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Business has designs on government.

Business has designs on government

Until the early part of the 1980's, city, state, and federal government generally furnished their buildings with an antiquated sense of style. Starting about six years ago, the approach taken by all levels of government was dramatically updated, as drab, colorless offices were renovated and redesigned. It was the beginning of a conscious effort to stem the loss of good employees to the private sector due to sub-par working conditions.

The State of New Jersey, especially, has made tremendous strides in the transforming of its user--unfriendly space. Go into almost any office now, and it's done as any commercial corporation would do it. It will pay off for them, because employees are less likely to leave a comfortable working environment.

To achieve those design ends, more facilities managers are turning to companies like Fidelity Business Equipment, a Hackensack-based contract office furnishings dealer that has professional design and space planning departments. Fidelity is able to consolidate sales, planning, design, installation and follow-up service tasks, for the type of project integrity that managers consider crucial. Nase.

Many facilities within the state system are up for reclamation or retro-fitting. The offices aren't falling down, but they're tired, in need of a facelift or modernizing. For this type of work, a designer or architect will call us in, we'll look at floor plans and do an overlay of our furniture plans. We make sure we're on the same design page. The process can take anywhere from three to nine months, depending on the complexity of the project. We view ourselves in this role as being absolutely vital to their efforts to improve employee productivity.

Integral to the whole rejuvenation process have been the major furniture manufacturers, some of whom had declined to pursue governmental business because of misperceptions about dealing with the state. Everyone thinks they pay slowly, which they don't. The people to whom you make presentations and make approvals are highly capable and great to work for. On the dealer level, a selected few have paid attention to this market and they've done very well over the years.

People on the state level want the same attention that the corporate client wants, and if you give it to them, they'll treat you well. If not, just as a corporation would do: you're gone.

One key difference between doing business with the state and a large corporation: the bidding process. While a corporation might only sample three or four manufacturers, the state might have a dozen bids. Even though the breadth of the latter process means that everyone gets a fair shot, the heightened competition squeezes profit margins to razor-thin proportions.

It's a fair process, but invariably, since the state tends not to adopt a furniture standard for an entire building, there might be wholly different systems on different floors, making it very tough for departments to relocate.

Not all business with the state is of the cutthroat bid variety; contract business pre-arranges terms and price. The manufacturer or dealer submits quotes on certain types of furniture to be eligible to do business with the state. This process is more kind to the bottom lines of those submitting quotes.

Initial meetings should concentrate on gaining insights into practical needs and more subtle dynamics, with the idea that more specific recommendations can be presented at subsequent meetings. It's foolish to go in and immediately try to force a full-blown plan upon them. It's best to go in with the belief that, together, space problems can be worked out.

Because changes are made fairly often in various sectors of state government -- look at the remarkable expansion of the Department of Environmental Protection -- proper space planning is a key element that manufacturers must bring to the table. It should be a plan that works well for the foreseeable future but one that can be easily readjusted or reconfigured.

Doing business with the state also means a built-in level of approvals more extensive than normally seen in the commercial marketplace. Because it's public money, there are a series of signatures that must be received. Anyone who tries to rush things, on the city, state or federal levels, is in for a rude surprise.

Many municipalities and cities are now also retooling their offices, and some of those are doing business under state contract, a system that architects, designers and purchasing professionals say makes a great deal of sense for this level of government. The biggest advantage: they pay on delivery and are in better positions to procure the most appropriate furnishings.

City governments in New Jersey are also beginning to apply the logic of some sort of design standardization. With a frequency of change similar to that of the state, having office furniture and accessories that are interchangeable between departments (as needs dictate) means that government can keep costs under control. And with those fiscal savings in hand, they can begin to address the neglected area of maintenance, an important consideration, since everything breaks down over time and proper servicing can slow the inevitable slide.

Refurbishing tattered city offices can yield unexpected results, particularly in public areas. As an in-house architect of a major North Jersey city points out, "People who walk into a tax collector's office that's been redone see their dollars at work." He adds that, slowly, cities are beginning to move away from small, isolating dry-wall offices to more open plans based on flexibility and portability.

So, in light of the budgetary belt-tightening that is ongoing in Trenton and in most of New Jersey's cities, the "furniture budget" is in for similar treatment.

I don't feel it'll happen to a significant degree. First, the state management team is still essentially in place. Second, there are still new buildings on the drawing boards that will be filled with people, which means furniture requirements.

The business will be fairly steady, with minor moves in either direction, but it will never disappear. Besides, there are enough people within the State or the municipal levels in key positions who realize that everything they've done over the last six years has made their offices much better places to work. And you can't put a price tag on that.

Don Nase Regional Sales Manager Fidelity Business Equipment
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Renovation & Rehabilitation Supplement; Fidelity Business Equipment
Author:Nase, Don
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 24, 1991
Words:1042
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