This episode features Mark Allen and James Lee, Co-Founders of Futrus – America’s leading innovator, manufacturer and retailer of hygienic furniture, casework and headwalls.

Hosts Dallas and John chat with their guests on solving design challenges, their focus on hygienic surfaces, their speedy quoting process, and the impacts of COVID-19 on their business.

For more information on Futrus, including their newly launched overbed table, visit futrus.com.


Full Transcript

Dallas (00:00):

Welcome to the materials. I’m Dallas Gabriel President at Willis.

John (00:12):

And I’m John topic, Director of Marketing.

Dallas (00:15):

Each episode, we’ll be joined by special guests and dive into material design trends and solutions.

John (00:21):

We’ll discuss exciting design ideas, inspirational concepts, technical aspects, and so much more so let’s explore.

Dallas (00:31):

Hey everyone. Welcome to another Meet the Maker session. We are excited to have James Lee and Mark Allen from Futrus with us today. Futrus is the leading innovator of solid surface casework furniture and modular solutions for healthcare and commercial environments.

John (00:48):

On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss the importance of choosing the right material and solutions for healthcare, long-term care and commercial environments. What I love about this episode is that Futrus have created modular, easy to specify solutions for many applications aimed at keeping both patients and healthcare providers safe. So welcome.

Mark (01:07):

Thanks John. Thanks Dallas. Hi, I’m Mark Allen CEO, head of design and co-founder at Futrus.

James (01:13):

And I am James Lee, head of marketing, and also co-founder of Futrus. Our company is proud to be America’s leading innovator, manufacturer and retailer of hygienic furniture, casework and headwalls. And our mission really is to revolutionize the healthcare and commercial design industry through the creation of healthier places to live, work, learn, and heal.

Mark (01:34):

All our products are exclusively designed with Corian Solid Surface, which is an extremely hygienic and durable form of acrylic material. We collaborate with the world’s leading architects and designers across America to design spaces that can support the highest levels of standards and infection control, durability and style.

John (01:52):

Impressive guys. Like I said, I’m very excited to have you guys on this call today and share a little bit to our listeners on what Futrus brings to the market, what you guys do. So in that, tell us a little bit of your inspiration and drive for these solutions that you bring to healthcare spaces and commercial spaces.

James (02:12):

Yeah. So I guess our inspiration for the solutions that we bring not just to healthcare, but also commercial comes from observing existing design challenges that are out there and really looking at what’s good, what’s bad. And then deciding what new products can we create to actually solve those challenges themselves.

Mark (02:31):

I personally, am kind of continually inspired by not only the clients we work with, but the projects that we get the opportunities to work on and really to either improve a design or just better, what is currently there. So we’re constantly out there just observing what’s in the market, whether it’s when we’re traveling or, you know, going to a furniture show or going to an art museum, it’s really about inspiration from all levels for us. I’ve always had a great curiosity about how things are made. So, you know, from mobile phones that we carry, certainly to the nature of that surrounds us, it’s really about inspiration on so many levels. And that little spark of inspiration could be something that may inspire a whole new product for us or an innovation on a current product line that we do. It just really comes from so many forms.

John (03:15):

So can you expand on, on the different solutions that you bring to, you know, let’s say a hospital or a long-term care – you talked about modular solutions. So explain to us a little bit of what those modular solutions are bedside tables, headboards, give us a little bit of clarity on what you do bring to to architects and designers as a tool that they can use to create a space.

Mark (03:39):

Sure. So if the patient room environment, we have a variety of products that fit really well within that application. It’s also one of the areas with the highest potential rate of infections. So we kind of work from the patient room all around the areas. From the patient bed itself we offer an overbed table that’s completely done with Corian from there, expanding to bedside cabinets. And then one of the biggest, most important areas of the patient room obviously is the head walls. And that is the area behind the patient bed with med gas and electrical services. We take a whole different approach to that area. We work from the outside in is how I describe it, really engaging with architect, the facilities, the end users, you know, how the flow is going to be, and then creating something that’s completely seamless. You know, often our solutions are completely different. They’re floor to ceiling, wall to wall applications that really provide a seamless solution. That’s all focused on hygiene. So within the kind of patient realm, that’s our main area. And then from there within the room, we do a lot of bathroom applications, sink areas, modular sink solutions, and then the kind of solutions flow out of that.

