is in New York, which is making me crazy.

It's a cleaner atlas and design.

Dan Ryan: Oh, wow. So you can just set it all up on a table and people and pass it around and everyone can touch and feel it. It's like a mini, a mini chair or

John Edelman: By NeoCon. Yeah, by NeoCon. I'll have the entire collection in a briefcase


presentations. I think that hasn't been done in the industry before. People do one piece or so. We're gonna do the whole collection. I have my, uh,

Dan Ryan: How many pieces are in the Connect collection? Oh,

John Edelman: my little rocking chair. Uh, I guess there's 18 pieces or so if you discount like the different sizes.

Um, but we're having the largest launch and obviously in the company's history, uh, in New York during design week. And that, that just to me is really because we can't just say, okay, keep buying the stuff that was designed 20, 30 years ago. What's next? What, what's relevant about the company? And, uh, that's what I love.

That's what we're developing.

Dan Ryan: okay, so then let's talk about that. As far as the product or industrial designers, how are you, how do you search them out and decide like who's best for your narrative and bringing the, bringing your collections forward?

John Edelman: In general, it's industrial designers. Um, because for me, not I, I'm devoted to modern. And modern is aesthetically pleasing, designed for a purpose, no ego in the design, and it can go anywhere. So this is a hospitality, uh, podcast, but something that can go to hospitality, can go to residential, can go to corporate.

Can go almost anywhere. So it has to be someone that can design a piece of product that sits on its own without an environment to validate it. And that's really, really hard. So normally that's not an interior designer, it's a product designer. And then you look at who, like in the short term, who have I had success with?

And, and, and cleaner Atlason is probably one of the best designers I've ever worked with. Uh, nobody understands this, but he designed the 1942 bottle for Don Julio, uh,

as well

as Yeah, yeah. As well as the best launch in our history of design within reach. So these designers that we usually, we work with can design almost anything, um, and they have to really put their ego aside and try to design something timeless.

Designing modern is really, really hard. Um, so we fail more than we succeed, you know, so I, I kill a lot of projects or I have in the past before we get too far along. Cause you're just not gonna be there once, once they get overcomplicated. I think you, you have to bail.

Dan Ryan: I also love that earlier you said like the most successful people on your teams are the ones who, where they are the bartender, so to speak, right? And for him or for them to have designed the Don Julio 1941 bottle it like they are the ultimate bartender. Cuz that is really just, that's like the Chanel number five kind of bottle design, right?


John Edelman: I think it's the only bottle that's launched in the past 10 years that's become iconic. If you look at what absolute did to their bottle, it wasn't a great bottle, but it was an amazing messaging on the bottle. This is actually a, a, a bottle design. That it's a character in the movies about WeWork and, uh, uh, and Uber and such.

It's actually in the, in the movies as a character, it symbolizes an era and that's not covered.

Dan Ryan: Um, so on, on the hospitality front, I know like especially well rooms, public areas, everything gets all really. Used as oftentimes it wasn't, it wouldn't be used in your home, right? There's a lot less care, et cetera, et cetera. I forgot that you were the executive chairman of Crypton Fabrics, which, you know, those textiles and the protection on them, it really, it's really important that they last.

How did you find your way into Crypton and like what's exciting you most about that type of technology as well? Because to me that seems really different than all of this. Modern, authentic design that you've been doing with design, with and reach and also, uh, Heller.

John Edelman: You know, uh, things come full circle. And during years and years ago when I had Edelman Leather, uh, Krypton approached us and we had the exclusive for the Krypton technology in our leather. So we were the only, you know, Most cleanable leather in the industry powered by Krypton. I made friends with the founders, I made friends with their team, jumped forward 15 years.

They sold the business to Berkeley Capital, and Berkeley called me in to work with management and just helped them, uh, maximize the potential of the brand. So that, that brought me back into Krypton. So it's, it's like an old. Like a nice old coat to put back on it. It, it feels nice and warm. But then with Berkeley, uh, we also bought, uh, uh, Chile Witch, which in hospitality is a, is a, is a, a, a, uh, a classic product, which is now run by, uh, John Mcfe, my best friend who's now the c e o of uh, cic.

