For over 30 years, Unisource Solutions, headquartered in Los Angeles California and providing solutions nationwide, has assembled one of the most comprehensive and trusted packages of workplace services in the industry. Their holistic approach to creating, outfitting, managing, and measuring inspiring workplaces has helped some of the most dynamic companies meet employee experience, organizational agility, and business objectives. The hallmark of their end-to-end product and service solutions is their unique combination of strategic and tactical expertise and ability to respond to planned and unplanned customer requirements on time and on budget with little or no oversight required.
Over time, founder Jim Kastner has made it his mission to challenge the status quo and continually educate customers with relevant industry information, putting their many customers on the path to meeting their specific goals and objectives. The future of real estate is no longer about delivering four walls to tenants; instead, it’s about creating a unique, personalized customer experience that fosters meaningful interactions, collaboration, and productivity. Delivering this will require a service provider with a unique combination of capabilities that seamlessly integrate across the physical and digital realms, and Unisource believes that data-driven decisions based on real-time insights are critical when losing the gap between strategic and tactical.
Pioneering the concept of Furniture Management Services in 1987, Kastner is adamant the company is not your typical furniture dealer, but a workplace strategy and services company that enables their customers to meet their objectives and enable frictionless change. Today the company aspires to enable the agile office of the future and improve the employee experience through the adoption of integrated workplace services, technology, strategic space planning, creative design, and made to order product solutions.
Unisource Solutions is not your typical furniture dealership. They are a thought leader that views themselves as a direct extension of their customers’ facilities departments. By empowering their clients with valuable insights about their workplaces, they help identify strategies in line with their customers’ short-term and long-term objectives.
The changing office
Growing up in the industry – his father had a successful Steelcase dealership – Kastner remembers unloading the first-generation Steelcase panel they received. Entirely through organic growth, Unisource Solutions today operates out of a 200,000 square foot service center and has over 200 full-time employees, including Designers, Strategic Account Managers, Project Managers, Move Managers, Certified Ergonomists, Customer Service Representees, Installers, Movers, and Warehousemen.
Throughout the pandemic, Unisource Solutions mobilized to meet the requirements of companies deemed essential. “Industry giants like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, and Amgen are only a few of the essential organizations we supported,” shares Kastner. With many workers told to stay at home during the pandemic, some companies found they needed less space, and reduced their square footage.
With most workers told to stay home during the pandemic, today, organizations are reevaluating their workplace requirements. “It’s time to change how we think about work,” says Kastner. “The relationships between workers and firms are changing radically. Today it’s about managing the experience from hub to home. Welcome to the experience economy – a new workplace model, one that rehumanizes how we manage the workplace,” he posits.
“My guess is, you’re going to see organizations across the board reduce their footprints anywhere from 24 percent to 38 percent.”
This is why the company’s workplace analytics solution is so important. “Understanding your workplace occupancy levels, activities, experience, agility, and cost objectives is paramount when tasked with turning workplace strategy into a sustainable strategic platform,” says Kastner. “If done well, a good workplace strategy will allow organizations to get the greatest return on their investment.”
Realizing many customers are reducing their workspaces by about 30 percent, Unisource is on hand to help them navigate the sometimes overwhelming amount of information and detail, and help them communicate to their employees, movers, and installers.
The importance of agility
Workplaces are much more than desks and chairs. A well-designed office is not only functional but attractive.
Big believers in informing customers, Unisource provides clients with PDFs to educate them about workplace strategies and services, including The Agile Office Transformation Handbook: Best Practices on Transitioning into a Balanced Workplace. An agile office is about more than designing workplaces to be flexible; it’s also about influencing employee needs and behavior, and improving how they work.
The agile office is defined differently for every customer, and it starts with understanding what they do through workplace analytics, and where they are now from an employee experience, satisfaction, and engagement perspective. An agile workplace is end-user driven, and that can change on demand, explains Kastner, and business success today is measured by employee satisfaction and engagement.”
“We’ve produced a solution we are calling Strategic Space Planning. It’s a customized set of services based on our understanding of current and evolving requirements and incorporates a customized solution from hub to home. Strategic Space Planning includes Design, Change & Project Management, Moves, Adds & Changes, Ergonomics, made to order product solutions, fully web-enabled management tools, measuring employee satisfaction and engagement levels, and benchmarking industry best-in-class cost to manage change and growth,” explains Kastner.
“We’ve come up with a program that we’re calling strategic space planning. It’s a great package because it does all the design work – and we have 24 full-time designers – based on our understanding so that the design is in line with their culture and their experience, and when we see agility, it’s how quickly it needs to change, and at what cost.”
