Volume 4 | Issue 7 | Year 2001

What are the elements of a good meeting? The right people. The right agenda. (The right refreshments!) And the right furniture. The tables and chairs are often overlooked for the role they play in meetings large and small. Fortunately for Fortune 1000 companies and major colleges and universities, Vecta takes these tables and chairs seriously — which means that business people, professors and students can present, meet and exchange knowledge and ideas successfully. “Vecta was founded in 1959 with a desire to infuse the concept of industrial elegance into furnishings for the business environment,” says Paul Cornell, vice president of product development and marketing. “Our distinctive design philosophy was initially applied to a series of products for executive spaces and high-image areas, including seating and tables.”

Today, Vecta, with nearly 400 employees and $85 million in revenues last year, is combining its passion for design with a growing understanding of how people learn and share knowledge in the work place. As a result, the company’s product portfolio has broadened to include many products that respond to the existing — and emerging — needs for information exchanges. For example, Vecta produces a range of executive, management, task and guest seating. The company also offers high-performance tables for meeting and learning environments, including conference rooms, multipurpose rooms, training facilities, small group and team spaces, and dining and cafeteria areas.

Teaming with Steelcase
From the same 330,000 square-foot facility from which it was launched in Grand Prairie, Texas, Vecta evolved from a specialty shop that produced mainly tables with metal-edge banding to a contract furniture manufacturer for the Fortune 1000. The company’s growth caught the eye of office furniture giant Steelcase, Inc. Now, as a member of the Steelcase Design Partnership — a collection of independent companies unified in their commitment to work-place effectiveness through design innovation — Vecta functions as an independent company in a niche market that Steelcase doesn’t serve.

“One of the nice things about our relationship with Steelcase is the fact that we are small, which means we can do smaller products that better leverage technology and material processes,” says Cornell. “We don’t need a $40 million product every time. Steelcase is our home-run hitter. We can survive and thrive by hitting well-placed singles.”

Like all good teammates, Vecta and Steelcase complement one another. The latter often handles 80 percent of a contract for large orders (private office furniture and cubicles), while the former focuses on the rest of the products, which are more specialized items for conference areas, war rooms and training rooms.

Should clients want an even more specialized look to the furniture in their reception areas, Vecta can offer furniture from Wilkhahn, a German-based manufacturer whose high-end products can be found in the United States only through Vecta. “We’re the sole U.S. distributor for customers that desire European styling and German engineering,” says Cornell.

Scholarly Fashion
Since Vecta is all about environments that facilitate knowledge sharing, it’s logical that its products are used by many of the country’s leading colleges and universities. The company’s roster of satisfied clients includes the University of Southern California, the University of California at Los Angeles, Babson College, the University of Michigan and Brigham Young University, among other educational institutions.

Cornell cites several key Vecta products for all markets. The comfortable Kart chair folds up when it’s not being used, which makes it ideal for industry applications in conference areas and training rooms, where the size of meetings change and accommodations must be flexible. University clients and Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) use Kart chairs, according to Cornell.

TRAIN, a table with embedded wiring and cable management, adds a level of flexibility to meeting rooms that was previously unavailable. It’s designed to be modular so clients can “knock” down and rearrange rooms simply by flipping and folding up the TRAIN table. LUCY, Vecta’s newest chair, uses pellethane, a pliable, rubber-like material developed by Dow Chemical Company, to provide added comfort and flexibility even as it’s tilted back and rotated.

“Durability and endurance are critical engineering issues, but we are also concerned with aesthetics,” says Cornell. “We must be sensitive to design issues. Our products must look aesthetically pleasing, yet still function from a performance point of view.”

The Right Environment
In addition to being profitable, Vecta is also concerned with being “green.” Cornell says Vecta believes in the three Rs: recycle, reuse and reduce. The company is also increasing its efforts in sustainable design, which impacts both the products and processes it uses.

“When you need a table, you need a table. It’s not like a computer chip that’s too slow after two years,” says Cornell. “So our products come with 10-year guarantees, which is the surest way of keeping them out of landfills. If that becomes the fate of our products, we are compliant with federal regulations — which, for example, means that we avoid the use of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and harmful CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) in our manufacturing process.”

With such blue-chip clients as AT&T, Merck, Intel, Fidelity, Nike, Prudential, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, you wouldn’t expect a company to worry about seemingly soft, non-industrial matters. But as Cornell explains, it’s simply a matter of being smart as a manufacturer and a marketer, because not only is being green the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. Such thinking is not surprising actually, since Vecta does make furniture designed to inspire great thoughts.