But those protections don't come cheap, and at a typical cost of $4,000, a new work station can rival the price of a used car. The alternative, buying used desks, drawers and dividers, can shave thousands of dollars off the bill.
The recession has been both a blessing and a curse in the used furniture industry. While inventory has swelled and some clients have switched from buying new items to pre-owned, overall sales have declined.
"When times are bad, it's usually good for us," said Rob Wilson, chief executive and vice president of operations at Transfer Enterprises Inc. in Manchester, which buys and sells used office furniture.
Since October, retail and wholesale sales dwindled. "Everybody was scared — they weren't buying," said Wilson, whose company has showrooms in Manchester, East Hartford and Dover, N.H. As a result, the company, which was founded in a deep Connecticut recession in 1992, laid off workers for the first time, Wilson said. Transfer had 85 employees in 2007, and is down to 35, although the sales team remains intact with eight people. Part of the reduction was by attrition.
Now Transfer Enterprises is positioning itself to take advantage of the economic recovery — whenever that occurs. In addition to building up its stock, it has expanded its refurbishing shop and cross-trained workers to refinish or re-cut used furniture.
"We did some work with a major Connecticut corporation setting up offices in Mexico and Puerto Rico," said Wilson, who declined to name the company. "We went there and did the installations."
Three months ago, Transfer opened an outlet store in East Hartford that sells office furniture with a few more dents and dings than its standard offerings. It's also focusing on a new niche: used furniture for the home office. As companies slash costs, they're asking more people to work at home, Wilson said.
But many used office furniture dealers are facing stiff competition from big-box retailers that sell new but inexpensive items made in China.
While Transfer also sells new office furniture, those sales account for about 15 percent of revenue. Last year, the company had $8 million in revenue, Wilson said.
In 1992, Matt Egan and Allen Lawton, the company's co-owners, were installing shelves at a Hartford insurance company. Asked to remove some used furniture, "they saw it wasn't bad," Wilson said. A few months later, they opened a warehouse in a small building on Hilliard Street in Manchester. In 2006, the company moved to a huge showroom on Progress Drive in Manchester.
Most businesses replace their office decor every five or 10 years. Unfortunately, the newer styles are making it more difficult for workers to hunker down and feign work.
"In the last five years, your standard cubicle has shrunk," Wilson said. "They used to be 8-feet by 8-feet, now we're talking 6-by-6."