Opendesk - made better!

Continuing our efforts to realise a sustainable, equitable and ethical supply-chain. One that’s better for people and planet!

By connecting you to local craftspeople who can make goods to order instead of selling mass-produced products, our mission is to enable a more socially and environmentally conscious mode of production. As a platform built for digital, on-demand manufacturing we’re powering a distributed network of independent makers - ‘replacing factories with faces’ and putting people back at the heart of our global supply chain.

As part of this mission we operate on the basis that we can best serve you by providing our services and assistance where we are able to add the most value. We’re here to help you decide what you want to buy, work with you to customise designs to fit your requirements, help you connect with and receive quotes from makers in your area, and ensure that the appropriate technical information to match your specification is available when the time comes for you to choose a maker.

However, trying to understand where we deliver most value and how best to realise our broader platform vision also means knowing when to step out of the way to allow a professional maker to take over in supplying their services - applying their craft skills, expertise and focus to the manufacture, delivery and assembly of great furniture on each and every order you place.

We want to do everything we can to support our makers as independent businesses in their own right - providing them with paid work, sourcing and offering high-quality designs for them to produce and helping to establish best-practice and repeatable standards in this segment of industry (to allow smaller workshops to compete with more established larger manufacturers).

We also want to ensure we are never too dominant in our relationship with makers. One of our founding principles when establishing Opendesk was a commitment to nurturing and celebrating the success and creativity of independent producers - without imposing too much control over them, obscuring them behind a faceless brand, or becoming ‘just another middleman’ treating their interests as subservient to the profits of corporate intermediaries.

This is the reason we established a more transparent fee-structure than traditional furniture businesses. It is also the reason we have always aimed to be a platform business, connecting you to great designs and local makers to produce them through our digital services, without the need for physical shops and logistics - so that we are able to charge a fraction of the markup of traditional retailers with much more going directly to designers and makers.

Despite these aspirations, through our early years we found it simpler to behave in a more traditional way - operating on the basis of a very direct contractual arrangement between ourselves and our customers. You would place orders with us directly for Opendesk products, and we would then assign this work to makers in our network after you’d selected your preferred quote, thereby establishing a secondary relationship between the maker and ourselves on each order. This had the benefits of teaching us a huge amount – about our customers’ needs, how best to manage various QA problems, and a number of challenges in project-managing furniture deliveries on larger orders (to name but a few!).

However, this more ‘traditional’ model also presented some issues given it isn’t a very accurate reflection of the way we actually work. Our previous Terms of Service might be interpreted as implying that we were somehow in control of the manufacture and supply of all Opendesk products centrally – which given our distributed supply-chain model couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, we have always relied on our maker community to produce the furniture you buy and with the exception of some prototypes (and the furniture in our own office!), we never physically make or handle any products ourselves.

This previous model also never felt quite in keeping with our broader mission, since it has the potential to tip the balance of power in favour of Opendesk at the expense of our makers over time - putting us in a position to be able to dictate local pricing and force makers into accepting certain margins and ways of working, without enabling or requiring any genuine market dynamics to emerge between independent companies. Given our commitment to empowering producers - without getting in the way - this started to feel like a direction of travel that we are keen to avoid.

With the above in mind, we’ve spent the past few months carefully considering the services that we are best placed to offer when you place an order with us, and conversely, where it is right for us to hand more freedom, responsibility and control over to the makers who are ultimately entrusted with producing and delivering the lovely locally-made furniture you will receive.

In light of this, we’ve fully reviewed and updated our Terms of Service and, in the process, we are now reaffirming some of our own commitments to the platform we set out to build in the first place.

A summary of the key changes we’ve made

The key change to our model relates to the way our contracts will be structured going forwards. Instead of simply placing an order with Opendesk (like you would when buying from a traditional supplier, who would typically manage manufacturing, retail and logistics end-to-end), when you place an order through us under our new model, the Opendesk platform will connect you to a trusted local maker with whom you will then contract directly (under a structure and terms that we recommend).

Specifically, this means we are clarifying and focusing the services that we offer to you (our customers) as:

  • helping to source and host great designs by independent designers;
  • helping you to choose the designs that are right for you (and occasionally offering ‘design tailoring’ services to make adjustments to those designs to suit your requirements);
  • helping you find and connect to a talented network of trusted local makers who will quote to produce your furniture to order;
  • helping to manage communications, process payments, and prepare and issue technical information to the maker of your choosing to ensure that you get the best possible experience and that the products you receive match your specification;
  • in some areas, we are also able to offer additional third-party products (such as ergonomic seating from select suppliers) on a case by case basis to help you fit out your workspace;
  • …and of course, we will go on offering the above, all whilst continuing to build, host and operate the website and platform that enables it all to happen.

Beyond the above, when you decide that you are happy to place your order, we believe that the manufacture and fulfilment of your furniture is best handed over to the maker of your choice who will be happy to contract directly with you to manufacture, deliver and assemble your products.

The Opendesk Manufacturer Standard Supply Terms (which we recommend our makers use when contracting with you), are based on our experience of serving customers directly over the past four years and are intended as a fair and balanced agreement between you and the maker to clearly define the responsibilities and duties that you will each be accepting on each order. The terms also clarify how Opendesk may continue to be involved in handling payments on behalf of the maker in certain circumstances. The purpose of these terms is ultimately to try to ensure that you continue to have the best possible experience, whilst protecting your rights and the rights of the manufacturer.

Our new model ensures that our makers will never be obscured under the umbrella of our brand and that they are never simply assumed to be our sub-contractors - versus the colourful and diverse group of independent individuals and businesses that we set out to champion.

This model also holds us to our commitment of supporting independent makers by offering them the possibility to genuinely compete in an open market rather than have their working practices, business-structures and prices become more centralised and dictated by us over time.

In most cases, we will also still be charging you the full value of the order, collecting and handling your funds on behalf of the maker, and then paying them accordingly. However, under our new model, in some instances (and/or in some geographies) we may ask the maker to invoice you directly once you place your order, in which case you will be paying the maker the full value of the order and we will reclaim any fees due to the designer and to the Opendesk platform from the maker directly.

What will this change mean for the way I order and buy Opendesk furniture?

Our new Terms of Service should have very little bearing on your experience of choosing and ordering Opendesk furniture. You will still be able to choose designs on our website, seek advice and/or design tailoring (customisation) services from us, request quotes from makers in your area, and place an order through us.

Our customer support will continue to be available throughout your buying experience, from requesting quotes through to delivery of your furniture and you can rest assured that we are always here to help!

Should I be worried about the quality of my experience or the quality of my furniture following these changes?

Absolutely not - we want to reassure you that the changes we are making are intended in the best interests of our customers and makers, and ultimately we see the contractual clarifications we are now implementing as merely a more accurate reflection of the model we were operating under anyway (connecting you to local makers).

As such, you should experience no change in the quality of your previous experience when buying Opendesk furniture through our process. In fact, given the new contractual supply terms we are asking makers to adopt, the responsibility on our makers to deliver a great experience to you should increase if anything - and under this new structure both we and our makers are able to better focus on the services we each provide. In the rare case that you do experience anything below the standard you were expecting, you can be confident that we will be here to help you and the maker.

Ultimately, and perhaps most significantly for us, we see these changes as completing our transition to a business model that best matches the aspirational platform we set out to build from the start. The changes we are implementing now represent a major step in moving beyond furniture to unlocking a truly equitable marketplace for the supply and demand of a whole host of locally-made goods, which in time will allow more makers to offer more fantastic and locally-made products to more people.

The Opendesk Team