IMPORTANT LINKS AND EXPERT DIRECTORY LISTINGS FOR OUR FIRM:
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ABOUT LEONARD J. BACKER ASSOCIATES:
…I saw your post on the list serve and I wanted to tell you about the BEST Chair expert I came across by pure luck. I have now retained him in 2 chair cases and he is extremely capable, approachable and super helpful, but most important, has the credentials…
Attorney for Plaintiff
I will keep you posted on our progress and let you know if it looks like we can get this resolved, or if we are headed into litigation. Thank you again and great job on the report and in working with us!!
Attorney for Plaintiff
Mr. Backer's court testimony was excellent. He was well prepared and projected strong level of confidence on the witness stand. The jury's verdict supported his expert report and opinions.
Attorney for Defendants
You did a good job. My guess is we will have other cases together.
Attorney for Plaintiff Board Certified in Maritime & Admiralty Law
Valuable furniture industry insight, strong communicator and very important contributor to reaching a timely settlement of our case. Attorney for Plaintiffs
...extremely professional and detail oriented. Excellent follow up with concise and factually supported expert report after inspection of subject furniture.
Attorney for Defendant
Strong analytical skills and management level industry perspective. Mr. Backer has made important contributions to our case over the past 10 months. Would highly recommend his expert services...
Attorney for Plaintiffs
Copyright 2017 Leonard J. Backer Associates LLC All Rights Reserved
FURNITURE INDUSTRY AND SEATING EXPERTISE
Leonard J. Backer Associates LLC
Strategic Consulting - Expert Witness - Litigation Consulting
Leonard Backer brings 28 years of successful FURNITURE INDUSTRY, SEATING, MARKETING and MANUFACTURING experience (including development and introduction of 250+ catalog seating and table collections and 100+ custom designs), with hands-on expertise in all aspects of product development, collaborative design, manufacturing management, frame construction, residential and commercial use, hospitality environments, warranty, care and maintenance, user inspections, all types of field issues, freight handling and damages and product support. Seating, furniture and table design are very unique disciplines and cannot be gleaned from any textbooks or specific college, engineering or graduate school degrees. The only way to learn all aspects of proper seating, table and furniture design, construction and performance is to spend years working right alongside many of the world's premier independent product designers and factory resources, from the initial concept rendering stage, through the entire prototyping process; then coordinating with the component suppliers, conducting product testing in laboratory environments and ultimately making sure the products are properly manufactured for their targeted markets, intended use and specific types of customers. Unmatched experience with hospitality seating and tables, having been involved in over 1,000 project specifications and installations; hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, timeshares. Backer's various manufacturing firms, where he has been a top level manager, executive, officer or equity owner have designed, developed, manufactured, marketed and sold over $1 billion dollars in seating and tables.
All of this can only be observed, learned and mastered in a "real world environment".
Having been directly involved with developing more original seating designs than anyone known in the U.S., this is exactly what Leonard Backer has accomplished and for what he has been recognized.
RECOGNIZED AS ONE OF THE NATION'S TOP SEATING AND FURNITURE EXPERTS
In addition, we bring a deep knowledge of the overall furniture industry and how it "really works"; we are confident of adding substantial value to firms' litigation efforts.
Our wide ranging furniture industry, seating and table expertise covers areas such as:
Product Design/Development - Chair Failures - On-Site Product Inspections - Furniture Specifications - Component Sourcing - Import/Export - Product Launch - Vendor Qualification - Marketing - Supplier Relations - Manufacturing Quality Control - Private Label Production - Price List Terms and Conditions - Customer Service
DETAILED AREAS OF FURNITURE EXPERTISE AND SUCCESSFUL EXPERIENCE
1) Product Design and Development –Worked closely with many independent furniture, seating and table designers; both in the U.S. and in Europe. Directed these product development projects from the initial concept and rendering stages, through drawing revisions, prototyping, sample shop visits, frame construction issues, final master sample evaluations and approvals, pre-production set up, master product samples and factory training.