And I'm on the board of Chile Witch. So everything spins around and comes back and, and, uh, it makes a full story. So, so it does not seem like I belong at Krypton and I totally belong there.

Dan Ryan: And what, what excites you most about. What excites you most about what, what Krypton has done and is doing for hospitality in general?

John Edelman: I think giving them an alternative with that of a product that has a great hand, has a sustainable sustainability story being pfas free. And it's cleanable. I mean, it's listen. Hotels take a beating. A beating every day, and the longer they look good, the better it is for the developers, for the designers, for everybody.

And Crypton an option that wears like iron. And is, so if they wanna drink red wine, the consumer is always right. Uh, the, the, the patron of a hotel is always right. If they wanna drink red wine on a white sofa. That's their prerogative. Um, but it better be cleanable. You better be able to, to, to keep that looking good because, you know, what do you have, uh, three hours before somebody else comes in and uses the same room or lobby or bar seat or

Bankhead? It, it has to be something that that is meant. Yeah. And, and, and listen, if you specify it for hospitality, their parameters, their, their, their demands, it has to meet. And I think people forget about a company like Crypton that meets those demands. We're getting back into hospitality, but I can say via the consumer, cause the consumer's asking for it at design net, reach at um, our house at places like restoration or hardware and, and they want that product around.

So I think, uh, a lot of residential t end up tripping upwards towards hospitality

Dan Ryan: yeah. Um.

John Edelman: and vice versa.

Dan Ryan: Totally. Well that's cool to hear. It's very varied, but I do like how it's like this, uh, this self-fulfilling wheel of, of design and product and uh, and it's also great that you get to work with your best friend in cuz that's what keeps me in this world too. I get to work with all my best friends,

John Edelman: Well, it's been, we've only been best friends for 30 years, so we're working on, uh, the next 30. But I, years ago, uh, I guess 2000 and. Eight or nine. My, my good friend since 10th grade, uh, bought back his family business, which was Waterworks and I, I was part of that team. We bought back Waterworks and, uh, and repaired the business that ended up selling into Restoration Hardware.

But that's a friend I I met, you know, in summer school.

Dan Ryan: Wow.

John Edelman: So, so the industry is, the industry's tiny and, and friends, stay friends hopefully.

Dan Ryan: Um, as you're looking forward, you know, we're in these tumultuous times, um, projects are still happening, design is still happening. Um, what's keeping you up at night and why?

John Edelman: So macroeconomic trends to me have no bearing on Heller. We're small enough that trends don't matter. We're, we're a great company that's been under marketed, underserved, the marketplace, so we have five years of growth. Whatever the market is, I could care less. Um, what keeps me awake at night are more like, You know, a covid epidemic.

Again, things that are like, that are just so mind blowing. Uh, uh, if, if the war, you know, gets too strong, uh, with Russia and we get too involved in that and people can't travel, you know, just, just terrible big things. But, but economic things, not so much.

Dan Ryan: Got it. What about as, as you grow and prepare for this growth as far as your team, like what types of people are you looking for? How are you looking to build out your team?

John Edelman: Well, I'm double the age of almost everybody on my team. Uh, right now there's five of us and I don't have any worries about building our team. That's gonna happen organically. I just hired a young woman that has barely graduated from college, uh, cuz I've worked with her in the past. She worked trade shows with me, a a friend of the families, and she's a doer.

And I can just, I know I'm gonna to throw whatever I wanted her and it's gonna get done. I hired in my, who, the guy who helps me in product development went, uh, Um, Skad Savannah College of Art and Design. Uh, he was a swimmer. I loved the fact that he was an athlete early on, and, uh, and he loves everything we're doing.

