In the Beginning

Before founding COFCO, David Einstein worked at a firm that liquidated offices in the post-World War II era. David quickly recognized that furniture was the fastest selling and most profitable area of that business and established the Commercial Office Furniture Company (COFCO) in 1946. COFCO grew steadily through the late 20th century with a primary focus on selling pre-owned office furniture to other middle market firms.

Shifting Strategy

In 1988 the current CEO, Joan Waters, joined the company. At that time, COFCO was bringing in around $6 million in annual revenue. Joan wanted to grow the business but saw a limitation in their existing strategy. In order to grow, the company needed to change its strategy and its core customer base. While partnering with middle market firms had been COFCO’s bread and butter, Joan began to seek out larger clients, necessitating a change in mindset as well as an overhaul of COFCO’s inventory. Larger clients demand higher-end products in a much larger volume than COFCO was used to providing.

Joan and the rest of the COFCO team were confident that the company could successfully make this shift and that it had the capacity in both design and project management teams to go after larger contracts. Leadership never had a doubt about the value COFCO brought to every project and customer relationship.

The COFCO Difference

In a middle market company, each employee is critical to the success of the company. COFCO leadership knows this and has long implemented a strategy of investing in the right people. Joan believes in the credo that the company is “only as good as our weakest link.” This guiding principle has not only driven COFCO’s hiring practices, but also their strategy in providing comprehensive services.

While many competitors in the industry use outside services for delivery and installation, COFCO opts to run their own fleet of trucks with in-house drivers and installers. Because drivers and installers are the “frontline,” if they do not share the same goals and objectives as the rest of the company, there could be a negative impact on sales and client retention. Having COFCO drivers and COFCO installers ensures that these employees are equally committed to the long-term success of the company. This strategic decision to vertically integrate and has been a huge differentiator.

Culture and Values

COFCO’s success is driven by four core cultural principles: Fiscal Responsibility, Doing the Right Thing, Loyalty, and Family. Leadership has consistently invested in a culture that makes team members feel like they are part of an extended family. Whether its Friday happy hours with wine and cheese, or a commitment to transparency and collaboration, COFCO’s employees go out of their way to make people feel welcome. According to Joan, this culture creates a team dynamic throughout the company. It is all about the team at all times, no matter who you ask.

Looking Forward

As COFCO continues on its trajectory of success, the company faces similar obstacles to growth as other middle market firms. Recruiting remains the biggest challenge, especially for positions as drivers or warehouse workers. Luckily for COFCO, it reaps the benefits of hiring the right people on the front-end and retaining them though its investment in culture. A large percentage of the company’s new and most successful employees comes from internal referrals. COFCO’s hiring strategy centers around hiring for attitude. As Joan explained, “it’s about getting people on the bus and finding the right seat for them.”

On top of recruitment and workforce development, COFCO faces industry-wide financial challenges stemming from tariffs and changes in consumer preferences. Recent policy changes have driven up manufacturers’ prices, squeezing industry margins. Additionally, the trend toward minimalistic and collaborative office work stations means COFCO must continuously grow to even maintain its sales volume.

According to Joan, the key for continued success is the ability to communicate this drive toward constant growth. The whole team must understand what it is going to take to be successful, sharing the same goals and ambition. The most critical piece of this shared understanding is a long-term perspective: it is never about one job, it’s always about the big picture.