OFIS Furniture NJ Warehouse Takes Off With Discounted Home Office Sales
With an ongoing pandemic in the spring of 2020, Russell Castro’s phone started ringing as office workers moved home in search of a comfy chair.
They may not have missed their commute or all the background noise from colleagues. But they missed their chair that could swivel, roll and tilt and didn’t leave their backs hurting at the end of a long day.
“They started saying, ‘Hey, I want the chair I’ve been sitting in at my desk,’ and they were like, ‘It’s $1,200,’ and they didn’t know that,” Castro said. “They couldn’t afford it. They had sticker shock. So that’s where we fit in really well.”
Castro and his wife, Andrea, started OFIS Furniture, taking high-end office furniture that was liquidated from corporate offices – investment banks, law firms, consulting firms, publishers – and reselling it to the public at a very favorable price.
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The business drew hundreds of people every Saturday to a nondescript warehouse on Route 1 in northern Brunswick. He capitalized on the economic upheaval of the pandemic. And it has shed light on the price companies are willing to pay to maximize the productivity of their employees.
Consider the ubiquitous office chair.
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“Makes the day easier”
Ana Catalfumo, from Manalapan, was working in the tech recruitment industry in March 2020 when she retired from her company’s Parsippany office and started working from home.
Catalfumo sat in a wooden kitchen chair with a flimsy seat cushion for eight to 10 hours a day in a setup that wreaked havoc on her body, at least until she found a lifeline. : a Facebook post from OFIS Furniture for Herman Miller chairs that promised comfort.
She doesn’t remember how much she paid her; she thinks it was about $200. But that was equivalent to an 80% discount from what the chairs would sell for as new.
“You feel like you can be more accomplished,” Catalfumo said. “And that just makes the day easier. Working from home isn’t always easy. You have to stay focused. And if you’re just moving around in your seat and you’re uncomfortable and you have body aches, that doesn’t certainly not a pleasant day.”
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OFIS is the abbreviation of office furniture in stock. The company shares space with its parent company, a liquidator called Furniture X-Change, in a 150,000 square foot industrial warehouse here.
The business is open to the public on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., one Sunday a month, and by appointment.
And it’s vying for a share of an industry that hit $14.7 billion nationwide in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, according to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, a Grand Rapids-based trade group. , Michigan.
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The North Brunswick warehouse would be a good place for archaeologists to learn what American office life was like in a more collaborative time.
They would find American companies spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on office furniture, trying to tap into the productivity that lurks just below the surface of the standard worker. Other than that, at least the furniture looked cool.
There are ergonomically correct chairs with breathable backs, standing desks, cubicles, couches, work pods, vending machines, and high-backed chairs that look like a cocoon.
Much of the furniture comes from Manhattan companies that leave their offices without needing to take the items with them. The furniture is transported to the warehouse, where 120 employees work to prepare it for reuse.
Russell Castro, 54, and Andrea Castro, 50, live in Marlboro with their three children, Andrew, 19; Amanda, 16; and Robert, 9, and they have had a long career in furniture liquidation.
Russell graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a degree in economics and joined longtime friends who started a business in the late 1980s taking over telephone systems and electronics from businesses who have upgraded or ceased operations.
During one project, Castro said, the client’s office manager also asked them to take all the furniture. Castro stood on the sidewalk in New York, handing out flyers on everything to do to passers-by, and he learned that furniture outsold telephone systems.
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“The calls were just coming”
In the mid-1990s, Castro and his colleagues owned a 600,000 square foot warehouse in Elizabeth to resell furniture. But Castro said he thought the business was growing too quickly, so he and Andrea left to start their own business which focused on furniture maintenance, finishing and cleaning.
When the pandemic began, Castro began fielding calls, not from facility managers he knew, but from individual employees who weren’t allowed to take their chairs home. Some of them received allowances from their employers to help them buy replacements.
“The calls were just coming in,” Castro said. “And I didn’t have thousands of chairs. We were running out of inventory very quickly.”
Castro reached out to his former partners who operated Furniture X-Change here, and he pitched the idea of reselling furniture not just to businesses, but also to a new clientele: home-based workers.
OFIS Furniture opened in 2020. It was stocked with items like Herman Miller and Steelcase chairs. And annual revenue has grown to more than $1.5 million, Castro said, thanks to a giant shift in the way people work.
A Gallup poll last October found that two-thirds of white-collar workers said they worked from home at least part-time, and 54% hoped to return to a hybrid arrangement, splitting their time between home and the office.
Workers beautify their home offices, comfy chairs and standing desks in the backgrounds that convey a professional image when they meet on Zoom, said Heather McKeown, owner of Land and Sky Design at Red Bank.
“I think people are paying more attention to their home office,” McKeown said. “The main difference is that their Zoom backgrounds look good.”
The transition leaves OFIS Furniture in an enviable position. Since he only needs to transport office furniture from the region, he was able to avoid delays in the supply chain. It has a lot of inventory from companies that are downsizing.
And it’s found a growing market with people working remotely, said Castro, most of whom are stunned to find out how much their employers have spent on office furniture.
“They always say, ‘I would have treated my furniture so much better if I had known,'” he said.
Michael L. Diamond is a business journalist who has written about the New Jersey economy and the health care industry for over 20 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]