Like he just loves, you know, working on the Vinali stuff. He went to the VII center at Rochester for a talk. I did a talk up there and he was in the archive. It was just like luxuriating in the history of Heller. And other than Yellis, I don't know, I, I. I have zero fear of, uh, of how we're gonna build a team.

It's people who love design and, and get excited to go to work and, and who I wanna be around all day long. Like we have a small office, um, and I'm a loud guy, so they wanna be around me and do I wanna be around them. It's, it's, it's not the most difficult formula, but it's, it's, it's fun. Like, we have fun. I take whoever's in the office, we all go to lunch together every day when we're here, it's, it's a, it's a really tight knit small group.

Dan Ryan: I want to go back in time a little bit to design within reach as far as. All the different collections and skews that you had from there, what was the most surprising relaunch that you had as far as overall success? Like where, where, what was a product that you were like, okay, I knew this would be good, but holy cow.

I had no idea it was gonna be that good.

John Edelman: A surprise of how good it was, a relaunch. I mean, so Milo Bachman, um, I was the world's largest private collector of Milo Bachman Furniture. I had, uh, initially the recliners that I bought at the flea markets, you know, 25, 30 years ago for $10 a piece. I didn't know who designed them for 10 years, um, until I found the second one that I found a piece of metal furniture, and I started researching Milo.

And realized that the recliners are mylo Bachman. I found the original factory with the Cogan. We brought them back the first time it was ever brought back, and they went like hot cakes. So that was a surprise how much people loved Mylo Bachman. The second half of that was I brought some other pieces back that I was in love with, that the consumer just didn't like, like they just didn't like it.

Um, and you have to accept it when they don't like it and just move on. Um, there's a designer named Chris Hardy out of Atlanta. He's very involved in, in, in the hospitality industry. I love this guy. And I met him, was just a kid. We did a very successful launch where I paired him with Yen's rhythm when Yenz was like 90 years old.

They did a, a storage collection and then I launched a table of his that's in my house now is my coffee table. It's my favorite table we ever launched. And it was a great table, but we launched it with a a s a squi, a rectangular glass top. It was meant to have an oval glass top and it didn't look right and it failed. So that was just disappointing. We didn't have the budget to redo all the tops. And end up going by the wayside. But you know, for every great success, you fail multiple times. And that's why I love, and I'll just go talk about the original Americas, is if you don't specify authentic product, you specify knockoffs.

You slowly kill the future of design cuz it's expensive to design a product. And then you do all the work, you get it out there, you sample it, you show it, and sometimes you're just wrong. And you have to be able to fund the next project. So if you work all those years to make a great product and it gets copied, you, you can't make the next one.

Dan Ryan: Totally,

John Edelman: And uh, and I'm gonna be surprised we're not, we're, we're wrong. I, but if you're gonna be wrong, try to be wrong, small and, and be right big. That's the general formula,

but be wrong.

Dan Ryan: be wrong.

Small. Uh, yeah, you hit a lot of singles and then. Load up the bases and then you hit the home run. Um, let's see. If I were to ask you to go back in time to, how old were you when you started working at Le Edelman Leather as a, you were little, right?

John Edelman: well, oh yeah. I worked every summer in my life, uh, before I could drive in the warehouse every Christmas vacation. Uh, but then I left Edelman, uh, for the shoe business for eight years. But I've always been working.

Dan Ryan: So like 13, 14, or, or earlier?


John Edelman: no. 13, 12, 13,

Dan Ryan: 13, 14. If you,


John Edelman: I was six foot tall at 12 years old, so I looked older.

Dan Ryan: Oh wow. So you were, you were the star basketball player,

John Edelman: Yeah. The worst basketball player.

Dan Ryan: Um,

John Edelman: you know me, you know my son is great. It's cuz I'm married. Well, it's not cuz of me

Dan Ryan: Oh, okay. She brought the, uh, she brought all the coordination and athleticism,

John Edelman: I said if he had my skills, he'd be selling basketball. It's not playing basketball.

