Businesses sometimes need office furniture immediately. That’s one of the reasons Ergo Office Furniture has thrived.
Ergo, at 2525 N. Shadeland Ave., sells, rents or leases office furniture to its customers. Though the company does carry some new furniture, and can order whatever it doesn’t have, co-owner Mark S. Kemper said 70 percent of Ergo’s revenue is in used furniture. The advantage of selling used furniture is that it’s normally right there in the inventory. Brand-new furniture, in many cases, has to be ordered out of a catalog, and delivery may take weeks.
Customers appreciate Ergo’s much more rapid delivery.
“Ergo can get your order to you in a day or so, sometimes even that day,” said Kurt Suppiger, facility architect for Community Health Network, which operates five local hospitals.
Kemper, who has spent his career in the office-furniture business, started Ergo in 1991 and focused on selling to federal government agencies. He picked the name Ergo to stress that the furniture he sold would be ergonomic. In 1996, however, changing policies made it difficult to compete for government business, and Kemper switched strategies. He started selling used furniture-buying small lots and selling them-then using the money from that to buy more used furniture, and so on. By 1997, nearly all his business involved used furniture, Kemper said.
During this time, Kemper kept bumping into R. David Sicklesteel, who had jumped into the used-furniture business locally after moving here in 1994 from San Francisco. Sicklesteel started out selling to remanufacturers.
“Then I started selling to Mark,” he recalled, adding that this business relationship was reinforced when he moved his operation to the same office/industrial complex housing Ergo. “After a while, it was logical to join forces,” Sicklesteel said.
Sicklesteel became a partner in Ergo in 1998. Even though Ergo is a regular office-furniture business now, Kemper and Sicklesteel kept the original name because it was familiar to their customers. Also, ergonomic features now are quite common in office furniture.
The business has expanded into its current 50,000-square-foot facility. Kemper noted that, unlike many small businesses, Ergo didn’t have to go to outside funding sources. Instead, the company has continued its strategy of buying used furniture by the lot, selling it, and using to the proceeds to buy more inventory.
“Basically, we used working capital,” Kemper said.
The dot.com crash and the 2001 recession worked to the business’s advantage. With so many companies going bankrupt, “there was furniture everywhere,” Kemper said. But with the economy getting better, windfalls of quality used furniture aren’t as common. As a result, Ergo has started carrying new furniture that basically matches the quality of its best used stock. Still, the emphasis remains on the original concept.
“About 90 percent of our inventory is used,” Sicklesteel said.
Whether new or used, the inventory at Ergo is large. On average, the company stocks 500 to 1,000 chairs, 200 to 300 filing cabinets and a hundred or so desks. By using its stock of cubicle dividers, Ergo can provide up to a hundred workstations from what it has on hand.
Ergo caters mostly to large hospitals and corporations.
“Lots of our customers decide they want something at the last minute,” Kemper said. “We can fill our orders in a week or less. New-purchase furniture can’t match that,” he said.
Customers don’t mind that the furniture is used. Suppiger noted he goes to Ergo for workaday desks and chairs for behindthe-scenes staff, not for executive suites or to equip public areas.
Ergo’s business has quadrupled since 1998, Kemper said.
“Our goal is to keep up with that trend,” he said. But there aren’t plans to expand Ergo’s facility; the business is reorganizing its storage space to provide more room.
So far, Ergo has relied on word of mouth to build business, but Kemper wants to raise the company’s public profile.
Mark S. Kemper, left, and R. David Sicklesteel jointly own and operate Ergo Office Furniture.