Holistic Business Model Drives Growth at Premier Office Solutions

Philadelphia may well be the City of Brotherly Love but it’s certainly not an easy place to sell office furniture.

Just ask Paul Barr and his team at Premier Office Solutions in Willow Grove, PA, a short, 40-minute drive from downtown Philly. Paul and his wife Marianne opened their dealership in 1998. Back then, it was just the Barrs, partner Wendy Bonner and a shared vision of what an office furniture dealership should be and how it should operate.

Fast forward to today and that initial team of just three has become a workforce that’s 45 dedicated professionals strong and growing and that operates out of a 95,000 square foot building in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs.

Ask Wendy Bonner what’s fueled such an impressive track record and you get an answer that combines many years of industry experience with a commitment to the highest levels of customer service and a recognition that the founders’ vision for the company would only become a reality if the people who worked there had the knowledge and the motivation to make it happen.

“When we started, we had to outsource a lot of furniture-related services but that was only a short-term strategy,” Bonner recalls. “We quickly realized that we didn’t want our brand and our reputation to be based on somebody else’s follow through, so we began bringing more and more services in house.”

Today, Premier operates what Bonner describes as a “holistic” business model and while they will turn to outside resources to support larger projects, the dealership is staffed to provide a full range of services that includes project management, design and specification, installation, corporate relocation, furniture liquidation, repair and refurbishing.

“We truly believe that if we’re going to provide our customers with the level of service we want to, then we have to be able to control that ourselves and that means bringing those services in-house,” she explains.

It’s a model that has been resonating very positively with the Philadelphia market. Premier has enjoyed double-digit annual growth in recent years pretty much across the board, Bonner reports. The dealership’s healthcare and higher education segments have been strong, but so has its general commercial business.

Having direct control of the dealership’s services is an important part of that growth but Bonner is the first to point out that it’s no automatic guarantee of success. What really matters, she says, are the people who do the work.

“We decided from day one that our success would depend to a great extent on making sure our people—our sales reps, designers, project managers and installers—are all comfortable with the jobs that they have to perform,” she says.

That translates into an ongoing industry education program that is designed to create a cross-trained, multi-disciplinary workforce that stays up to date on the products they work with and has access to the latest information and technology they need for superior performance.

That commitment to ongoing industry education was one of the key reasons why Premier recently re-joined Workplace Furnishings after being away from the organization for several years, says Bonner.

“Access to the WPF manufacturers and all the discount programs are very helpful but the big thing for us was the Learning Academy and all the training and teaching tools the group has developed,” she explains.

When we bring new people on board—whether they’re sales reps, designers or project managers—they go through WPF’s Furniture 101 programs as part of the onboarding process to get them up to speed on the industry.”

Education is important but it’s still only one piece of the puzzle. Equally important is motivation and, says Bonner, there’s plenty of that precious commodity at Premier.

“The atmosphere at our company is very much like an extended family,” she says. “Our workspace in general is completely open and other than our accounting department, management sits in the open space with everybody else. It’s very much a team-based culture and we make it clear as managers that we welcome input from the rest of the team and want to hear their ideas on how we can do things better.”

Premier, says Bonner, not only prides itself on its employee retention rate—with a growing number of employees whose tenure with the company goes back as far as 10 or 15 years—but it also makes a point of leveraging the team’s many years of experience when it brings in new hires.

On the design and specification side, for example, Premier has had considerable success in recent years hiring design graduates straight out of school and pairing them up with one of the dealership’s senior designers to help them navigate the onboarding process.

“Finding good designers is always a challenge but we’ve been amazed by the skills our recent grads bring with them from school and by their ability to jump right in and help,” she reports happily. And, Bonner points out, that approach has also been a very effective way to help create a high performance, multi-generational team that learns from each other.

It also, she adds, enables the Premier organization to give back a little to the industry that has given it so much. “We like the idea that we’re bringing young talent into the industry who would not necessarily have even thought about a career at a dealership,” she says. “It’s our way of bringing the next generation into the business and that’s something we’re quite proud of.”

The good news for Paul and Marianne Barr, Wendy Bonner and the rest of the Premier team is that they’ve become pretty adept at generating reasons to be proud over the past twenty years or so. And if that history offers any indication, there will be plenty more reasons for pride for many years to come!
 

 

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