Dan Ryan: leather, basketball. Is it that, well, if, if we went back to your 14 or 15 year old self where your. Working in the leather warehouse and you're sorting hides and rolling. I don't know. What do you do in a leather warehouse?

John Edelman: You check cloudy, you pull hides, you receive them, you roll them in and ship 'em to the and ship 'em out.

But qual quality's number one, checking quality.

Dan Ryan: the successful entrepreneur, John Edelman, that I'm speaking to now, that's had, you know, I don't, I think it's more than 50%. I think it's less than 50% luck. I think it's mostly you just know what you're looking for and you're able to tap into that. Modern, authentic vision, if you will. And, but if you, the John Edelman I'm speaking to now showed up in front of your 14 or 15 year old self and gave your, had advice for yourself, what would it be?

John Edelman: Hmm. Keep doing what you're doing, um, and en but enjoy it. So the biggest thing I regret, if that's the question, maybe it's about how to, how to describe regrets,

Dan Ryan: It could be.

John Edelman: is, is I traveled my whole life aggressively for the business, uh, in, in leather. I traveled to Thailand and to Italy all the time. And in the shoe business I was in Taiwan and Brazil.

I would say to anybody today who's traveling aggressively, take an extra day on every trip and, and, and see where you're going. I mean, I've been to China 30 times. I've never been to the Great Wall, um, you know, go to a mu take a day for museums. I think maybe today's kids do it more, but I didn't know that Then, you know, I missed my best friend's wedding.

I showed up for the vow, and the second they said, I do, I jump back on the train in New York to go to a shoe show. And in retrospect, it was a mistake. You know, I think breathe a little more, take the extra day I would tell myself. But, but, uh, On the business side, I'd say keep doing what you're doing. It is been fun so far.

Dan Ryan: Yeah, that really resonates with me as far as, I think I've been to China 80 or 90 times and I never saw the Great Wall either. It was just in and out. I've showed up to friends rehearsal dinners, but missed the weddings.

Um, yeah, it's a, it's important to take that extra day. I've been trying to do it more and more, but also I like to get back to my kids.

John Edelman: mean, this is, but. Right. But I, I'm talking about even before I had kids, you know, which is really, there was no excuse, but the culture around me was so rush, rush, rush, get here, get there. You know, and sometimes you're, you're rushing to get nowhere. Um, and what's gonna value be valuable for yourself in years to come is that knowledge that you gain then, and it, it'll come out all the time.

It'll always serve you well. Uh, my grandmother used to say, oh, Johnny, John g you know, when you're in Taiwan, there's this great museum in Taipei. And I used to like laugh at her. And now I'm like, oh my God, she was so smart. I can't believe I didn't go.

But you know, you learn. I try to teach my kids

Dan Ryan: Um, okay. This has been awesome. Let, if people wanted to learn more about you or Heller, What can they do? How can they find out more?

John Edelman: so I'm super easy. Like Heller, uh, heller We actually respond to everybody. We're small enough. You can find me on LinkedIn. I'm responsive on LinkedIn. Um, I'm the easiest person to get ahold of, so, so I would say heller And John Edelman at

Dan Ryan: Awesome. Uh, well, I wanna just say thank you so much for your time. I know how busy you are and like with all my guests, I'm just amazed that people want to come here and talk to me and our listeners. So thank you, John. This


John Edelman: We, you make it incredib, you make it incredibly easy. I appreciate it.

Dan Ryan: Thank you, and I don't wanna forget our listeners.

Thank you, listeners. We keep growing every single week. Last time I checked, we were the number 27 design podcast in the United States, which is crazy. So people are listening and picking up the message. So if you learned anything or changed your perspective on hospitality or design, please pass it along.

We've been growing by word of mouth. Thank you everyone, and we will see you next time.

Telling Authentic Stories - John Edelman - Defining Hospitality - Episode #106
Broadcast by