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BOS Finds New Growth Through a Wave of Change and New Initiatives

Change—often dramatic, often unexpected and nearly always challenging—is hardly new to most dealers. These days, it’s about the only thing you can count on if you’re in the office furniture business!

But few dealers have faced and implemented as much change and on as many different levels in recent years as Roselle, IL-based Haworth dealer and Workplace Furnishings member BOS.

It’s hard to even know where to begin to tell the story. With the re-brand—complete with new logo, new website and a stepped up marketing effort companywide—that the dealership rolled out last year? With its acquisition, also last year, of a fellow Haworth dealer in a market over 1,000 miles from its home base? Or with the launch of a new business unit whose focus is primarily on marketing with a strong technology and social media emphasis?

Maybe the best place to start, though, is with a little background on the dealership before all these changes kicked in.

BOS was founded in 1948. It was the first Haworth dealership in the country and today, claims BOS president Georgia Dobbelaere, it is the only Haworth dealership in the Chicago market with the in-house capabilities to see a project all the way through from initial planning to delivery, installation and the decommissioning of its clients’ existing furniture.

No dealership can survive for close to 70 years—let alone thrive the way BOS has for most of its history—without a willingness to embrace change. In recent years, though, the BOS team, under the leadership of Dobbelaere and CEO George Pfeiffer, has become true masters of invention and re-invention with remarkable success.

The story of the current wave of change at BOS begins in 2010, with the arrival of Pfeiffer, an office furniture veteran with over 30 years of industry experience. At the same time, BOS merged with Pfeiffer’s own dealership, Affordable Office Interiors (AOI), bringing to BOS’s contract model a blend of mid-market, used and remanufactured product and locations in Madison and Milwaukee, WI, in addition to the Chicago area.

Integrating what were two very different dealerships would have been challenging just by itself but two short years after the BOS-AOI deal, management implemented another major shift with the sale of the company to a 100 percent Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

“Becoming an ESOP introduced a whole new level of motivation to the company,” says Dobbelaere. “Our team members are also owners and they know that the stronger we are as a business, the greater the benefit to them will be in the form of increased stock value.”

It’s no coincidence, Dobbelaere suggests, that since the merger with AOI and the ESOP conversion, BOS has posted annual percentage sales growth in in the mid to high teens.

That’s not a bad record by any measure, particularly in a market as fiercely competitive as Chicago. But for BOS, it was just the beginning.

“We’ve always had a focus on continuous improvement and while we were gratified by the numbers our team was generating, we knew we weren’t tapping into our full potential,” Dobbelaere recalls.

“We have had an outstanding outside sales force for a very long time but as a company, we were so focused on bringing in business that we really didn’t give enough attention to the marketing side and reaching out to key customer segments and the community at large,” she admits candidly.

To lead an ambitious stepped up marketing effort, BOS hired George Lucas Pfeiffer as its director of marketing in June of 2015. George is the boss’s son but he’s also a savvy marketing veteran with a 10-year track record of success as an entrepreneur and B-2-B digital marketing strategist.

Under George Lucas’s leadership, BOS implemented a comprehensive rebranding, refreshed multiple websites and rolled out ambitious video and newsletter campaigns designed to position the dealership as an authoritative source of research and guidance on key workspace trends.

In addition, George Lucas spearheaded the launch of Workspace Digital, a separate entity within the company whose mission is to serve as a digital marketing agency, not just for the dealership but also for its clients in the furniture space (See separate story elsewhere in this issue).

Also joining the BOS team in a key management role during this same time frame was Craig Shultz, another veteran of the Chicagoland office furniture market. Shultz’s role: to raise the dealership’s visibility within the local A&D community and build relationships with key players in that segment that would position it as far more than just one more office furniture supplier among many.

Schultz serves as the top executive in BOS’s Chicago showroom, also new this past year, and, says Dobbelaere, he has already taken the dealership’s involvement with the A&D community to a whole new level.

“Craig has only been with us for a short period of time but we’re already gaining access to opportunities that were never available to us before. When we go in today, we already have a high level of credibility and are viewed as a trusted resource rather than as just one more dealer who’s competing for the business,” she says.

As though all its Chicago are activity wasn’t enough, BOS moved into a totally new market in November 2015 with the acquisition of fellow Haworth dealer Florida Business Interiors (FBI) in Lake Mary, Florida.

“We are committed to growing organically but we are also committed to growing through acquisitions and bringing FBI into the BOS fold fits very well into that strategy,” Dobbelaere explains. “They’re a very solid company that brought profits to our bottom line from Day One.”

Becoming part of the BOS organization not only gives FBI access to significant new resources in areas such as marketing and design, she points out. BOS is also investing in FBI’s future growth, most notably in the shape of a new Orlando-area showroom that is due to open in early 2017.

FBI was already a long-time Workplace Furnishings member and BOS joined the association shortly after the acquisition closed.

“From a bottom line perspective, the rebates we get from WPF are great but membership also brings some important benefits to BOS in other important areas,” Dobbelaere points out. “It’s a big plus for our reps when they’re meeting with prospective clients to be able to present such a broad range of different manufacturers under the common umbrella that WPF provides,” she says.

“In addition, the access WPF gives us to manufacturers in so many ancillary categories—the training room, the breakroom, reception area and so on—not only helps us maximize the value of every client but also serves to boost our overall margins.”

BOS is also taking full advantage of WPF’s educational resources, particularly with new hires to help bring them up to speed on the industry, Dobbelaere reports.

It has indeed been a frenetic couple of years for the entire BOS team. Successfully implementing such an ambitious assortment of new initiatives in such a short time frame would stretch the resources of most organizations but so far the BOS team seems to have taken it all in its stride.

Sales in 2016 finished close to 20% ahead of the previous year and there’s every expectation the company’s performance in 2017 will be even better, as the investments made in the past few years really start to pay off.

And the company shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. More acquisitions are a strong possibility, says Dobbelaere, and, she says, the company has barely started to capture the full potential of several of its new initiatives—particularly with the A&D community and in the digital space.

Next year marks the dealership’s 70th anniversary and while that’s certainly an impressive achievement, you can’t help getting the feeling as Dobbelaere talks about current activities and future plans, that in many ways BOS is still really only getting started!

 

Not a member of WPF? We'd like to hear from you...

If you own or run a dealership, you owe it to yourself and your company to find out how membership in WorkPlace Furnishings, Inc (WPF) can benefit your bottom line. Contact Greg Nemchick at 724-771-1452 or gnemchick@workplacefurn.com to discuss today.


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