California Cool: Arcadia, a Company on a Roll, Proves Design, Innovation Drive Sales

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Ever notice how successful companies in the office furniture industry seem to get on a roll when it comes to design and innovation? Success begets success. One great product leads to other great products and brands seem to gain significant relevance. Sometimes it happens quickly; sometimes it takes a while.

If you haven't noticed, Arcadia is on such a roll. It is a company that has found its design mojo, creating some of the coolest, most interesting products the industry has seen in some time. The brand has burst out of the pack and made California design a real force in the industry.

Arcadia isn't a new, upstart brand. It has been in business for 40 years. Yet in many ways, it is just hitting its stride. Why is it happening now? Casey Journigan, president and co-owner of the company attributes it to several factors, some within Arcadia's control and some broader changes to the way people work.

“I think it has to do with how the office works these days and how the younger generation likes to work and the fact that everything they need is in the palm of their hand,” he said. “And then the whole — I wouldn't say demise — but certainly the way the panel systems have changed and kind of become less of a factor in the office. I wish that I could've said we saw it all coming. But we were making lounge furniture and modular lounge furniture, and we're doing a lot in other fields and just corporate health care and education and things … it's almost like the market came to us.”

Arcadia also believes in doing things a little differently.

“When you're competing against companies in Grand Rapids and North Carolina and Indiana and all that, being in California, we kind of say sometimes everyone thinks we're a bunch of flakes anyway, we just want to continue the myth and approach the way we look at products differently,” said Journigan, noting the number of designers found in Southern California help the company “push the edge.”

Arcadia products (and its Encore seating brand) are designed in collaboration with the designers the company works with. Arcadia does not give them strict design briefs. Instead, it talks to designers about the type of product and where the need is in terms of function. This gives designers the creativity they crave and a supportive, strong manufacturer that can back up the ideas. They are also loyal to their designers and tend to work with them for a long time. A good example is Arcadia's work with 5D Studio and designers David Ritch and Mark Saffell. The relationship started with a small lounge group more than 20 years ago, and they have worked together on collections that include Flirt, Nios, Hush and Rendezvous.

The most recent product 5D Studio and Arcadia collaborated on was Flirt. Journigan said the product — a fully upholstered nesting chair designed for longer term sitting — is a great example of flexibility and mobility. This type of chair is extraordinarily rare, but Flirt filled a definite need for conference rooms and training centers. They also designed Flirt in guest and lounge chair versions and added a number of components to go with it, like a visual board, media board, mobile flip-top table and upholstered dividers — in other words, a complete package.

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“I just think that we are just blessed with some great designers, a couple other younger designers here in California that just kind of look at things a little differently,” Journigan said. “And that's what we try to embrace and try to push with them.”

Products at Arcadia don't simply come into being. Instead, they tend to evolve. That evolution is informed by getting out in the market and talking to designers and customers. The way people work is changing in a much more relaxed office environment. Still, Journigan said privacy remains important, and Arcadia has developed products to cover both trends.

A good example of this is the company's Co-op products that cover everything from meeting tables to semi-private, single work modules. It has become one of the most popular products Arcadia has launched in the last few years.

The idea of flexibility at the office has become more important, especially as space becomes more important and real estate at a premium.

Arcadia has a long history. It was officially established in 1979 by the father and son team of Wayne and Casey Journigan. Wayne Journigan had been an independent furniture sales representative for 30 years before he was joined by Casey Journigan in 1974, who had just earned his business degree from the University of Southern California.

“Well my dad had been a manufacturer's rep for as long as I knew,” Casey Journigan said. “I didn't know much about it. When I went away to college I swore I wouldn't go to work for him, and it was nothing personal cause we got along great. But what a cop-out. You're going to go to college for four years and come back with a degree and going to go slop furniture. Office furniture.”

It turned out he saw a lot of things he didn't want to do in college and a lot of things he couldn't do. He told his dad he'd work for him a year as a rep — and if he didn't like it he'd go off and ski for a year in Utah.

“I still haven't gone skiing for a year,” Casey Journigan said.

While working for his father, he ended up falling in love with the business of being a rep. In 1977, they added a small local office furniture manufacturer to their package. While they were successful at selling the line, the manufacturer was undercapitalized and unable to pay their commissions. After more than six months, they were offered a chance to buy out the company, and they did. They named the new company Arcadia after the city in California where Wayne Journigan raised his family and ran it while maintaining its independent rep agency. Arcadia had sales of about $400,000 a year.

Casey Journigan said his time as a rep helped Arcadia. Drawing from their experiences as sales representatives, he and his dad established a precedent that would define the company from that point on: putting the customer's needs above all else. By consistently focusing on those needs and selling solutions rather than just product, Arcadia was able to achieve success early on and earn a loyal following.

The company received some help along the way by a friendly competitor, — Davis Furniture, one of the lines Casey Journigan repped — which remains a friend today. Randy Davis was running sales at the time at Davis Furniture, and Casey Journigan thought they might run into some resistance to the Journigan's purchasing the manufacturing company. It turned out to be quite the opposite.

