Two of Ottawa’s largest office furniture dealers have combined their operations in the wake of a major industry merger last year.
Burovision Ottawa announced recently it has acquired Ottawa Business Interiors in a deal that brings together the exclusive local distributors of two of the world’s largest furniture brands, Herman Miller and Knoll. Terms of the transaction, which closed last month, were not disclosed.
The companies said the deal was triggered by furniture maker Herman Miller’s US$1.8-billion acquisition last summer of another leading global manufacturer, Knoll.
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Like automakers, major furniture producers typically rely on networks of “aligned dealers” – that is, dealers that sell just one manufacturer’s products. Burovision has been the exclusive distributor of Knoll products in Ottawa since 2014, while Ottawa Business Interiors has been the region’s sole provider of Herman Miller furniture since it opened more than 45 years ago.
But when the two manufacturing giants joined forces last year, it created a situation in which two Ottawa companies would have been competing for customers of the newly combined MillerKnoll.
Once that deal was finalized last July, Burovision Ottawa president Gillian Oxley-Harper and her counterpart from OBI, Chris LeClair, started talking about bringing their operations under one roof.
“Once Herman Miller acquired Knoll, it really spawned a lot of conversations between Herman Miller dealers and Knoll dealers about mergers and acquisitions,” LeClair recently told OBJ. “To keep the value of the (combined) brand, it just made sense.”
“To keep the value of the (combined) brand, it just made sense.”
Oxley-Harper said it quickly became clear that an acquisition was “the best road for both companies.” Burovision has agreed to take on all of OBI’s 22 Ottawa employees, and the two firms are now in the process of consolidating their separate showrooms and warehouses.
“From a continuity perspective of client relationships, customer service, what have you, it should be seamless,” said LeClair, who is remaining with the combined company as a business development consultant.
“You’ve got the expertise of (dealers of) both products now under one roof. That’s where I think clients will really benefit in the long run.”
Both companies sell to a broad range of clients in the private and public sectors. While they wouldn’t discuss the effect widespread office shutdowns during the pandemic had on their revenues, the firms said they believe the industry is on the upswing as more and more businesses look to get back to the workplace in earnest as COVID-related restrictions ease.
‘Starting to turn around’
“We’re starting to see some larger clients returning to (the) office and some discussions with government (departments) starting to return,” said LeClair, whose father Michael founded OBI in 1975. “With the lessening of the mandates and what have you … I think it’s starting to turn around for the industry.”
Oxley-Harper agreed, saying office refurbishments that were halted during the pandemic are resuming and the shift to hybrid work models is causing clients to rethink their furniture needs and seek products that can be easily reconfigured to create individual work spaces or larger collaborative areas as needed.
“Customers are looking at reinventing their workplaces to create hubs where their employees choose to be,” she said. “That does change the landscape of what can be thought of as the traditional office.”