By Mike Dano | Mar 18, 2014
Workplace furnishing services
Headquarters in Denver, with offices in Colorado Springs and Aurora
As Carla Dore explains, Workplace Resource couldn't really meet its customers' needs without products from Herman Miller.
"The major driver for most of our customers is, how do you attract and retain the best and brightest while making your real estate do the best for you? And meantime doing it in a way that fits culturally with a company's mission or values," Dore explained. The trick, she said, is to find the office furniture for companies that "speaks to their customers and their employee base. What's right for Wells Fargo may be completely different for Holland & Hart."
Workplace Resource does this primarily through office furniture from Herman Miller.
As Dore explained, Workplace Resource was founded initially as a distribution center exclusively for Herman Miller products, based on Herman Miller's corporate strategy to provide facility management services through a network of dealerships. However, in the past decade or so, Herman Miller has been unwinding those dealerships in an effort to make them independent, freestanding and more successful office furniture outlets. Workplace Resource is on the bleeding edge of this unwinding effort; Dore and her partner, CFO Marty Majka, purchased the business from Herman Miller in 2011 to create an independent, women-owned dealership with a Herman Miller bent.
"Our focus today remains Herman Miller," Dore said, "but we also sell many products that are non-Herman Miller. It is really important to us from a customer service standpoint" to sell good brands, Dore added, explaining that Workplace Resource also sells products from brands like Kimball Office, National Furniture, SitOnIt, Versteel and others.
Mark Schurman, director of Herman Miller corporate communications, says the company manufactures exactly what customers’ need, as quickly as it can. The result is a Michigan manufacturing center and a "Made in America" stamp on Herman Miller's products.
"It's certainly true … that the great majority of our manufacturing has been Made in America," Schurman said. "But it's never been a focus of our brand and marketing strategy." He said that furniture is bulky by nature, "so shipping it long distances is expensive, and the more you handle furnishings, the greater the likelihood of damage." The result, he said, favors local manufacturing.
Indeed, approximately 90 percent of the economic value embedded in Herman Miller’s U.S.-made products is made and/or sourced in North America. And more than 50 percent of its spending on materials and components is within 50 miles of its primary manufacturing sites in west Michigan. Herman Miller's other U.S. manufacturing centers are located in Wisconsin, Georgia and North Carolina.
"We build nothing to inventory," Schurman said. "We build every stick of furniture to the individual customer order. And you can get that product in as little as a 10 day lead time," Schurman said. "If that speed and efficiency becomes critical to your competitive position, then you have to have local manufacturing."
"We had plenty of opportunities to distribute products from other countries," said Workplace Resource's Dore. However, with Herman Miller products and other items that are made in America, "we know what we're getting. We trust the manufacturer. We understand what their brand and mission is."
And it appears that Workplace Resource's strategy is paying off. The company counted roughly $40 million in revenues last year, and its customers include those in engineering like CH2M HILL and MWH; those in higher education like Colorado State University, the University of Colorado and the University of Denver; those in healthcare like Exempla, Sisters of Charity and Children's Hospital; and those in the military (Dore said that every military base in Colorado and Wyoming uses Workplace Resource).
Challenges: Dore explained that office spaces are becoming smaller and more efficient, leading to smaller furniture purchases. "We're really selling less product," Dore said, "so the challenge is, what are the things you need to do different to really create a killer space? The good news is that Herman Miller has the products to get at that."
Dore also said that some companies are buying office furniture that must last 10-15 years, which means that they must plan ahead for what could be an entirely new group of employees.
Opportunities: "The opportunity is to do it better than anyone else can," Dore said. "This business is changing really rapidly, and responding to that takes some real work."
Needs: "We always need dedicated, hard-working, visionary employees," Dore said.
She also said that Workplace Resource needs to partner with "the other disciplines that influence what companies are doing in their facility." She said the design firms, architecture firms and the commercial real estate and project management firms need to work together with office furniture suppliers to understand "the value the client can receive by spending time on the facility needs. That it isn't just a commodity."