2) Frame and Component Sourcing – Completed 100+ detailed factory visits and supplier pre-qualification analyses to decide if new suppliers could meet targeted levels for product quality and consistency, lead times, projected volume increases and service and support after the sale. Initiated agreements where needed, to further confirm detailed technical specifications and product testing results. In addition to seating and table parts, handled other key components such as fabric, leather, foam and seat deck webbing.
3) Purchasing and Supplier Relations –Continually visited both domestic and overseas factory suppliers for pricing negotiations, value engineering ideas, product quality issues, logistical and process improvements and new product programs and initiatives. Accompanied seven different company purchasing managers on overseas factory visits to introduce them to the factory owners, set up clear communications, initiate supply agreements and set up strong protocols to maintain as smooth a relationship as possible with both large and small suppliers.
4) New Product Launch and Manufacturing Set-up –Intimately involved in all final decision making prior to adding any new items (seating or tables) into the catalog. Completed gross margin analyses and presented to senior management. Approved all final internal costing sheets (analyzing labor – materials – overhead allocations). Worked closely with purchasing, manufacturing and engineering areas to finalize detailed bills of materials for each new product.
5) Manufacturing and Factory Floor – Many years of hands-on experience in all phases of wood furniture production, including: assembly, glue up, sanding, finishing, cut and sew, upholstery, quality inspection, pack and wrap, shipping. Familiar with various wood species including European beech, maple, oak, ash, veneer, beech and maple plywood. Also experienced in metal furniture production, including: raw steel frame preparation, round steel tube bending, aluminum square tube, welding, chrome plating and powder coating. Familiar with plastic furniture; prototyping and mold based manufacturing.
6) Negotiated and Directly Managed Various Private Label Manufacturing Agreements – Set up my firms as private label supplier to various well known branded furniture companies including Knoll, Herman Miller, Halcon, Wieland and SMED (division of Haworth). Our products were shipped out under their names, fully manufactured in cartons to their final warehouse destinations or dealers throughout the U.S.
Also negotiated private label agreements where certain domestic table and lounge seating suppliers would manufacture and ship complete chairs and tables to our catalog specifications, matching our wood or metal finishes, under our brand name.
7) Marketing – Built and maintained an industry wide reputation over many years as an aggressive marketer, particularly focused in all commercial and hospitality furniture areas. Developed and maintained my various companies’ global reputations for offering clean, updated and original seating and table designs. Continually introduced leading edge, interior design oriented sales materials. Handled website development and upgrades, all studio photography, media advertising and trade show programming.
8) Relationship with Interior Design Community – Continually traveled and made product and specific project presentations to hundreds of the top rated interior design firms throughout the U.S. Received first hand feedback and opinions about our designs and how we could better support their additional product needs.
9) Hospitality Markets –Directly involved with over 1,000 successful hospitality projects throughout my career; from the initial specification and bid submittal processes through prototype sample production and evaluation, mock-up room reviews, final pricing negotiations, sales rep coordination, manufacturing, quality inspection and final delivery to the end user location. These markets included hotels, restaurants, fast food, cruise lines, timeshare resorts, spas, casinos and stadiums (including NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA locations). Approved suppliers to companies such as Marriott, Hilton, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Hyatt, Disney, Embassy Suites, Wyndham, Crowne Plaza, Carnival Cruise, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Chili’s and Denny's.
10) Office Furniture Markets – Worked closely with many interior design firms, purchasing agents and office furniture dealers, to successfully support corporate furniture projects and installations throughout the U.S. including banks, insurance companies, healthcare facilities, brokerage and financial firms and technology firms.
11) Retail Store Planning Markets - Worked with in-house designers as key seating and table supplier on corporate standards programs and individual projects for Macy’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard's, Belk, Target, JC Penney, Precision Lens Crafters, Pearle Vision and Zale Jewelers among others, in this very "design sensitive" visual merchandising area. Also worked with retail mall developers including Simon Properties, General Growth and Taubman.
12) Residential Furniture Markets – Intimately familiar with all aspects of furniture retail processes, strategies, showrooms, floor samples, sales and ordering procedures, manufacturer relations, pricing/discounts, delivery and set-up at the customer’s residence.
