Today, It's Not Just Furniture

May 30, 2006
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WYOMING — Randy DeBoer couldn’t have picked a worse time to enter the office furniture industry, but it may have been the introduction he needed.

DeBoer acquired Haworth dealer Interphase Office Interiors Inc. in August of 2000, seemingly minutes before the bottom fell out of the office furniture industry. His previous trade — office technology — was entering a recession, but nowhere near the one felt by office furniture. The period from 2000-2002 saw the industry’s darkest days, with 33 percent shrinkage over two years.

But just as office furniture makers have reinvented themselves for a changing market, forcing double-digit growth since the recession, so have dealers. From 2002 to 2005, Interphase grew 65 percent.

“We aren’t in the furniture business anymore,” DeBoer said. “We’re really in the full interior solution business. Today, we’re talking about so much more than furniture. Furniture only comes along at the end.”

Today, he explained, the market is driven by flexibility and adaptability.

“It’s about how we can create a space that is an asset to you and your investment to your facility, and doesn’t end up being a liability,” he said.

Gone are the days of large private offices and one-size-fits-all workstations. Manufacturers and dealers alike have learned that the workplace is driven by technology, a need for efficiency and flexibility, and sustainability.

“In reality, businesses are changing all the time,” DeBoer said. “If we design a facility today, my business will have changed significantly in the 18 months it takes to build it. To some degree, I’ll already have an obsolete facility.”

As such, Interphase has focused its design on potential for change. Movable walls allow a corner office to be added or removed over the course of a day, along with the entire office floor. Raised floors ensure that networking and HVAC issues don’t limit that flexibility.

Like many dealers, Interphase has had to expand its offerings beyond those of its primary vendor, Haworth, establishing vendor relationships for flooring and other interior products. Doing so also allowed the company to expand into other markets, particularly health care and education.

Furniture makers are rapidly moving toward those markets, as well. In 2005, 6.3 percent of the market was nontraditional office products, the most ever by a sizable margin and nearly twice that of the prior year.

Sustainability has also become a ubiquitous trend within the furniture industry, DeBoer noted, and Interphase has been a leader on that front among dealers. A forestry major in college, DeBoer was the nation’s first office furniture dealer to attain Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council.    

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