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VOL. 128 | NO. 204 | Friday, October 18, 2013

MBI Anticipates Little Change Under New Owner

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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With a new owner in place, Memphis Business Interiors (MBI) anticipates little change to its operations – but it does expect to grow.


New owner Rhonda Bradley said the only changes she has in sight for the 18-year-old office design firm are “adding new areas, strengthening service in areas we cover currently and growing in training and development of current employees.”

Examples of new service areas could include commercial moving services, flooring solutions and more, Bradley said.

As president and co-owner of Little Rock-based Today’s Office, Bradley has worked hand in hand with MBI for years. In their respective markets, the two firms serve basically the same role. So when Bradley learned MBI was seeking a buyer, she saw the purchase as a reasonable next step to expand her company’s portfolio.

“We’re exactly the same size, we have the same number of employees and we’re in the same markets,” said Bradley, who’s been with the Little Rock firm for 23 years. “Both are great companies with very tenured employees and just strong character. Both have been in our markets and been very successful for years.”

MBI, a full-service workspace design firm, was founded in 1995 by the late Scott Messmore. Joan Messmore, his widow, took over leadership of the company when Messmore died in 2009.

Like Today’s Office, MBI serves clients in the health care, corporate, higher education, small business and government fields, among others. The two companies’ employees attend the same meetings and training sessions and work with the same suppliers, including furniture manufacturer Steelcase Inc.

“We’ve been very good regional partners over the years,” Bradley said. “When we were benchmarking or looking at making changes, MBI was always the company we would call. We’ve had a great partnership over the years, so I think this was a very natural fit.”

In 2005, Today’s Office became certified as a commercial mover through the International Move Institute. Bradley said MBI is ramping up now to add the same service.

Memphis Business Interiors (MBI) anticipates little change to its operations under new owner Rhonda Bradley, who bought the 18-year-old office design firm recently.


“(Today’s Office) is the only commercial moving company in the state of Arkansas with that certification,” she said. “Our employees are trained. We have an installer who installs furniture and we have specialized movers who do the commercial move. We can do furniture moves but also box moves – that helps us control the timing of projects.”

With the new service, MBI will be able to control service level “from beginning to end,” Bradley said, adding that the company hopes to release a date for addition of the moving service by early spring.

Even before that addition, MBI has worked to be a one-stop shop for its clientele, said vice president of sales and design Michelle Bingham. Already the firm offices services including design, consulting, space planning, furniture, lighting, technology, accessories, installation, inventory storage and move management.

“I think oftentimes people want to pigeonhole us as ‘the people who sell furniture,’” Bingham said. “While certainly we do that, it goes well beyond that. We have a staff of designers who have all graduated with a design degree and have many other certifications to go along with that. Those folks, as well as the sales consultants, really help with issues surrounding the process.”

Among those issues is “real estate compression,” Bingham said – in other words, shrinking square footage.

“People are getting the fact that they can begin to utilize their space differently,” she said. “We’re seeing them recognize that space is one of their most expensive expenditures, and they’re out there making better deals with landlords and reducing the amount of space they’re using. We’re coming in and showing them how they can do that.”

MBI’s designers, Bingham said, study clients’ work styles to determine how to make their spaces best fit their needs.

“Our project managers get involved and go beyond just managing the installation of work stations,” Bingham said. “They try to understand how people work and what their real needs are rather than just plunking in a standard old cube.”

Open, collaborative work spaces are the going trend in office design, and MBI has helped clients adjust to keep up with the times. However, collaboration “means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Bingham said.

“You still get some very traditional people or people who, that’s just not the type of work they do,” she said. “The trend is to be more open and collaborative. But, for example, an individual processor-type function, it’s not necessarily appropriate for them to be in a wide-open space. So maybe we provide other team spaces for them to work together.”

She sees MBI’s role as helping clients find work space solutions that fit their businesses and use their real estate and technology to its best advantage. She also said business has been picking up in recent months.

“We have seen a lot more activity,” Bingham said. “And we are very glad of that.”

Bradley plans to retain Joan Messmore’s services as a business consultant. She said MBI “didn’t lose anybody in the transition,” and Rob Kinney retains his position as chief financial officer/chief operating officer. The company currently has 33 employees.

“I think it’s no secret that in our industry, what we’re seeing is strength in numbers and strength in size,” Bradley said. “For us to be able to continue to bring on additional products and services that are unique to the industry, we have to grow.”

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