NeoCon: Blitzing The Market

June 18, 2007
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Configura Gains Ground

If it meets current growth projections, Configura Inc. will nearly double the headcount at its Grand Rapids headquarters this year. Buoyed by a two-month-old partnership with ProjectMatrix Inc. integrating its ProjectSymbols computer-automated design library into Configura's CET Designer platform, the 13-employee firm plans to rapidly grow its penetration in the office furniture industry.

"This will be the year we really get a foothold in the U.S. market," predicted Johan Bengtsson, Sweden-based vice president of marketing and sales for Configura parent company Configura Sverige AB.

The northern European leader in CAD for the built environment, Configura Sverige launched its U.S. headquarters last year after attracting Holland's Haworth Inc. as a client. Over 80 percent of Haworth products are now available on the CET Designer. Steelcase products are currently being added to the system, with plans to add two more major U.S manufacturers by 2008.

Markant USA Adds Arms

Transplant firm Markant USA did not have a large presence at NeoCon this year. The Grand Rapids-based subsidiary of Dutch firm Markant Office Furniture, the world's leading provider of height-adjustable tables and workstations, devoted much of its space to Ionic B.V., a maker of high-end monitor arms also based in The Netherlands.

Markant has plans to distribute the Ionic arms as part of its own product line.

Idea@work Adds Motion

A new keyboard system and laptop stand highlight upcoming releases for Knape & Vogt's ergonomic accessory brand, idea@work. Slated for launch in January 2008, the patent-pending Blackbird keyboard system allows the keyboard to tilt away from the platform itself, pioneering a new range of motion adjustability. The mouse surface features a proprietary design allowing for adjustment higher or lower than the keyboard.

A product receiving a surprising amount of attention at NeoCon was the firm's new laptop stand, a new category for the company.

"With this the first year that laptops have outsold PCs, we thought it was necessary to create something that could make a laptop more like a flat-panel screen," said Rhonda Van Dyk, product manager of business products for idea@work

Light Corp. Sprouts New Lighting System

Light Corp.'s newest offering is the Grand Haven-firm's most extensive to date. The Sprout rail system is a low-voltage power distribution system for office workstations that can be used for task lighting and other office electronics with maximum flexibility. Ideally, the rail is mounted on the back wall or the overhead of an office system. Attachments for the system include power outlets, on/off switches, and flood and task lighting, as well as other unique accessories.

The location of the switch, outlets or lights can be instantly reconfigured by snapping off the specific attachment and positioning it in the desired location. Related accessories include the Sprout Power Plant, a device that converts 120-volt current into five 12-volt currents for use with the company's low-energy task lights; a USB spool; and LED reminder rings that can be placed on timely documents to stick out on a workspace.

"The point is to sell lighting, but many other things are made possible by this system," said Michael Garner, Light Corp. executive director of research and development.

The core components of Sprout will be available in 2008.

Converge Combines Workspace Leaders

NeoCon marked the official launch of both Altus Inc.'s new workspace ergonomics line, Workstuff, and the Converge Alliance, a strategic partnership combining the Grandville firm's adjustable ergonomic keyboard systems with task and ambient lighting solutions from Light Corp. and monitor arms from Wisconsin's Chief Manufacturing.

The three manufacturers had neighboring exhibits on the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart.

Compatible Compatico

Since former Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus came to Compatico three years ago, the company has grown at over twice the rate of the industry as a whole. Originally a maker of components and replacement parts for name-brand office systems, Compatico later established itself as a maker of "cloned" systems based on products from Herman Miller, Haworth and Steelcase.

Under Posthumus, who last year became an equity partner in the company and its president and CEO, systems furniture has grown from 50 percent of Compatico's business to more than 70 percent. Both segments are growing, Posthumus said, but the systems business is growing at a much more rapid pace.

"We have a high-quality, low-price product that's made in the U.S.," said Posthumus. "That's a nice niche to be in. … We're not one of the Cadillac brands here today (at NeoCon). We're sort of a Plain Jane."

The company's most recent launch is the Genesis tile-and-frame system, an original line launched last year.

HON Promotes Concept Industries

The HON Co. used Grand Rapids' Concept Industries as the centerpiece of its "green story." HON, an Iowa-based division of HNI Corp., had, perhaps, NeoCon's boldest green promotion: the "Green Man Group," green-painted performers who paraded through the halls of the Merchandise Mart.

HON introduced Nature Core last week, the industry's first agricultural panel substrate, a renewable fiberglass replacement developed by Concept Industries. It will be offered as an alternate construction material in HON's Initiate panel systems. The material is annually renewable, low in emissions, recyclable, tackable and fire resistant. It will also divert revenue from the petroleum industry, from which synthetic panels are made, to agriculture.

Nature Core is made from a combination of kenaf, a fast-growing plant similar to cotton, and synthetic fibers.

Hekman Goes Health Care, Hospitality

Hekman Contract showcased a partnership with Momentum Textiles as part of a shift out of the office furniture segment. The contract division of Hekman Furniture, the ancestral Grand Rapids residential furniture brand, Hekman Contract is integrating Crypton-treated fabric into a line of sofas and chairs that will be marketed to assisted-living facilities. The material provides sustainable, aesthetic and stain-resistance properties while meeting the stringent moisture and bacterial requirements of health care users.

"Our new focus is on hospitality and health care," said Kevin O'Connor, national sales manager for Hekman Contract. "This fits more with what Hekman has traditionally done."

Next year, Hekman Contract will not be exhibiting at NeoCon, instead focusing its efforts on the hospitality industry's HD Exposition & Conference in Las Vegas.

Less Depth For Montisa

Plainwell filing-solution company Montisa, exclusive maker of the "lawyers' file" and other shelves and cabinets, launched an expanded color palette and a new filing solution, the 1800 Series of 18-inch deep lateral files and overfiles. Lateral files have been traditionally manufactured with a standard 20-inch depth.

Montisa is one-half of Flexible Montisa. The other brand, Flexible Furniture, launched a new portable multi-media cabinet for use in educational, health care and corporate environments.

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