13) Site Visits and Customer Service Issues – Managed various customer service departments, personally completed 300+ site visits and evaluated hundreds of additional images sent in by our sales reps, to determine causation of all types of seating, furniture or table related incidents and/or possible product defect or warranty issues.
14) Methodologies – Being recognized as one of the nation’s leading seating, table and furniture experts, I can state that the various methodologies I utilize to determine the causation of any incidents or injuries related to furnishings, are always “customized” to the individual circumstances found at each specific location. Since there are no nationally recognized or published safety, engineering or component construction standards for seating or tables (there are thousands of new, modified or custom designs specified and manufactured each year of various materials, dimensions, technical specifications…) the “standards” for safe design and manufacturing are not written in any one place, and must be learned through extensive hands-on field experience and actually working through various processes from initial design concept through manufacturing, covering widely different types of furniture products and intended use for each. Based on the size and scope of a furniture project, it may involve independent or company employed interior designers, facility managers, purchasing agents or managers, end user maintenance staff, company engineers, corporate executives, furniture dealers, delivery services and furniture installation companies.
15) Product Testing Laboratories – Maintained relationships with various domestic and overseas testing facilities. Initiated certain testing projects and monitored test protocols and results, including all stacking chairs, individual lounge collections for GSA “heavy duty” testing and upholstery burn testing to California Technical Bulletin #133 flammability specifications. Familiar with standard ANSI/BIFMA commercial use seating tests, as well as the European CATAS frame testing standards.
16) Internal Training – Directly handled and coordinated all training for new products introduced into the manufacturing operations. Worked closely with company engineering and new product sampling departments, to confirm and write up all detailed technical specifications for all new catalog product additions. Directed all product and support training for the customer service and large project quotation departments. Set up, trained and managed the internal private label manufacturing area, which supported programs supplying up to 35,000 chairs and tables per year we produced for other branded office, hospitality and healthcare furniture companies.
17) Financial Reviews and Analysis – As a key member of the executive management team and company officer, participated in monthly detailed budget reviews regarding: gross margin analysis, product mix, selling general and administrative (SG&A) expenses, cost of goods sold (COGS), on hand inventories, work in process (WIP) overhead allocation, warranty costs, EBITDA and net profit percentages.
18) Custom Design and Large Project Follow Through – Directly responsible for monitoring and coordination of overseas supplier pricing negotiations and logistics preparation for all large projects (usually 300+ pieces) and custom design opportunities. These type projects would include furnishings for restaurant chain standards programs, hotels, timeshare resorts, cruise ships, stadiums and arenas, large healthcare facilities, corporate expansions, government facilities, and universities.
19) Trade Shows – For many years, directly handled all major national furniture industry trade shows; coordinating booth construction design and set-up, specific product samples to be shown, printed sales support materials, pre-show publicity and targeted advertising. Involved with management of the company’s showrooms; especially larger ones located in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
20) Catalogs, Price Lists and Specification Materials – Totally responsible for producing, laying out and final proofing of all company sales and marketing materials. Worked very closely with outside photographers, graphic artists and printers to produce high quality designer oriented literature, catalog binders, price books, tear sheets, swatch cards, product specification sheets and brochures. Directed all aspects of various company websites, with continual updates as needed.
21) Furniture Industry Competition – Kept a close eye on all industry competitors, especially in the seating and table categories. Performed a detailed competitive analysis as part of all new product development projects, focusing on design aesthetics, targeted vertical markets and pricing.
22) Product Warranty Issues – Worked closely with outside counsel to develop very detailed and comprehensive warranty, care and maintenance instructions for all types of seating and table products we produced. Addressed issues such as flammability, furniture abuse, possible manufacturing defects, field inspections and returns or replacements.
23) Freight and Packaging – Extensive involvement in all aspects of inbound component shipments from overseas, outbound shipment of finished products from our factories, as well as from private label offsite locations. Experienced with freight carrier negotiations and claims issues. Familiar with carton standards and various inner pack options.
24) Upholstery Programs – Directed all upfront negotiations with many fabric mills and distributors, first reviewing all laboratory testing results and technical specifications, making sure these materials (fabric, leather, vinyl, faux leather, mesh) would meet the demands of hospitality and heavy commercial users. Managed the costing and profit margin analyses, then determined the final pricing grades for company price lists.
