For over 75 years OFS Brands, the largest independently owned manufacturer of wood-based commercial office furniture in the United States, has crafted fine furniture. Steeped in the rich furniture making tradition and strong German heritage of southern Indiana, OFS Brands has mastered the art of old-world craftsmanship. But don’t be fooled by the legacy, OFS furniture is designed for modern businesses that aspire to create a culture of success and innovation. The product offerings are developed to meet the needs of a wide range of clientele, both in terms of design excellence and functionality. “We must exceed customer expectations through superior quality,” says Hank Menke, President and CEO of OFS and the third generation to lead the company. “What you make people feel is as important as what you make.”
One of the cornerstones of OFS Brands’ operating philosophy is to create innovative, flexible, customized solutions. “What we do in product development is listen to the needs of our customers,” says Phil Mehringer, Executive Director of Marketing for OFS Brands. “And we listen to the needs of the marketplace. We look at the way the work environment is changing. That is really what innovation is all about.” This may sound like a straightforward task, but considering that the OFS Brands family encompasses four separate brands it is a practice of manufacturing agility. OFS and First Office serve contract, corporate office and education. Carolina serves healthcare and Loewenstein is the hospitality brand. Headquartered in Huntingburg, IN OFS Brands’ operations include seven manufacturing facilities and four support plants, totaling more than 11 million sq. ft. The company employs approximately 1700 people in Indiana, North Carolina and Kentucky.
DEVELOPING PRODUCTS FOR A FAST MOVING WORLD
Across the markets that OFS Brands serves, technology is changing the way people work. “That is fundamentally what you deal with when you are a furniture manufacturer,” says Mehringer. “Your furniture has to evolve into the needs of the customer. And in today’s world that is all about mobility and collaboration. The technology offered with tablets and smartphones is changing the way people work.” This means people do not have to be chained to a static position, workers can interact more freely without abandoning their equipment or compromising their availability. “Different studies show that important decisions are made in collaborative environments more so than by individuals with their heads down,” says Mehringer. A blog from February 1, 2012 in the Harvard Business Review by Bob Frisch, an author and managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group references one such study. As a result of an on-going debate with the dean at Harvard Medical School, Zak Kohane took time from his work in computational genomics to study the correlation between distance and the effectiveness of team collaboration. The resulting paper* showed quantitative support for the claim that proximity significantly effects the quality of collaboration. “What that means for us is that we have to offer and develop products that fulfill the needs of easy collaboration,” says Mehringer.
In addition to traditional casegoods, seating, tables and reception, OFS Brands offers customizable products that support the work style of the modern mobile techie. Within the First Office brand the STAKS line offers crossover casegoods that can be configured for both open and private office applications. “Flexibility that is built into the design is becoming more and more an important part of furniture, “says Mehringer. Another example of this is OFS’s Trace conference table that offers easy USB or 110V power access for every seat at the table while eliminating clutter from the surface. This innovation recently earned the company the Best of NeoCon Gold award in Workplace Technologies.
BUILDING QUALITY SOLUTIONS
To achieve such flexibility OFS Brands uses materials that are durable and beautiful. “In many cases thinner is a better design solution,” says Mehringer. “Thin is easier to configure and the pieces use less material, which is good environmentally and typically results in less cost. And it is a better design aesthetic. We use a lot of particleboard and MDF for substrate material because furniture is structural, it is something that people either sit on or put something on. It has to meet or exceed industry standards.”
OFS Brands offers many surfacing options for their casegoods and tables, including hardwood pieces and real wood veneers. Experienced craftspeople lay up veneer panels, which are pressed in house. Products are assembled and then finished at one of OFS Brands’ finishing plants, where they receive a specialty “Euroluxe” finish. “We found that developing a finish with anti-microbial properties is critically important since we sell in all the vertical markets including healthcare, corporate, education and hospitality,” says Mehringer. Read more about OFS Brands’ finishing operation in Finishing Matters (page 52).
Additionally OFS Brands offers a wide range of laminated goods. “Veneered surfaces are very popular,” says Mehringer, ”but customers also request HPL for the horizontal surfaces.” The company has complete laminate lines that are produced from HPL and TFM in a separate plant dedicated to panel processing. “When selecting the surface designs we offer, we consider things such as color trends in other areas of the world. We also listen to direct marketplace feedback from architects and designers.”
Other specialty materials are used to meet the needs of the specific vertical markets served. Real veneer is cut into fine strips, molded and pressed into shape to create contoured seating solutions for the hospitality brand Loewenstein. And RTF components are used widely in the Carolina healthcare brand. “Spills within a hospital setting are dangerous, they can cause slipping and create an environment that breeds infection,” says Mehringer “So we offer surfaces with spill grooves for bedside cabinetry and surfaces. In those cases we use a thermofoil part.
The different product lines within OFS Brands also make use of a wide variety of accent materials, including aluminum, translucent resin panels, Corian, granite, glass and upholstery. “All of these different materials have unique textures, aesthetics and design properties. It gives us a lot of flexibility even within our standard offering, and allows us create really customized solutions for our customers.” OFS Brands serves specific vertical markets, but all of the brands can serve the needs of a specific project. “One of the trends, for example, is to include café areas into corporate areas,” says Mehringer. “And we have products that can fulfill the needs of those facilities.”
A COMMITMENT TO DELIVER
With so many options, choosing the right furniture solution could seem daunting. But OFS Brands has systems in place to make the process of specification easier for the customer. Additionally the company has another division, Styline Logistics, that is OFS’s sole carrier for furniture and ensures that delivery and installation of product is worry-free.
OFS has a comprehensive approach to environmental responsibility. And while this is important to nearly every market, it can be difficult to navigate, particularly for special projects. To help simplify the process OFS Brands uses the ecoScorecard platform to help customers evaluate the environmental attributes of the company’s products against all major third-party rating systems. “We realize that LEED documentation can be a time consuming process,” says Mike Wagner, senior vice president of sales and marketing for OFS Brands. “Now our customers can access ecoScorecard directly from our websites and research our green product offerings, perform calculations and produce LEED documentation in a matter of minutes.”
Once orders are placed customers can relax knowing that the products will be delivered on time and in tact by the company’s dedicated transportation fleet. “When you turn your furniture over to a freighter the chance of freight damage averages 10-12 percent,” says Mehringer. “The freight damage to product handled by our company on our trucks is less than one tenth of one percent. Our intention is to deliver the best product possible to our customers damage free.”
OFS Brands’ operating philosophy is that the customer is their business. To that end the company strives to develop products that not only meet, but exceed customer expectations for quality and value. “Our goal is to serve all the vertical markets by providing quality products with scalable price points and appealing designs,” says Mehringer. “We deliver on short lead times with our own transportation system to make sure that our customers get the solutions they need when they need them.”
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