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Moving quickly … for more than 200 years Somerville-based Dancker believes keeping current is key in office industry

Somerville company: Keeping current key in office industry

Kevin Klier, left, general manager, and Steven Lang, president and CEO, Dancke.

Dancker Sellew & Douglas has been supplying office furniture for nearly 200 years, but CEO and President Steven Lang says he’s more impressed by his company’s ability to change quickly rather than survive for the long haul.

The reason, Lang said, is simple: Only companies that can quickly adapt to new styles and trends are able to make it.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, companies like ours were selling desk files and chairs when the cubicle came about,” Lang said. “Many dealers didn’t make that transition, but we did, along with our current competitors.”

Now, with new technologies changing the way people work, Lang recognizes that the industry is facing its next evolution. He believes “the cubicle is almost dead” and clients are now asking for the “integration of architecture, furniture and technology,” he said. “We are at this next inflection point that says not all of the commercial interiors companies are going to be the integrators of furniture, architecture and technology.”

Lang, who has been with DS&D for more than 19 years, said the company will be at the forefront of the latest change. And he believes those that don’t embrace the trend will be left behind.

Biz in brief
Company: Dancker (as of September)
Founded: 1829
Headquarters: Somerville
Revenue: $100 million
One more thing: Founder Timothy G. Sellew’s original commercial space was located in New York City on its famed “Newspaper Row.”

“We have three customers: commercial real estate executive and corporate end users, architects and designers, and large corporate construction firms,” he said. “There are separate companies that do all those things well, but our job as an organization is to live with the commercial real estate executive or the architect and actually implement that plan.”

General Manager Kevin Klier said that has influenced the way the company looks at its operations.

“We try to be the best supporting actor because there are so many clients’ layers and different ones for each engagement,” Klier said.

And according to Lang, evolution is in the company’s DNA.

“The company has evolved from one of the original manufacturers of roll-top desks and we were one of the original charter Steelcase dealers,” he said. “Today, we find ourselves after many generations, as a large commercial interiors company.”

And the company no longer does manufacturing.

“We’re more of a facility service provider, distributor and consultant for manufacturers and big corporate clients to help them create great spaces,” Lang said.

Among the company’s clients are Verizon, AT&T, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson.

Not taking that success for granted, DS&D is looking ahead at another evolution: a rebranding, shortening its name from Dancker Sellew & Douglas to simply “Dancker.”

A long history
The original founder of Dancker Sellew & Douglas was Timothy G. Sellew, who started the company in 1829 and was one of the original roll-top desk manufacturers.
It’s a history current CEO and President Steven Lang still holds on to, however removed it may seem from today’s business world.
“I actually have an old invoice somewhere in this building where he’s trading, on a hand-written invoice back in 1869, for a couple of bales of hay, some corn and two sheep,” Lang said. “I mean, the streets (in Manhattan) weren’t even paved back then.”

“The name Dancker has been synonymous with the company and a lot of our clients refer to us as Dancker, so we decided to just call ourselves Dancker,” Lang said. “The people within our industry, the influencers we work with, understand and know us as that.”

To hear Lang tell it, it sounds a lot like Dancker is in the business of helping other companies evolve as well.

“What is space really for and why do people go to work?” he said. “They go to work because they want to integrate with each other, collaborate, have teams and get stuff in a group.

“And the physical space you live in either helps or hurts that, enhances or detracts from it.”

Over the last seven years, Lang has seen Dancker’s clients recognize that and ask the company to help them achieve those goals.

“(You) call us when your space isn’t working anymore and is prohibiting growth,” he said.

And “prohibiting growth” is a serious concern for companies looking to attract young talent.

Lang said space is becoming even more of an important element with the emerging workforce. He said companies have to ask if the office is “a place you want to come to or a necessary evil?” if they want to start attracting the millennial workforce.

“Companies are focused on creating an environment that attracts and retains the best and the brightest, and therefore the space looks really cool and it’s fun to come to work,” he said. “And it’s intentional because they’re talking to (the millennial) generation coming out of school.”

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

Andrew Sheldon
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