James (04:38):

And I think the modularity is a great thing because, you know, it means that, you know, architects and designers can really adapt those specific solutions to meet their exact design needs, be that in terms of the color, the size or any specific design detail that they want to include.

Dallas (04:57):

Yeah. I’m really too. I mean, all of the solutions that you provide, they’re all high touch surfaces, right. I mean, would you agree with that?

James (05:04):

Yeah, absolutely. And, and it’s just so important now just to understand the importance of hygiene when it comes to kind of high touch surfaces. I mean, studies show that if you have a hand infected with some kind of harmful microbe, you can then go on to infect seven other surfaces in terms of, you know, whatever that microbiome is. So MRSA, COVID whatever, it just shows how quickly a virus or a bacteria can spread throughout a facility.

Dallas (05:41):

Yeah, no, that’s really interesting, James, and I think a good segue into my next question, you know, why did you choose to work with Corian Solid Surface as a design building material and how do you see it as outperforming other in kind materials?

Mark (05:59):

So certainly I, I think I can take that question. So in order for us to really design a hygienic product, we needed a truly hygienic material to design with – one that could easily be cleaned and disinfected to eliminate harmful microbes and reduce any risk of contact to contact transmission, as James mentioned. Corian really ticked all those boxes for us and that’s what we were looking for.

James (06:19):

Yeah. And I’d also say, Corian are the original pioneers of solid surface and definitely the most trusted solid surface brand in the design industry. You know, they carry the most certifications, including being Green Guard Certified to resist the growth of viruses, bacteria, and mold. And it’s definitely the most extensively tested too. Another reason why we chose them as well was obviously that commitment to sustainability, which is really important to us as a company.

John (06:48):

You make good points and for our listeners, and I’m sure there’s architects and designers out there, is that one of those key features when they’re discussing these applications – is hygiene and the cleanability and the certifications – is that the key feature that they’re looking for when they’re going to spec a Futrus application combined with Corian Solid Surface? Tell us a little bit about those conversations.

Mark (07:16):

So certainly in my mind, yeah, it does start with the material selection. And then what we’re really able to do as Futrus is to create that modular component piece, whatever it might be, using that material and taking advantage of all of its properties. So we’re doing a lot of seamless applications, you know, things that we’re very conscious of, how things are constructed using that material. So conversation begins with that material selection and then flows into, okay, what are the applications that we have that can help support that? So really how we do what we do is really important. Our special sauce of creating modular components and solutions using Corian, is really what we excel at. Using Corian obviously was paramount to how we started the brand. We also had to design how to actually create with it being that Corian’s, not structural, we can’t just build with Corian itself. We have to have an underlying substrate or structure. And we spent two years developing a unique, lightweight structural system that supports all of these Corian services. So really that’s key to how we do what we do and what separates us from other products on the market.

Dallas (08:21):

Can you talk a little bit more about what that substrate is?

Mark (08:25):

Yeah. So so we’re, we’re really well-known for using aluminums, metals within the arena of structure and framing behind the systems. So that’s the system we use and we float the Corian on that frame with another application, and that’s really giving us all the structure and durability. This system, we actually have patented how we do this and it not only offers us the ability to have the structure, but it gives us greater impact resistance, very consistent with quality and sizing and scalability, which is really key. So with these systems, we can actually scale to larger-sized solutions. For instance, our adapts parsons tables can go up to 14 feet without the need for additional support.

Dallas (09:04):

Okay. And Mark, does that also relate back to infection control, you know, using the aluminum?

James (09:10):

Yes, it does. I mean, what you’ll find is typically the old use was to have substructure supporting the Corian made of things like MDF. Obviously if you have, for instance, a sink in a high moisture environment the MDF is going to absorb the moisture in the air. Once you have the moisture in the air and it’s gone into the MDF, then it’s a great breeding ground for viruses, bacteria mold. So essentially, even though you’ve got a hygienic surface, which is the Corian, by using an MDF substrate, you’ve compromised the whole reason why you’ve used Corian in the first place. So the difference for us is that by building with these kinds of substructures that are more metal, then you’ve basically created a truly, truly hygienic system solution that will then keep people safe.

Dallas (10:02):

Yeah. That really differentiates, Futrus from some of your competitors out there in the market – the fact that you guys do use that kind of metal structure.

