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Services & Maintenance: Quality, Cost, Sustainability

Written by Services and Maintenance Contributor. Posted in Environment, In-Depth Articles, Interiors, Magazine, Recycling, Services & Maintenance, Topics, Uncategorized

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Published on October 01, 2008 with No Comments

By Mason Awtry
Published in the October 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Economic constraints and a desire to reduce material waste are two good reasons a facility manager (fm) might consider buying pre-owned furniture to outfit a new or existing space. In most markets, a broad selection of quality seating, desks, and related items in good condition can be found. When considering the options, fms should weigh the following details.

Product quality. The quality of pre-owned furniture can range from fair to excellent. Whenever possible, fms should visit their furniture dealer to gauge the quality of goods being offered. As might be expected, products originally manufactured to a higher quality tend to retain a greater value on the pre-owned market.

Brand name. Fms are well served to stick to products with a reputable brand because of the level of quality. The integrity of name brand products ensures they maintain their functionality for years to come.

As-is or refurbished? Most chairs, workstations, filing cabinets, and metal storage items can be painted and/or reupholstered. The refurbishing of assets adds to cost, but it also improves the overall aesthetic value of the items. Refurbishing also enables the fm to have the pre-owned furniture match the color scheme of existing assets.

Price. One of the most appealing aspects of pre-owned office furniture is the price. When comparing like products, fms will find that used office furniture always costs less. It is common to find used furniture in very good condition for 25% to 50% less than new.

Reuse For A Cause
Compiled by Anne Vazquez

Throughout the United States and the rest of the world, there are many organizations and individuals lacking funds to furnish their facilities or homes. As part of its work, the Institution Recycling Network (IRN), a cooperative, member-led organization, administers a Surplus Property Program focused on providing furnishings to needy organizations. In addition to this program, IRN works to improve recycling performance and related economics for a variety of commodities.

Based in Concord, NH, IRN works with more than 200 colleges and universities, hospitals, private firms, public and private schools, and state agencies to further its Surplus Property Program. While IRN activities are focused in New England and New York, the group also works with facilities all over the U.S.

In the September 2007 issue,  included an article (“Surplus Property: A Neglected Recyclable”) about this program , and IRN has provided an update.During 2007, IRN managed cleanouts for more than 100 organizations in 15 states. This resulted in the donation of more than five million pounds of educational, professional, and medical surplus for worldwide disaster relief.

Speaking on this achievement, Mark Berry, surplus program manager at IRN, said, “There is no end to the supply of surplus furniture and equipment throughout the U.S., and there is no shortage of needy recipients in third world countries or disaster relief zones. IRN’s role is to provide the link to make sure that this surplus isn’t wasted but sent where it is desperately needed and will be truly appreciated, right away and for years to come.”

Usable surplus can include almost anything found in a hospital, office, classroom, living area, or dormitory. These include: office, administrative, and classroom furnishings; dormitory/residence hall furnishings; laboratory equipment; reception and lounge furnishings; healthcare diagnostic and test equipment; and expendable medical supplies and medical furnishings.

The IRN matches this surplus with U.S.-based and international charities involved in disaster relief and economic development programs. When IRN makes a match, it calls for trailers and containers, fills them with the requested surplus, and dispatches them to their destinations.

The surplus collected in 2007 was mostly sourced from facilities in New England, but projects also came from as far away as Texas, North Carolina, and California. IRN reports that its surplus volume ranged from a few items picked up in a box truck to major cleanouts for the University of Massachusetts and Princeton University.

About three-quarters of the surplus handled by IRN came from large projects that filled at least one trailer or shipping container. But more than a quarter of the surplus, and a majority of the projects, came from small jobs that IRN handled with its own local trucking resources.

Items from these cleanouts were consolidated in IRN’s warehouses in Everett, MA and Holyoke, MA, matched with surplus from other facilities, and dispatched in full container loads. Ultimately, the surplus was sent to over a dozen countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia. In addition, thousands of items were sent to aid organizations in the southern U.S. as part of continuing relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This effort, states IRN, ultimately provided usable furnishings and equipment to needy people in over 40 different relief and development projects.

In 2008, IRN has seen a sharp increase in demand for its surplus property services as more organizations focus on sustainability and are attempting to keep usable materials out of the waste stream. On the downstream side, demand is almost limitless, with particular needs for medical and school surplus.

Facility managers disposing of their surplus property pay a fee for IRN to handle the items. Services include: cleanout of storage or warehouse space, or pickup from loading areas; move outs from medical, academic, and administrative areas; and dormitory cleanouts in advance of renovation or furniture replacement.

