Flexible Montisa Seeks Larger Market

August 13, 2007
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PLAINWELL — The four-year-old marriage of office furniture company Montisa Office Equipment and industrial furniture maker Flexible Furniture has brought gains in efficiency and a consolidation into Flexible Furniture’s ancestral home in West Michigan’s Island City. Company management is hoping for similar improvements in the firm’s market presence.

“We are trying to become more recognized throughout the country,” said Dave Sorensen, director of sales and marketing for Flexible Montisa. “We’re trying to get the word out about the products we make and the reasons why people buy them.”

The value proposition for both brands is basically the same, and admittedly a hardship to the company: rugged durability without sacrificing aesthetic quality. A customer can expect to get a literal lifetime out of Flexible Montisa’s lifetime warranty. The Angle-Steel workstations at Grand Rapids Christian High School, for instance, have seen 35 years worth of shop classes, with only some work-surface graffiti to show their age.

“We haven’t been in business for 101 years by doing things wrong,” said Sorensen. “We believe if you’re going to spend money on it, you shouldn’t have to go out and buy it again. It needs to stand the test of time. … That also means that when we have a customer, we might not see them again for awhile.”

A contemporary of the Furniture City manufacturers that represented West Michigan for the better part of a century, Flexible Furniture launched in 1906 as the Angle Steel Stool Co. Originally based in nearby Otsego, the then-maker of milking stools soon moved to Plainwell, later renaming itself Angle Steel Industries and eventually Flexible Furniture. The company continues to market many of its products under the Angle brand, including the Angle-Tech, Angle-Power and Angle-Steel workstations.

Today owned by a Grand Rapids investment partnership, Flexible Furniture acquired Montisa in 2003, relocating the 25-year-old furniture maker from Greenville to Flexible Furniture’s 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Acorn Street in the Plainwell Industrial Park a year later.

Since then, the business has been split roughly down the middle between office furniture and special purpose furniture for educational, medical and industrial applications. Montisa specializes in filing solutions and cabinets, while Flexible Furniture makes stools, benches, workstations and an assortment of other steel furniture.

Sorensen sees immediate opportunity to introduce the Montisa line to the Flexible customer base, where, historically, office furniture purchases have not been made with the same concern for quality. Schools in particular, he said, often purchase filing cabinets — Montisa’s core product — that cost less but break quickly.

“It’s hard to get excited about file cabinets; it’s a box that you put paper in.” Sorensen said. “But if you’re going to spend money on that box, get one that will last you 30 years.”

Under its new ownership, Montisa has stepped up marketing efforts, launching new dealer incentive programs and new marketing materials, plus partnering with online design catalog Trade Only Design Library and a consultant specializing in sales through the U.S. General Services Administration.

A number of Flexible Furniture products are being cross-marketed to the contract office market through Montisa, as well, including a new multimedia cabinet, drafting benches, workbenches and a mail center. The company is also hoping to increase its market penetration through partnerships with other manufacturers, by providing cabinets and casegoods as part of larger furniture installations and as a contract manufacturer of steel components for furniture and other industries.

“Another thing we’re looking at is retail,” Sorensen said. “We know that if we get our stools or cabinets in front of people at Home Depot, Lowe’s or Best Buy, they’ll sell. But it’s very difficult to get an audience with any of those companies.”   

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