Mark (10:11):

And I would just add to that, that we’re extremely systems-based. I described that to architects and clients is that we really rely on these systems to provide the essential components to not only carry our warranties but just how the product’s constructed. It’s a whole different way of thinking when you look at how we’re using solid surface in what we do versus traditional countertop, which, you know, everyone is familiar with.

James (10:34):

And I think as well, the point is, is that as Mark says, these systems mean that everything that we’ve done is tried and tested. It means the architects and designers don’t have to spend all this design time and money coming up with the designs themselves. They simply look at the solutions that we’ve created and then adapt them either by, like I said, before the size or the color to then meet their exact design needs. So really not only is it a hygienic solution, it’s also a solution that really speeds up the time in terms of design and specification.

Dallas (11:10):

So I’ve worked with both of you on a few projects, and I know that one of your key advantages to your business is just the quick turnaround time for budget pricing on projects, which, can be so key to architects and designers. Do you want to just talk a little bit about that process?

Mark (11:29):

Yeah, it’s interesting. I think it’s being driven certainly by the Amazon culture and what we’ve created with instant gratification. And I think that’s changed. I think it is forever the future is this – the ability to rapidly produce and quote, I mean, that is just going to be part of the standard language we talk about in the future. So we’re really setting up our systems to accommodate that. And we have some new tools coming out here very soon to help with that process even more. So we’re pretty rapid with getting back on quotes and things now, but this is going to really change for us going forward with the ability to actually have a 3D dimensional design online that we can interact with. Pricing developed directly out of that interaction and that will actually connect through to our machinery, which is incredible. So this is really what we know to be what we feel to be the future. And that is key to what we do in so many of our applications. So that really quick turnaround of specifications, quotations, budgetary, designs, you know, that’s what we do.

Dallas (12:29):

That’s fantastic to know that. I mean, because you guys are already so fast at getting those budget prices out there. So if you’re telling me that it’s going to get even faster and more efficient, that’s pretty exciting.

James (12:40):

It has to be due to the demand that we’re experiencing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t go to bed

John (12:46):

Well, let’s talk about that. How has your business changed over the past 18 months as you know, some countries and certainly Canada and the US are still struggling with COVID in different parts of the market. How has your business changed?

James (13:03):

Yeah, I mean, obviously the effects of the pandemic have been really devastating, you know, to people’s lives, health families, jobs, and obviously livelihoods. And that’s kind of made us more determined than ever to help reduce the impact of future pandemics and keep people safe. So in terms of our business, you know, our innovations team has been designing new products to bring to the market including our new universal overbed table, which launches next month. So, you know, we have been busy on the design side. And then in terms of business, we’ve been seeing overwhelming demand for our products, not just from healthcare, but also commercial.

Mark (13:41):

I think when the most significant things that I have felt change in is the conversation with a traditional commercial architect has now revolved around hygiene for us has been part of our DNA since day one. And to hear those conversations is really reaffirming because now we have commercial architects talking about, Hey, you know, is this product going to help us support, you know, effective cleaning in our airport, for instance. We would have never had those conversations prior to COVID. So there are definitely some things that have helped certainly with that. And I think you’re going to see that just continue from a office standpoint, like everything has some sort of effect from this it’s a giant leap forward, and we obviously have been doing this for a long time. So it’s really just in a way kind of solidified what we do as being important. And now people obviously have been directly impacted by it. So, you know, we’re, we’re here to help support that process. And again, like we have the products to really do that.

James (14:38):

I think it’s also really important not just to talk about COVID as well. Even prior to COVID one in 25 hospital patients in the US contracted a hospital, acquired infection such as MRSA and that kind of equates to 1.7 million patients going into a hospital annually for treatment, and then coming out more sick than they did before. And then when you take into account the death toll of has those infections, 99,000 people a year will die from one of them. So, you know, the need to create safer and more hygienic environments has always been there. And as Mark said, is always been a passion for us to help solve. So even before COVID, and even after COVID, you know, we really, really need to make sure that the environments we’re designing both in health care, in theme parks and hospitality, are as safe as possible.

John (15:33):

Well, yeah, you hear some of those stats and they’re, they’re a little scary. These, these solutions that you’re bringing to the market that make it easy to specify for an architect, it’s the easy button to say, you know, click this modular system is going to fit here, it’s the right size, I think is wonderful news. And yeah, when you, when you talk about offices and you know, public spaces as companies are opening or looking to open offices up again and bring their staff back, people have to really take a deep look at some of the surfaces from bathrooms to public spaces and common areas – what are those surfaces, in high touch points, how are they performing and how are they keeping their staff safe? So a lot of conversations that I’m sure are happening at A and D firms across, across the globe.