While some companies talk about environmental responsibility, Unisource Solutions has been putting words into action for decades, including reuse (and resale), recycling, repurposing (including donation), and disposal as a last resort.
Following the principles of environmental and social responsibility, Unisource is committed to Net-Zero for the future of the planet.
With an environmental policy including pollution prevention measures, supporting charities through donation programs, and even refusing excess cardboard packaging, Unisource diverts tons of product from landfills, refurbishing used chairs and other items for a second life.
“Sustainability has been in our DNA since day one,” says Kastner. The company’s Sustainability Commitment 2022 report (https://www.unisourceit.com/wp-content/uploads/Unisource-Solutions-Sustainability-Commitment-2022.pdf) discusses the company’s impressive track record on sustainability, including 428 tons of reused/recycled metal in 2021, 86 tons of wood (pallets), and cardboard and e-waste being diverted from landfills.
Last year alone, Unisource’s sustainability initiatives realized 565.5 tons of reused or recycled product and materials, over 50 non-profit organizations and charities receiving furniture, and more than $100,000 US in savings to end-users.
Taking a common-sense approach to the environment, Unisource realizes that while some components of office furniture – armrests, for example – may be worn or broken, the rest of the chair is in good shape. Rather than transport thousands of items to landfills, these products are taken to the company’s warehouse where they are repaired and redeployed.
In the case of AT&T, the world’s biggest telecommunications company, Unisource saved the company significant costs and reduced its carbon impact when AT&T consolidated its Los Angeles operations. The project included working with a liquidator to disassemble and remove products not suitable for new locations, all at no cost to AT&T.
“In the old days, they would decommission it, and it would go to a landfill,” says Kastner. “When we’re decommissioning a building, one of the first things we do is look at that product, and we see what other facilities within AT&T could use it. We put this product on our website and inform facility managers across the country of all this product that’s available. So instead of them having to go out and buy new, they can access this product that no one even knew about and reuse it internally.”
Sometimes, refurbished products are warehoused for future projects; in other instances, chairs and other items are put into containers and shipped to Africa. “And we recycle an awful lot of stuff.”
For a major computer technology leader, Unisource took chairs that no longer functioned properly but still had usable arm caps and transferred the arms to other chairs so they could redeploy the product.
“We get very creative,” says Kastner of the company, which also recovers panels and refinishes desks if needed. Before making any repairs, Unisource works with customers to make the best possible business decisions. Does it make sense to take all the furniture out of the facility, refurbish it, and put it back in another facility? Would it be better to sell used products on-site to someone in need and buy new?
These questions and others are considered before making any decisions. “We do a lot of financial analysis before we do anything because we are always putting customers’ interests first,” comments Kastner. “A lot of times, new is a better decision.”
Partnering with customers
From existing clients downsizing or relocating to new customers eager to furnish their space, Unisource is there every step of the way.
Sometimes, customers are unsure of their needs. The company’s dedicated staff will meet with them, discuss specifics like square footage and the cost of real estate, and gain an appreciation of what their objectives are on a business level. This helps determine the activities taking place in their facilities, the frequency of those activities, and the experience of a customer’s objectives to create a roadmap.
This year, Unisource Solutions was proud to receive Haworth’s Best in Class Dealer distinction, which is reserved for only a handful of premier dealers.
Along with sourcing from over 300 suppliers who align to the company’s values – people, planet, and profit – Unisource is behind Platform, a product line it manufactures itself. A full line of customizable products for workplace and retail, and as hospitality furniture, Platform serves to reflect the brands and cultures of the companies Unisource works for. This includes well-known clients such as Google and Warner Music, with logos, branded colors, and more, all at a great price.
“We look for suppliers who are incredibly flexible,” says Kastner. “A lot of manufacturers can respond to big, planned events, but 90 percent of what we do is unplanned, so they’ve got to respond quickly to any unplanned event regardless of size. Our average invoice is very small, and the manufacturers who support us know that and respond as quickly to a small job as they will to a big one.”
Working on ergonomics, workplace analytics, site services, product solutions, e-commerce, and more, Unisource Solutions is constantly aware that the office needs of its clients are evolving. This includes everything from workplace design to acoustics.
“What separates us from our competition is that there are a lot of people who say they can do that, but a lot of them just want to sell furniture. We are in that business because we will help you tactically get it done. We have the manpower to implement whatever strategy you come up with, where most companies don’t,” says Kastner. Attacking challenges is not an occasional adventure, he believes – it’s a way of being.
“There’s a huge amount of change going on in our industry right now. People are looking at how they’re going to reuse space. And we are helping our customers navigate and implement the workplace of the future.”