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Something old, something new.

Elgin, IL-based Rieke expands its role as office furniture refurbisher to encompass manufacturing as well.

In a world where people often spend more time pontificating about the things they want to do than actually doing them, the managers of Rieke Office Interiors (ROI) stand out. Not only do they talk about wanting to change their business, they are actually doing something about it.

Having established itself as a small store that bought and sold used office furniture in 1992 in Barrington, IL, ROI has since moved operations to its current Elgin location. Over a period of five years, the firm has expanded into a $5 million-a-year, multi-dimensional manufacturer, office space planner and recycler of used workstations and case goods.

The 46 employees at ROI have succeeded by diversifying to cater to the needs of a large and ever-changing base of more than 2,000 customers, and by constantly keeping an eye on the competition and on industry trends. As General Manager and Vice President Chris Matus put it, "There are no limitations."

Based just outside of downtown Elgin, in an 80,000-square-foot showroom and manufacturing facility (formerly home to an indoor flea market), ROI serves a large area of Chicago's northwest suburbs, and boasts a wide selection of used of_ rice furniture at prices up to 90 percent off the manufacturer's list price, along with many new, high-end products made in-house.


At the moment, approximately one-third of ROI's total business involves manufacturing, and about two-thirds is resale of used furniture. ROI is working toward becoming a 50 percent manufacturing and 50 percent refurbishing/reselling outfit by the year 2000. About 90 percent of its manufacturing involves making laminate tops. Some 50 to 90 tops are produced everyday. But it wasn't always like this.

"I can distinctly remember two years ago when we got the workshop in the first place. We weren't exactly sure if we would use it, not to mention what we would use it for," Todd Rieke, president of the company, recalled. "We knew we wanted to get a workshop because we knew we liked woodworking and we knew that there were probably some opportunities to go in that direction but we had no idea at all."

At that point Rieke, who had previously worked for 18 years selling new office furniture, said he knew he had to do something radically different. He had to find his own niche in the industry; he had to get into manufacturing.


"The reason why we got into manufacturing was because while we could outsource, we would lose control. We would lose control on quality issues, on the quality grade of materials they would use for their product and most importantly on timing," explained Matus.

"If a customer needs it by the 31st and the outsourcer says, 'Well, we can get it there on the 5th,' then you'd have to let the customer down. And it's not their fault, it's just the way the system works. They're taking care of ten other customers, you're not the only one. With our own manufacturing facility, we can have it all under our control. It's not someone else's paint job; it's not someone else's laminate work."


ROI built its reputation on refurbishing such well-known names as the Pennsylvania-based Knoll, specifically its discontinued line of Zapf workstations.

In the early 1970s, Knoll (creator of such office furniture lines as Morrison, Equity and Stevens) asked Otto Zapf to design an office system that was simple to make and which met his humanistic criteria. In one year he had developed the Zapf System, a series of strong, lightweight, interchangeable parts that create a fully functional and visually inviting open office.

ROI works exclusively with Knoll Zapf due to its look, reliability, ease to work with and flexibility (there are only four standard panel widths - 18 inches, 24 inches, 31 inches, 37 inches - that can be manipulated and interchanged infinitely). In fact, ROI's showroom and warehouse is filled with old Zapf stations that look as if they had just come fresh off the assembly line.

Matus explained how he first stumbled across the signature line that would come to define Rieke.

"We bought about 5,000 panels of it in Barrington and were selling a whole bunch of it on the as-is market," he said. "This was about 3 1/2 or four years ago. We would clean it as best as possible. We would clean the surfaces and the pedestals, as a lot of our competitors would do. And then a customer asked, 'Can you change the fabric?' So we changed the fabric. Then another customer asked if we could do different surface colors. And so it was a gradual evolution."

ROI can work with a discontinued line and always have a huge stock because it is known throughout the industry as being the place to go when you want Zapf. ROI, along with 600 other companies, belongs to the Alexandria, VA-based Office Furniture Recycler's Forum. So, whenever a wholesaler comes across a Knoll Zapf inventory, ROI receives a fax immediately and buys it sight unseen.


A quick and efficient process goes into giving Rieke's furniture an individual look and feel. A description of how desktops are made follows.

First, the designers make up an AutoCAD order list parts program, geared specifically for office furniture set-up, which was developed by DataOne, of Indianapolis, IN. This list is sent out and cut to size by a Delta table saw or a Hendrick panel saw.

Next, 3M Fastbond 30-NF Neutral Contact Adhesive (water-based) is applied with Binks spray guns to the Norbord MDF monococque-constructed top and allowed to dry. Monococque is a colloquially stressed skin construction without frame members in which the loads in the structure are taken principally by the skin. This kind of construction allows for a light weight and a strong, "no flex" body, unlike particleboard. A good example of monococque would be an airplane wing.

Wilsonart high-pressure laminate is then bonded to the MDF top with a pressure of 80 pounds per square inch using an Evans indexing pinch roller. An Evans post-former bends the excess laminate all around the edges and corners. Then a Thermwood Cartesian CNC router machines and shapes the board. Beaver air and flush trim routers and sanders are used to smooth out the rougher surfaces.

Finally, the tops are painted, using Binks spraying equipment, with biodegradable, "no-crack" Sherwin Williams water-based polane paints.

With employees' precision and expertise, ROI does its best to match Knoll, Herman Miller, Steelcase and Haworth surfaces.


ROI places great value on recycling and being friendly to the environment. As much material as possible is recycled. For example, all of the old panel fabrics that ROI receives are sent to Lake Shore Recycling of Grand Rapids, MI. ROI then restitches in new fabric which it obtains from Knoll Textiles, Maharam and Guilford of Maine. The new fabrics are then triple-stitched, assuring a smooth and strong fit.

The process is currently done by hand, with two people working to cut and stitch fabric for about 100 panels a day. In three weeks ROI plans to purchase an Eastman fabric-cutting machine that will be able to cut fabric at a rate of about 100 panels an hour.

All other materials like damaged chrome for top caps or scrap woods are also sent to Lake Shore Recycling. What's more, ROI's company literature and letterhead is printed on 100 percent recycled paper. All in all, Rieke estimates that the company saves about 300 semitrailers worth of waste a year from being added to the nation's landfills.


Although ROI advertises in such publications as Crain's, most of its publicity comes from word-of-mouth. Prompt service and a lifetime guarantee come with every piece that leaves the warehouse floor.

Outside the building Rieke's trucks with their colorful logos can be seen driving to deliver and install their furniture to customers that will return because they know a sturdy product when they sit in one.

Rieke said, "The key to a successful business is to continually focus on exceeding customer expectations." With the growth and major changes it has undergone in the last few years, ROI leaves one expecting nothing less.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Rieke Office Interiors
Author:Papandreaou, Albert
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:May 1, 1997
Previous Article:Office furniture sales reach record heights.
Next Article:Jitco develops a knack for paanel sizing.

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