IRN aims to keep its fees competitive with other disposal entities. It notes that every project is different. However, in evaluating numerous cleanouts it has performed, IRN states that the costs for handling the reuse items is typically 10% to 30% less than disposal and recycling for commodity content.
When employing a collection and reuse service for their surplus, fms should ask several questions at the outset. These questions, which could apply to any recyclable, are: Where is the material going? How does the market sustain itself financially? Who pays the costs of transportation, warehousing, triage, and distribution? Who handles the surplus—volunteers or professionals? Is the market adequately insured? And, can I set up a time to visit your operation?

If an fm is considering paying for disposal of surplus property, the type of service IRN provides might be a most fitting option.

For more on the IRN Surplus Property Program, visit prog_prop.html.

Lead times. Most large used furniture resellers have warehousing facilities and will hold products until needed for installation. Under most circumstances, delivery and set up should take only a matter of days depending on the size and complexity of the order. Any additional services, such as refurbishing, will increase lead times.

Warranty. Warranties on used office furniture are typically more of the handshake variety than the legally binding type. The nature of used furniture is such that inventories are limited, and a dealer may not be able to repair or replace the product due to lack of supply. However, reputable dealers will do their best to accommodate a facility’s ongoing furniture needs by providing a similar product or by going to the marketplace for a replacement.

Additional services. Some used office furniture dealers offer additional services such as space planning and design, project management, and white glove installation service. Using one vendor to provide all of these services is usually more cost-effective.

Quality assurance. Reputable sellers will provide a list of references upon request. It is important to know that dealers will live up to their promises. It also doesn’t hurt to contact the local Better Business Bureau to learn more about a reseller’s history.

 Lease financing options. When the upfront cost of office furniture puts the purchase of assets out of reach, leasing can be an attractive option. Rather than limiting cash flow, an fm can finance office furniture, make monthly payments, and retain cash for other business opportunities or emergencies. Depending on the dealer, this option might only be offered for larger installations.

Rental options. For temporary office furniture needs, some dealers will rent their pre-owned assets. An office space can be furnished in a short period of time, and when the furniture is no longer needed, the vendor can take it back

End Of Life? Maybe Not

On the flip side, an fm’s goal when disposing of furniture may be to receive compensation for the used items, ensure as much of the furniture as possible is kept out of a landfill, or both.

Dealer buy back. Many used office furniture dealers provide buy back services to organizations that have excess or unneeded office assets. Primarily, dealers will be interested in larger inventories of product by brand name manufacturers. More desirable items have value, and dealers may even pay to take them from a facility.

On the other hand, less desirable items with little to no resale value may incur a cost for removal. In order to valuate a product, a dealer will typically request pictures and a detailed inventory of the assets (including manufacturer, color, and quantity). Local dealers may also want to visit the facility to inspect the product being disposed of before making a decision.

A dealer committed to sustainability will find the most appropriate application for the assets and repurpose them accordingly. These options can include:

Sold as-is. The majority of used office furniture is sold as-is to a new user. A good cleaning and a tune up is often all the furniture needs to be viable on the secondhand market. In that scenario, no additional materials are used, and the product life cycle continues.

Refurbished/reupholstered. Refurbishing is a way of giving new life to the items and extending their life cycles. Worn or broken parts are replaced with new or used parts in working condition. Stains and tears are remedied by replacing with new fabric. In most cases, only the smallest amount of new material is used.

Used for parts. Dealers carry a number of commonly used office assets by major manufacturers. Any working parts on a product that may be near the end of their life cycle can be salvaged and used to repair other office assets.

Recycled. When a product reaches the end of its life cycle, many of its materials can be recycled. Depending on the dealer handling the product, a large percentage of those materials may be kept out of a landfill.

Another option for fms is to donate the furniture to a not-for-profit organization or public institution. This is great from a charity standpoint; however, larger lots may require multiple charities and institutions to remove all of the items. (Read sidebar on for another charity based option.)

When dealing with a knowledgeable source that offers quality products, fms can successfully procure pre-owned furnishings that will help them to meet both their financial and environmental goals. And when the time comes to discard furniture from a facility, fms should look for a dealer who can put those assets to good use.

Awtry ( is the principal and managing director of Rightsize Facility Performance, LLC, headquartered in Chicago, IL. Launched in 2004, Rightsize Facility Performance ( is a nationwide provider of office interiors and facility services to corporate clients.


About Services and Maintenance Contributor

Facility managers are often required to take a reactionary approach when it comes to problem solving. This column provides proactive, “how to” solutions to some of the ongoing issues. For additional Services & Maintenance articles, click this link.

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