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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 3, 2021 6 months ago

Office furniture firm lands multimillion-dollar opportunity

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Reimagine Office Furnishings remained nimble and resolute — even as offices region-wide went dark.
by: Elizabeth Djinis Contributor

Tampa-based Reimagine Office Furnishings’ business model was once predicated on stylishly remanufacturing existing office furniture for corporate clients.

So when the pandemic hit and the world seemed to depart their offices en masse, it was clear the firm needed to shift its focus. The couple at the helm of the business, President Bill Adams and CEO Joni Adams, first began selling screens and brackets that attached to work surfaces and separated nearby cubicles. They’ve since sold over 50,000 screens. 

‘I really and truly believe people will be beating down our doors for the technology. Anybody that has issues with indoor air quality, mold, smells — every time we’ve tested it, it’s worked.’ Bill Adams, Reimagine Office Furnishings

But the couple sought to diversify even further at an uncertain time. And they had a unique opportunity to get in on the booming air purification market as an authorized reseller of Synexis, a Lenexa, Kansas-based biotechnology company that sells biodefense and microbial reduction systems for commercial spaces and residences. 

Their plans paid off. Founded in 1996 and now with 75 employees, Reimagine Office Furnishings had their best year ever in 2020 — the company’s revenue grew from $18 million in 2019 to surpassing $20 million, up at least 11%. It’s sold more than $2 million in Synexis technology so far. Bill Adams says Synexis made up about 10% of 2020 sales, with 50% coming from furniture and 40% wellness screens.

A portion of that 10% — some $750,000 — stems from ROF’s biggest Synexis client, which is buying the technology for equipment facilities nationwide. Adams declines to disclose the name of the client or the industry. 

In growing the Synexis side, Adams and the company learned a valuable marketing lesson: choose a niche and conquer it. In addition to the $750,000 client, the company, for example, has had demonstrable success with Synexis in law enforcement evidence rooms. Consider that for years the smell of marijuana lingered in the evidence rooms at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. After Synexis was installed, the scent was gone within two weeks. 

With success like that, Adams believes the Synexis portion of ROF’s revenue can grow significantly. Beyond client testimonials, Adams says demand will create itself when there’s an “aha moment,” and the technology becomes accepted as the scientifically proven best option for microbial reduction. 

“I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I really and truly believe people will be beating down our doors for the technology,” he says. “Anybody that has issues with indoor air quality, mold, smells — every time we’ve tested it, it’s worked.” 

Mark Wemple. Tampa-based Reimagine Office Furnishings President Bill Adams is confident there’s a big future for selling air purification systems from Synexis.

Set apart

Adams never intended to get into the air purification business. Pre-pandemic, Reimagine Office Furnishings was working on a furniture project with a Department of Defense facility in Tampa. When COVID-19 hit, employees there started getting sick. But they weren’t able to work from home due to the nature of the job.

A sales representative at Reimagine Office Furnishings had heard of Synexis and proposed it to senior ROF leaders. Could the business market this to the Department of Defense? That launched an internal investigation of the product on ROF’s side, which came back satisfactory. 

The next step was to engage the Department of Defense on the idea. That was not the simplest process — executives had to go through multiple meetings about the technology and had to get it approved all the way up to Washington, D.C. Finally, Synexis founder Jim Lee, a West Point alum and instructor and U.S. Army veteran, came to Tampa to evangelize on the product. For the Department of Defense, that sealed the deal. 

Synexis’ spokespeople declined to say how many resellers the company works with, though they did confirm they work with a “limited number” of authorized resellers internationally, and Reimagine Office Furnishings is one of them., Founded in 2008 and now with multiple patents, Synexis builds awareness about its products through marketing, customer referrals and industry relationships, officials say. In 2020, Synexis launched a new product, the Sphere. It’s a portable device that more so resembles a sleek speaker than a powerful bacteria-fighting system. 

Synexis and Reimagine Office Furnishings executives say what sets Synexis apart is the science and the testing. The system works by using natural oxygen and humidity to create dry hydrogen peroxide, which attacks bacteria and viruses in the air. The machine is even able to kill bugs — when opening one of Adams’ office machines, he displays an array of dead bugs next to it.

“Synexis is crazy about testing,” Adams said. “...We install the technology and we go in and test for microbial activity. We’re the only company that will do that.”

COVID-19 has created an immense business for air purification systems, and countless companies are trying to get a piece of the pie. Adams calls it the wild, wild west. “A lot of companies in this marketplace make unsubstantiated claims about efficacy,” Adams adds.

Each time Adams has a Synexis system installed in a client’s office or residence, he undergoes a baseline of tests over two weeks. Recently, the company tested the technology in a company that runs worldwide call centers. After four weeks, Adams says, microbial levels fell 81%. 

“That’s typical and common,” he says. “You don’t even usually have to wait two weeks. If you did a test the day after you turned it on, you’re going to see a drastic reduction.”

Those proven results are what keep customers coming back. When Adams first began selling Synexis systems, he reached out to Bobby Newman, owner and executive vice president of Tampa’s J.C. Newman Cigar Co. 

“He called me at the beginning of COVID-19 and said, ‘I want to show you something you may be interested in seeing,’” Newman says. “This is when COVID was running rampant and everyone was scared. And he said, ‘Try the machine and take it to your office.’” 

Adams made a big promise: within two days, Newman would have the cigar aroma out of his office. He owns a 126-year-old cigar company, so the chances of that seemed slim. But Newman gave it a go.

He was shocked. Within 24 hours, there was “absolutely zero smell of cigars.” 

“It was like somebody had just gone through and cleaned the place,” Newman says. “That’s when I became a believer.”

Newman even purchased the technology for his home. His house had black mold, but Adams promised that the technology would be able to get rid of that within a short time period. Newman spent some $5,000 out of pocket on the system. And it worked — much to his (pleasant) surprise.

“If you would have told me I would have spent that much money for these unknown machines six months ago,” Newman says, “I’d say there was a better chance of having a blizzard in Key West in August.”

What’s next?

While Adams has a lot of hope for the future of microbial reduction technology, he also realizes information is emerging and it’s his team’s job to spread the gospel on Synexis.

“We have to really dig in and teach and educate clients,” Adams said. “It’s not something that right now people are asking for. We’re not going to be the cheapest solution, but we’re obviously the best solution.”

With the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office as a starting point, the company plans to attend a conference with evidence managers statewide, to sell more Synexis’ products and systems. Another goal: get into a Florida hospital. Adams is confident Synexis’ wealth of peer-reviewed published studies showing its effectiveness will help boost sales.

At the same time, sticking to its bigger niche, Adams is quick to point out that ROF will remain what its name says: a company that not only sells desks and chairs, but helps business reimagine office furniture setups and configurations.

“We won’t go away from furniture,” he said.We are just right now starting to see the pick-up — small and medium-size businesses are desperately trying to get back into the office.” 

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