Dallas (16:23):

Yeah. I guess if there’s a silver lining to this, that could be one of them – that architects and designers both feed on the healthcare side, obviously, cause it’s a given, but you know, on the commercial side for public buildings that hygiene is really being taken seriously. And really looking at services that can stand up to that high touch point and still be very hygienic.

James (16:49):

Exactly. And, you know, we see, you know, even during the pandemic, you know, as soon as you have an outbreak in say an office facility, or even a manufacturing facility that we found ourselves, you have to shut down that entire facility, make sure it goes through a deep clean and make sure it’s completely safe before obviously allowing workers to return to work. So, you know, that need is just important everywhere.

Mark (17:15):

I think things like that are leading to their own set of challenges if anyone’s been in restaurant lately and felt a table there’s massive degradation of these tabletops surfaces because of the high strength cleaners that are being used now. So it’s definitely big implications, but I feel it’s a step forward in so many ways into products that are more suited to hygiene and cleanliness.

John (17:39):

So we’ve mentioned a little bit of how architects are specifying your products. Walk us through or talk us through how you work with an architect. What are some of the first steps information you need and then take us down the road to how it gets specified, purchased and then installed.

James (18:01):

Yeah. So typically an architect will see our products maybe online or through a presentation by one of our representatives. And they’ll look at that particular solution. They’ll understand the benefits and then they would then simply adapt it by size and color to meet the particular design they’re working on. So for instance, in an airport they’ll know that they want a hygienic sink solution they’ll then go online, they’ll search, maybe Corian, sinks, et cetera, will come up and then essentially they would then specify us and then adapt us to meet that particular design.

Mark (18:40):

So once they engage kind of with us and what we are really about helping support the entire process. And one of my passions is just collaborating with these amazing architects and designers around the country to find out what the big challenges, you know, what other products maybe aren’t serving those needs correctly, and really working together as a team to come up with the right set of solutions for them. So really it’s about that collaborative process that gives us the best success in an environment. You know, I love getting involved with an architect in a patient room and just talking about what we do, how we can develop solutions within that area and then really creating the products within the specifications. So from that first touch point of, you know, initial interest to, here are the products we offer, do they meet your needs and can we adopt them any way that might help you be more to creating the specification. Whether that’s a trough sink or a casework specification just depends which section it goes into the architectural documents. And from there we’re either working with GCs or other suppliers to basically fulfill those products within the environment.

John (19:48):

Are there flexibilities in your designs to do something unique and outside the norm versus a preset modular system that you guys already have designed and offered?

James (20:02):

Yes definitely. Certainly, as I said before, the typical route is for them to adapt to a solution that we have by size or color, obviously Corean has the most colors out there in terms of other solid surface manufacturers. So that gives them a great deal of design flexibility. We do also, that being said, do some custom, we’d say kind of solutions for some of our really high profile clients, including say for instance, within the theme park environment.

Dallas (20:38):

That’s great. You know, honestly I think that we could, we could all say that we’ve learned so much from both of you today, it really has been insightful. And I just wanted to thank both of you for joining us and to thank our listeners and hope that they enjoyed today’s podcast. James and Mark, how can listeners reach you or find more information?

James (21:01):

Yeah. So all our information could be found on our website at Futrus.com. Alternatively, you can find, you know, any of our Corian representatives, including yourselves at Willis on our website, too.

Dallas (21:15):

Fantastic. Well we really encourage our listeners to visit your website to learn more information, just because your product line is fantastic and really does suit the needs of today’s environment. So I just wanted to note to you that for our listeners full notes of this podcast will be on our website as well, which is at 4willis.com. If you found this conversation inspiring, please feel free to share the link.

John (21:43):

Thank you so much for joining us for this conversation. For listeners who are unfamiliar with Willis, we are curators of premium design materials. Our portfolio includes Corian Solid Surface, Corian Quartz, Corian Endura, Lapitec Sintered Stone, ARPA high-pressure laminate, Fenix, and Kohler branded sinks and faucets.

Dallas (22:04):

To find out more about who we are and how we can assist you in your next project, visit us at 4willis.com.