25) Independent Sales Rep Force – Participated in sales visits, design and product presentations with rep groups located throughout the U.S. Called on interior designers, purchasing companies, office furniture dealers, healthcare facilities and larger hospitality end users for specific furniture projects and standards programs. Helped with managing the sales force, working closely with the Vice President of Sales.
26) Advertising and Public Relations – Formulated and directed all media advertising efforts, including studio photography, ad layouts, placement and advertising rate negotiations with various national media. Directly handled all corporate public relations efforts and strategies; maintained personal relationships with many publishers and product editors.
Leonard J. Backer Associates LLC
2008 to Present
Expert Witness and Litigation Consultant for law firms, insurance companies and other entities. Featured as an "expert" by numerous nationally recognized industry firms and expert witness directories. Working closely with clients to develop and coordinate strategy for plaintiffs or defense. Site visits to closely inspect damaged seating, tables and other items. Detailed analysis and rendering professional opinions to help determine causation, potential liability and product suitability for the actual installation and/or subject environment. Submit well documented and easy to understand expert reports. Highly successful track record in supporting personal injury and product liability related matters. Extensive experience with hospitality projects. Also offer strong and very credible expert witness testimony at deposition, arbitration and in court. Strategic consulting projects encompassing furniture marketing, product and component sourcing, costing, website and sales literature analysis and upgrades, sales rep agreements, large project specification and support, catalog expansion and distribution initiatives. Also working with branded furniture manufacturers to develop new products and cost effective marketing support strategies.
Brown Jordan International, Contract Division
2005 to 2008
Directed all sales literature, product photography, media advertising, public relations, sales support and product development efforts. Personally visited over 80 domestic and overseas factories, continually upgrading existing quality levels, as well as searching for new potential suppliers. Handled key negotiations with European suppliers, with continuous travel to overseas factories to monitor and expedite various product development, quality control, pricing, delivery and administrative issues. Directed all new product design and development strategies, coordinated inter-departmental support to bring new seating and table models and collections online to meet corporate parameters for budgeting and product launch target dates. Overhauled the existing new product development process to become more focused and more responsive to engineering, tooling, sales, quality control and supplier requirements. Recruited as a key member of the leadership team to tackle a serious turnaround situation upon joining the organization. Worked as part of the senior executive group to identify and aggressively fix major problems in various marketing, branding, operational, sales support and customer service areas.
EPIC Furniture Group, Inc.
Co-Founder, Senior Vice President
2000 to 2005
Co-founded the company from original concept stage. Initiated a new way to jointly market high end furniture designs into North America; co-branding with select European furnishings manufacturers. Within its first 2 years, Epic became well recognized for its clean and contemporary leading edge designs. Shipments exceeded $16.5 million in fourth full year. Directed all marketing and product related areas, also an integral part of the sales management and customer support teams. Responsible for all key supplier relations, purchasing negotiations and new design development. Handled trade show planning, public relations, media advertising. Worked with product designers to help re-engineer, re-scale and make substantive modifications to original highly finessed designs; resulting in many successful seating (wood-metal-lounge-outdoor) and table collections for the U.S. furniture market. Worked closely with outside attorneys and insurance companies as in-house product expert to review potential and/or actual lawsuits; helping develop and coordinate defense strategies, conduct detailed research and formulate corporate responses. Deposed on various occasions.
Loewenstein Furniture Group, Inc.
Vice President Marketing and Product Development
1988 to 2000
Continually assumed increasing levels of responsibility to support very rapid and profitable company growth. Expanded the company's targeted markets to include: Hotels, Restaurants, Resorts, Casinos, Cruise Lines, Universities, Stadiums and Arenas, Retail Store Chains, Healthcare and Senior Living. Traveled extensively to trade shows, visited with interior designers and office dealers throughout the U.S., working with the company’s sales force to make customer visits, product presentations and to help close large hotel, restaurant, time share and cruise ship projects. Received valuable direct product feedback from customers. After continually “fine tuning” all areas, the company produced a gross margin of 44% and net profit margin of 19% for the 12 months ending 12/31/99. Part of a successful IPO on NASDAQ in September of 1993. Established a strong industry-wide brand image for well designed, well priced and well engineered multi-purpose seating, based on a fresh “Italian design direction”. Broad hands-on experience in all key areas of the business. Organized and directed a very successful high volume private label seating manufacturing program; supplying some of the industry’s largest and best known companies. Worked closely with outside insurers, as in-house “manufacturing and product expert” to handle and make recommendations as to how best to respond and defend product liability and other actions brought against the firm. Deposed and testified in court for various legal actions and lawsuits.
