Gone are the bleak old days of stuffy office decor and felt notice boards crammed with memos—and thank goodness. Employers with an eye for the latest trends are going all out to make their offices plush, functional, and environmentally conscious. Alongside this wave of modernity and comfort comes the need to communicate and share information during idea-generating sessions, training, and meetings in fresh and fun ways that work.
As the star brand of the recently consolidated GMi Companies, Ghent products are popular in the office decor market. It stands to reason that world-leading organizations such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, NASA, Honda, Boeing, Kroger, and a veritable avalanche of other household names trust this fabricator for all their ancillary office equipment and visual display needs. Ghent provides consistent value, innovation, and fast delivery. Some of its products even offer fifty-year performance assurances, and their claim to fame is offering no hidden fees for things like markers, erasers, accessory holders, crating, custom colors, and more.
While the internet is awash with pronunciations of the company name, Scott Bowers, vice president of product, assures me that the correct way to say its name is with a soft G, as in gentleman. Linguistic features clarified, Ghent continues to lead the market. It also knows how to adapt.
Based in Lebanon, Ohio, Ghent joined forces with its sister companies, Waddell and VividBoard, to bring premium office shelving, glass boards, whiteboards, room and floor dividers, acoustic solutions, and more to the market rapidly. Here, there is no such thing as waiting several weeks to dispatch orders. Due to the extensive capabilities of its proudly American fabrication outfits, goods arrive at their destination within an impressive ten-day lead time of the date of purchase. The service comes with what the company assures are the best warranties in the industry.
Ghent “goes to market through dealers who we partner with,” says Ashley Blevins, Director of Sales. These partners sell “our products into the workplace, K-12 education, higher education, and healthcare. Recently, we have seen our products moving into outdoor and hospitality.”
Ghent products enable office teams across the United States to communicate and share information in practical yet environmentally safer and healthier ways, and much of the company’s success comes from its consistency and reliability. Clients feel safe with its teams, knowing that it does what it says. It may sound strange at first but the dangers of ingredients prevalent in cheap knock-off whiteboards and other products will, no doubt, alarm anyone conscious of what their bodies are exposed to.
It is, therefore, reassuring to know that Ghent’s safety promise extends to its products. Regular inspections by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stand testimony to the fact. “We are a family business, and we work in a small town,” Bowers says, adding that product safety is vital. Stains for wood products and paints on glass are water-based. The company is “not putting chemicals into the environment because we also live here.”
In addition to heeding EPA regulations, the company adheres to some of the California Air Resources Board carbon rules which forbid the use of formaldehyde and other carcinogens, he comments. All these measures drive the promise to keep workers and customers safe. “If they are not mentally and physically healthy, shame on us. That is not the key to long-term success. We are very diligent when buying materials,” he says.
After materials arrive at its facilities, the company runs tests to establish content and confirm safety. It is also a member of BIFMA, formerly the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association. Its compliance with this furniture watchdog and its safety and quality regulations through rigorous testing and careful material applications is an enormous undertaking.
“It is nice to have an organization that sets the standards, and we are a part of that,” Bowers says. “We truly want to be here for the long term.” He then mentions an upcoming meeting on potentially removing plastics from office furniture. Plastics can contain chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormonal systems. These endocrine disruptors can result in developmental disorders, birth defects, or cancerous tumors.
These added measures contribute to the value of Ghent product warranties. They also highlight its commitment to meaningful environmental sustainability efforts and technologies. Its aim becomes clear, as Blevins underlines the importance of supplying customers who are looking for environmentally safe, emissions-free products with goods that deliver on safety and longevity.
The name Ghent hails from the community in Northeast Ohio, where it first started trading “out of the back of Good Housekeeping magazine.” The family-owned outfit went into business in 1976 as Ghent Enterprises, eventually making whiteboards, tack boards, and chalkboards that featured mainly in schools, colleges, universities, and other places of education.
Ghent’s heritage rests upon the virtues of family values and friendship, and so, it soon started expanding the size of its staff after opening its doors in the late seventies. The company purchased Waddell, a firm tracing its roots back to the 1800s, in 1986. When the nature of education started changing across the United States in the nineties, GMi Companies turned towards other markets, vastly diversifying its client base by focusing on companies that insisted on premium products.
The company’s owners had no sooner seen the firm through the dawn of the millennium when it purchased VividBoard. The new subsidiary brought a deep knowledge of custom graphics that catapulted its traditional offering into an entirely new sphere.
Around 2010, GMi Companies started exploring the world of contract furniture, where it promptly discovered a niche for custom products. The three sister companies made their mark on the American market as independent brands. Recently, however, its leadership team positioned the formerly individual businesses as divisions under the single umbrella of the new Ghent brand, streamlining the overall operation.
The move was in response to its customers, who had repeatedly requested a significantly simplified purchasing process. “It makes change a lot easier when you are listening to your customers,” says Bowers.
As VividBoard provided most of its custom graphics to the healthcare industry, the company has renamed this division Ghent Healthcare. “It is a big move,” Blevins admits. Each brand had been run as its own business, so quite a bit of work is being done internally to meld them but the result will be smoother for customers and the company wants to give them “the best of what they want. It truly simplifies the buying and quoting process for our customers when they can get all of these products under one simple brand,” she adds.
Another feature offering ease of use is the company’s recently introduced Product Builder configuration tool on its website, and this demanded a sizeable chunk of resources. “We look at technology as multi-faceted. This tool allows our customers to go and render their exact product with the exact color, fabric, and custom solutions, get a real-time quote, a real-time freight quote,” says Blevins.
The pandemic has not been an issue for Ghent. “It has been one of the brightest moments in our history,” Bowers says, adding that the team responded to the public need. “They really embraced that.”
Ghent staff pooled their ingenuity and tackled the problem. They started innovating and launched seventeen new product ranges, a considerable achievement during such uncertain times. The new ranges revolved around personal protection and included shields and screens. Despite most staff working remotely, they fabricated the most impressive volumes of goods in the company’s history. Their initiative and gumption during trying times resulted in no layoffs, an even larger staff count, plus the highest sales figures on record. The management team could not be prouder of this fact or its people.
Following this notable shift in production, the company increased its facility footprint by 40 percent. This move improved its overall production operations and secured supplies. Ghent also doubled its engineering staff in a bid to further improve systems and innovation. It also implements the latest technological possibilities, optimizing its workflow and output. The result has inspired vision and motivated its people.
“We want to be part of shaping the future and where our industry goes,” Bowers says. As Ghent heads into the future, leadership, passion, and exploration continue to lead.