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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Lead—Office furniture makes a first impression

Time was, office space was just that , space. White-walled cubicles were the norm, and it didn’t really matter what the conference room table looked like or where the reception desk was located.

Not anymore. Nowadays, office environment is almost as important as the service or product that is provided. An aesthetically pleasing work area can create a mood that helps secure new business, as well as attract and motivate employees.

Office furniture production is a $12 billion industry worldwide and is expected to continue growing dramatically. The sector saw about 30 percent growth over the last decade, and more increases are expected within the next year, according to information published at the Web site of Csil Milano, a furniture industry research institute based in Milan, Italy.

There are several office furniture manufacturers in the region creating office environments for area businesses looking for a touch of Wall Street locally.

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One of them is Vista-based R.A. International, Inc. Ricardo Alacantra, president of RAI, rattled off some of the jobs he’s done.

“Gateway computers , their three new office buildings in San Diego. We did all their furnishings. We just finished doing a building for Sony Electronics in Rancho Bernardo,” he said.

“Currently, we’re also doing all of the new Mission Federal Credit Unions in San Diego. As of right now, we’ve remodeled three branches , the one in Chula Vista, the one in Vista, and the one in Escondido,” he added.

– About 100 Large Projects Annually

Other work includes Dean Witter, Qualcomm Inc., and Wells Fargo Bank. The company averages more than 100 large-scale projects a year, he said.

Alacantra works on the most heavily trafficked areas of offices , the lobby, reception desk, elevators, board rooms, break areas, and so forth. Because his work is so visible, the work RAI does with a general contractor can either make or break a project, he said.

“All of the interiors are going to be made by us,” he said. “When (a project is) finished, you’re going to see three things , the flooring, the ceiling, and what’s inside the office, which is the ‘millwork’ , the reception desk and all the furnishings.”

Alacantra described the work he does as high-end and one-of-a-kind office furniture.

“A lot of people don’t have time for going that extra mile, whereas we like to participate in the design and building of an office from the very beginning,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in what we do.”

– Firm Generates Many Referrals

The result is that RAI always gets feedback from other companies , in the form of additional work. The company has never had to go out and solicit clients, Alacantra said.

Scott Kaats, CEO of Bycor General Contractors, is one such customer. RAI worked with Bycor on the millwork for Dean Witter, Cox Communications, Mission Federal and many other projects, Kaats said.

“They are a first-class shop,” he said. “Very dedicated to servicing clients, making sure they get what they want.”

Another asset is the company’s work in computer-assisted design, which is an electronic version of traditional blueprints. RAI can design a project more easily and send it to the architect that much faster. The client also gets a better idea of the finished project before work begins, Kaats said.

Greg Rogers, owner of Pacific Interior Systems, also admired RAI’s professionalism.

“They do a great job. They’re one of the premier cabinet builders in San Diego,” he said. “I can’t say enough about them , they provide a quality product.”

– Many Projects Are Customized

Rogers cited RAI’s recent work at Sony, building a boardroom with elaborate millwork, and for the San Diego offices of Stockholm, Sweden-based Gambro Healthcare, building cases inside the company’s medical spaces.

“RAI can do custom work that you won’t necessarily find in a store. If you have a specialized need it’s not the type of thing you can buy. It has to be custom-made,” he said.

Similarly, El Cajon-based business and computer furniture manufacturer Omni Pacific manufactures modular workstation furniture for business, commercial and institutional office installations.

Bill Lucy, vice president of marketing and sales for Omni Pacific, said the company could create just about anything customers would expect to find in an office environment.

Lucy described what customers of Omni Pacific are looking for.

“Our product has a positive price-value relationship. We’re not at the bottom of the price category, nor are we at the top. We’re solidly in the middle of the market. But we do provide probably more bang for the buck in the way of a quality product,” he said.

Like RAI, Omni Pacific also uses computer-assisted design. This allows the company to receive a blueprint from an architect by e-mail, add its furniture to the design and e-mail it back, making changes if necessary, without once having to pick up an eraser, Lucy said.

– Schedules Above Industry Standards

As for the products themselves, work and desk surfaces are treated with high-pressure laminates, which makes the product very durable. Also, everything is custom-made to the client’s specifications within three to four weeks , unusual for the industry, Lucy said.

Also, the standard designs can be customized for unusual work spaces. If the office has windows in an odd place, or columns in the way, Omni can work around them, he said.

Omni Pacific has done work for a large number of clients, including Scripps Hospital, Balboa Travel, Helix Water District, San Diego State University and National University.

Jim Herr, president of Parron-Hall Office Interiors, spoke highly of Omni Pacific. Parron-Hall has been working with Omni for the past 15 years or so and is now one of Pacific’s largest clients, he said.

Herr has seen Omni’s business with Parron-Hall grow with every passing year. It’s difficult for him to put an exact dollar figure on Omni’s work, but he did say that he relies on Omni for medium-sized jobs , mostly five-figure and some six-figure contracts.

Herr called Omni an “anomaly” in the business because it fills an important niche. Although the bulk of Parron-Hall’s vendors are national suppliers that are much larger than Omni, the local firm has many advantages over larger manufacturers because it can be much more flexible, while also giving customers great value, he said.

“They’re very flexible in the products that they create for free-standing modular workstations. They have a very quick production time, which I think runs around three weeks. And they have a very good price point,” Herr said. “We’ve been able to find sales opportunities (where) they just are a better choice than our major line, or lines.”


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