Casey Journigan said: “I remember talking to Randy shortly after we bought the company, and he just said 'Hey, what are you doing about your marketing?' You know, how to go about getting photos taken and brochures made,' and I said, 'I have no idea.' ”

Davis told him to make up what he wanted to bring out, send it to Davis, then spend a week with him learning the ropes. He offered to take him into his company's photo studio and shoot his brochures, then let him go from there. Casey Journigan said Davis told him “ 'I'll just help you as much as I can.' ”

After that week, Journigan spent Saturday in Davis' office from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Next, Davis asked Casey Journigan: “ 'Do you know anything about how to price products? And make a price list?' ”

Casey Journigan had no idea. Davis mentored Casey Journigan nearly four months. “We literally would've never made it if it weren't for Randy,” he said. “And we've stayed close friends with Danny (Davis) and the rest of the family.”

In 1981, Arcadia brought on Casey Journigan's brother-in-law, Chris Burgess, as a business partner and co-owner. His education and prior experience in public accounting made him ideally suited to manage internal operations, from finance and administration to customer service and manufacturing. Four years later, Tom Valdes was hired to oversee the manufacturing plant. Valdes' engineering background, combined with his firm knowledge of metalworking, sourcing and production expertise allowed the company to expand its product offering and manufacturing capabilities.

As the company continued to grow, the decision was made in 1987 to dissolve the rep firm and concentrate exclusively on the manufacturing business. With success achieved at the local level and in larger cities throughout the Midwest, the company was ready to expand even further. In 1990, independent rep firms were hired across the country to provide national representation. At the same time, the company began working with outside product designers that helped elevate the company's status among the design community. Up to this point, the company was operating out of three buildings, totaling approximately 65,000 square feet in Gardena, California. The time had come to move to a larger facility, and in 1996, it relocated to La Palma, California.

The next significant milestone came in 1999 when a new division of Arcadia, Encore Seating, was launched. Answering the need for options-oriented task seating at a great value, Encore, with Arcadia's well-established expertise in manufacturing, raised the benchmark in design, comfort and flexibility to become a leader in its own right for this category. The brand has since evolved with a broader product mix, offering contemporary designs at moderate prices to appeal to a wide audience.

Arcadia rebranded itself in 2003, with a new logo and corporate identity to better reflect the personality and design direction of the company. That same year, the company opened a permanent showroom in the Merchandise Mart to showcase its growing number of annual product introductions. The next decade and beyond brought steady growth, and thanks to ongoing collaborations with award-winning independent product designers, Arcadia continued to make a name for itself with innovative designs, manufacturing flexibility and a strong focus on providing value beyond furniture. From a four-man operation in 1979, starting in a 10,000-square-foot building in Gardena, Arcadia has grown to more than 400 employees, occupying 250,000 square feet of combined building space in and around La Palma.

The company does buy some components, but makes all of its interior frames for its lounge furniture in California. It used to make some of its exposed wood frames, but found it could bring the frames in from Slovenia and other European countries. Arcadia still does all the finishing, assembly, upholstery and cut-and-sew at its California facilities.

Manufacturing in Southern California has its downsides. California real estate is expensive, and when you are a growing company and need to expand, Casey Journigan said “it's not like there is another 10 acres out back you can go build another building, like some of the areas. So we're in four buildings now. All within a mile of each other. We've had to kind of work around that and the frame shop in one area, the assembly in another, and then the cut and sew.”

Journigan said it is important to be in California. Having local designers (a few are outside of California), is nice because they can come in and do hands-on work with Arcadia with the product as it's developed.

Arcadia's growth and commitment to design has landed it some notable customers over the years, including St. Joseph's Health Systems, Bank of America, USC, ExxonMobil, GE Capital, National Geographic, Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Google, T-Mobile and various Marriott Hotel locations.

Casey Journigan attributes the growth and success of Arcadia and Encore Seating to its employees — one third of which have been with the company 10 years or more and 10% of which are 20+ year veterans. That continuity helps bolster the company's stellar reputation for customer service. He said the company's vendors and rep relationships are key as well. “We consider our reps our number one customer, because if they're not completely sold on us and behind us then we're in trouble,” he said.

Casey Journigan said Arcadia's future is bright, but he jokes that people ask him what he's still doing around the industry after 40 years. “Well, I'll tell you what, it's actually pretty exciting,” he said. “The main reason I'm still around is because I'm still having a lot of fun.” He thinks developing the two brands and keeping them fresh makes for a lot of areas where the company can develop new products. It's also excited for him to see lots of younger people joining the firm in engineering, marketing and sales and becoming a “big factor” in the company, he said.

The company stays relevant because it continues to take chances. As a small company, Casey Journigan said he doesn't want to spread it too thin, but he does want to continue to push the edge a little bit.

At the same time, the market is expanding for the company. Corporate, education and health care are growing — Arcadia just became a preferred vendor for Kaiser in the health care market in the last few years. Education is growing as well.

“So that is the fun and exciting part for us,” Casey Journigan said. “I think, 'How can we build furniture that's going to enhance those environments? How can we be part of the solution?' And just not doing what we did the last 10-20 years. It is exciting, and growing is not easy. I mean we've had some very tremendous years of growth. Keeping up with that growth is always a little bit of a challenge. But that's where I'm getting so many more people involved in our process, and new ideas are the fun part.”