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Business Furniture Corp.: Indiana's oldest and largest business-furniture dealer.

Founded in 1922, Indianapolis-based Business Furniture Corp. lays claim to being not only the oldest but also the largest business-furniture dealer in the state. How did it get there?

"It's like the old adage, 'How do you eat an elephant?'" muses CEO Dick Oakes. "'One little bitty bite at a time.' The way you get better, or best, is just one little bit at a time."

But husband and wife team Deb and Dick Oakes are the last to tout their success. "We're not so much interested in selling how big we are or how big we can get," says Deb, the president, "but more the quality of our services and products."

Those aren't just words. When the couple purchased Business Furniture Corp. in 1987, they set to work on their ultimate goal-- "to become the premier service company in Indianapolis," says Deb. The owners themselves set the precedent for excellent customer service by personally calling on each of their customers. During each visit they asked customers to describe Business Furniture Corp.

"We knew nothing of Indianapolis, our customers or Business Furniture Corp.," says Dick Oakes. "Basically, we asked them to give us a report card on our company."

Recently, they got a more formal report card from a study conducted by Indianapolis-based Walker Research. Results show a marked increase from 1990 to 1991 in nearly every aspect of customer satisfaction, from the initial consultation to the follow-up after installation.

Part of Business Furniture Corp.'s success can be attributed to its management structure. The first rule is that Dick and Deb Oakes make none of the difficult decisions. Instead, their Customer Advisory Council, made up of representatives of eight customer companies, meets quarterly to make any major decisions to add a new service, change advertising or head in a different direction. Who better to make the decision than the customers it will affect?

In addition, Business Furniture Corp.'s internal Quality Council, made up of 10 company individuals, oversees and directs core services. The company performs approximately 50 on-site post-installation audits per year. Each job is given a quantitative score, which is published for the Quality Council.

The company's Interdepartmental Teams, made up of representatives from every department in the company, provide solutions to customer needs. Then, Departmental Groups work on specific problem solving. As well, the company publishes a quarterly customer newsletter to communicate with its clients.

Annual revenues reflect Business Furniture Corp.'s dedication to its clients. In what others perceive as a sagging economy, Business Furniture Corp. raised its annual revenue from $22 million in 1990 to almost $23.6 million in 1991.

Business Furniture Corp. boasts local, regional and national clients. It provides service all over North America for clients such as Eli Lilly & Co., Anacomp and Inland Container. It was responsible for the refurbishing of PSI Energy's corporate headquarters and provided several thousand work stations in the new State Office Building.

Business Furniture Corp.'s new division, Contract Furniture Services, makes the company's future seem even brighter. Started in 1990 in its 60,000 square-foot warehouse, Contract Furniture Services provides furniture refurbishing--reupholstering, repainting, relaminating or reconfiguring. So clients cutting back because of the economy are redoing their existing office furniture rather than replacing it. Though the company previously offered these services in what it called its "operations center," it now aggressively markets them.

Its continuing mission for customer service excellence would not be successful if Business Furniture Corp. did not market quality products. It carries lines from Steelcase, Stow & Davis and The Design Partnership, as well as pieces from well-known Indiana manufacturers, including Styline, Jasper Seating and Versteel. It can customize anything from a conference table to an executive desk to a reception area work station, and offers a wide range of accessories, including window and floor treatments.

When Dick Oakes left his management position with Steelcase in 1987 and took the reins of a "flat" Business Furniture Corp., he and his wife had no idea what they would encounter. For one year they had a "commuter marriage." Deb lived in Denver and continued working as a Steelcase regional manager for the Rocky Mountain states, while Dick lived in Indianapolis. One weekend they spent in Denver and the next in Indianapolis. Later, she left her Steelcase job and joined Dick in Indiana.

The tenacity it takes to stick that out is a testimony to their dedication and their capacity for teamwork. It's no surprise, then, that their continuing mission is to be the best.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Office Design & Products
Author:Baughman, Nena
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Office products update.
Next Article:Why is this man smiling?

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