Member of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) for many years
Member of the Institute of Business Designers (IBD) for many years
Associate Member of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) for several years
Maintained working relationships with both domestic (ANSI/BIFMA and California #133 Flammability Certified) and overseas commercial chair testing laboratories including CATAS (European Testing Certification)
FURNITURE INDUSTRY PRESENTATIONS - TRAINING SEMINARS
"Furniture Manufacturing and its Impact on the Environment"
Institute of Business Designers, New York City, NY - Featured Speaker
Panelist and Speaker at Various National and Regional Furniture Shows and Exhibitions
Covering Range of Furniture Industry Topics and Often Quoted for Publication Follow Ups
"How to Make Better Furniture Presentations to Interior Designers"
Training Course Given to Independent Sales Rep Groups
"Better Organizing Large Project and Custom Quotes"
Training Course Given to Internal Sales and Customer Service Departments
SELECTED CASE SUMMARIES
Over his accomplished 28 year furniture industry and consulting career, Leonard Backer has been recognized as a highly knowledgeable product and manufacturing Expert with very detailed hands-on experience in seating, as well as all key areas of the furniture business. He has been retained as an independent consultant and Expert Witness for Plaintiff and Defense for various types of cases. Following are some examples of cases where he has made positive and substantive contributions.
WRONGFUL DEATH CASE: After many failed attempts to reach a reasonable settlement in this $10 million case, Mr. Backer was brought in by defense counsel as furniture industry Expert to evaluate various business related claims made by the plaintiff. As a result of Mr. Backer’s involvement, detailed document review and professional opinions, a final settlement was then reached in a timely manner.
INJURY CASE INVOLVING TABLE COLLAPSE ON SHIP: Mr. Backer was retained by plaintiff, reviewing all details regarding a folding table collapsing on the plaintiff, causing serious injury aboard a large cruise ship. Defendants not offering any financial settlement. Mr. Backer then analyzed the subject table, its manufacturer catalog and design specifications. Further utilizing his firsthand knowledge of similar use environments and then after submitting his Expert Witness report, defendants agreed to a settlement.
INJURY CASE INVOLVING METAL STACKING CHAIR IN FOOD COURT: Working as Expert for the defense and coordinating strategy with the firm’s liability insurer, Mr. Backer was deposed with the subject chair actually in the room. After reviewing all aspects of the chair and describing the detailed design/development process, construction, testing and quality inspection procedures, the defense prevailed in the case.
SWIVEL CHAIR COLLAPSE IN ADULT GAMING ARCADE: Retained as an Expert Witness by the plaintiff’s attorney, Mr. Backer completed a site inspection as well as a detailed review and close inspection of an exemplar office type chair. Case was already in an advanced stage when Mr. Backer was brought in; no settlement negotiations were initiated by defendant to that point. After deposing Mr. Backer for several hours, defense attorney reached out to plaintiff’s attorney and a settlement was negotiated within a few days.
INJURY CASE WITH WOOD UPHOLSTERED CHAIR IN HOTEL GUEST ROOM: Working with the plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Backer was brought into the case after the defendant's insurer refused to offer a reasonable settlement. A detailed on-site inspection was performed by Mr. Backer, who immediately pointed out several "design flaws" with the subject chair in the actual hotel room environment. Video and Expert report were submitted to the defense. After a lengthy deposition of Mr. Backer, a more appropriate settlement was quickly reached.
ACCIDENT INVOLVING ADJUSTABLE FITTING STOOL IN OPTICAL STORE: Working for the defense in this $1 million case, and coordinating with the manufacturer's insurer, Mr. Backer offered his detailed analysis and Expert opinion as to the design and functionality of the subject stool in retail store environments. Case was settled.
INJURY CASE WITH BAR STOOL IN LOUNGE AREA: Working for the defense, Mr. Backer analyzed the specific circumstances and details of this incident. He also reviewed the subject wood bar stool, its design and manufacturing process and its heavy duty construction features. The defense prevailed in this case; suit was dismissed.
WOODEN OUTDOOR BENCH CAUSED SERIOUS PERSONAL INJURY: Working with the plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Backer performed a site inspection with a narrative video and also completed a detailed analysis of the subject bench located at a large hotel property. Initially the hotel's insurer had not offered any settlement for this incident. After submitting Mr. Backer's Expert report and opinion that this bench was "not properly designed for its intended use", the insurer quickly offered an acceptable settlement in this case.
VERY LARGE DOLLAR AMOUNT CLAIM FOR DEFECTIVE FURNITURE: Mr. Backer was retained by one of the industry's largest insurance companies and its outside counsel to defend against a $2 million+ claim for "defective furniture" purchased and installed at a timeshare resort property. After reviewing various detailed product images, property inspection reports and related documents, Backer concluded the furniture was not, in fact, defective. After being deposed and then testifying as an Expert Witness in court, the jury verdict confirmed Backer's findings.
BED COLLAPSE WITH SERIOUS INJURY IN TIME SHARE CONDOMINIUM: Working with plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Backer researched and analyzed the facts surrounding this incident. He suggested specific Interrogatories and Requests for Production from the defense side. After analyzing all of the newly obtained details and performing a site inspection with follow up report, a successful settlement was reached with the well known national furniture retailer.
LARGE PROJECT WITH DEFECTIVE OUTDOOR FURNITURE: Mr. Backer was hired by the outside law firm representing a condominium association. They had received chairs, tables, bar stools, chaise lounges and umbrellas for their pool area; these items arrived with numerous manufacturing defects in frame construction, finish, hardware, mesh seats and backs. After numerous attempts to resolve these issues with the furniture manufacturer, Backer was retained, immediately performed a detailed site inspection and submitted his Expert report. The outdoor furniture supplier then immediately agreed to repair and/or replace all defective items at no charge.
ELDERLY PLAINTIFF INJURED WHEN TRIPPING OVER THE PROTRUDING LEG OF A RETAIL STORE CLOTHING RACK: Backer was retained to research and analyze the safety standards, store procedures, fixture and aisle layouts and other issues related to this retail incident. After reviewing the store's internal procedures and safety guidelines, researching all relevant retail industry, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and risk management issues and after completing a detailed site visit, Backer submitted his Expert Witness report. The defendant (a nationally known retail chain) then offered an acceptable settlement to the plaintiff within 3 days.
PLAINTIFF INJURED WHEN SITTING DOWN IN AN AISLE DISPLAY CHAIR AT A LARGE MASS MERCHANT RETAILER:
Mr. Backer was retained as a Seating Expert Witness to review images and documents regarding a middle aged woman sitting in an outdoor swivel chair on display at a large retailer. The subject chair collapsed due to a manufacturing defect. After many unsuccessful attempts to settle this matter, Backer submitted a list of suggested interrogatories and requests for production from the defendant. After plaintiff's attorney submitted these requests to the defense, a successful settlement was reached within 2 weeks.
BREACH OF FIDUCIARY DUTY CASE INVOLVING MISMANAGEMENT OF A FURNITURE MANUFACTURING FIRM:
Mr. Backer was retained by the plaintiffs' lawyers to support an $8 million+ lawsuit against a trustee who managed a successful furniture company inherited by the children of the founder. After reviewing over 1,000 pages of documents, board meeting minutes, internal communications, product catalogs and doing online competitor research, Backer submitted his Expert Report. None of the 3 experts hired by the defense had any experience whatsoever in managing a furniture manufacturer. In addition, Backer contributed valuable insight to the plaintiffs' cases, having previously served as both an officer and director of other furniture companies. A successful settlement was finally reached after 18 months of litigation.
Francis M. Smith, Esq. "The experts carry the case, without them you are going nowhere."