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Business Interiors sees return on smart, flexible, green office

Business Interiors Inc. has already proven that its investment in a new flexible, smart, green office building — the first office building of its type in the state — is paying off.

In late December 2006, Business Interiors moved from a showroom with 12,000 square feet to the new building located at 146 Market Ridge Drive in Ridgeland with a 14,500-square-foot showroom. The average electrical bill has declined from $1,800 per month to $1,350 per month.

“We increased the square footage by 2,500 square feet, and I reduced my electric bill considerably,” said C. David Houpt, owner of Business Interiors Inc. “Anybody that could save money, reduce energy costs by a third and add 2,500 square feet of space, why would you not do it?”

The building has tilt-up walls. All of the connections for electrical, plumbing and data are under a raised access floor. There is underfloor heating and cooling. And the building is flexible, which allows office rooms to be moved around.

“I have a place where I come to work in the daytime, and I’m excited about being here,” Houpt said. “I love the building. It is better than I thought it could be. This kind of building represents the future of our business as we see it going forward.”

Part of what makes the building “green” and energy efficient is the way it is located at the site. For example, the most glass faces north while the least amount of glass is on the southern side that gets direct sun.

“Ridgeland has a tree ordinance, so we preserved every single tree on the site that was possible,” Houpt said. “We have a lot of plants and trees on the site which makes it almost like we are sitting back in the woods.”

Houpt said the underfloor air contributes to cleaner air conditioning and heating, which improves the air quality. No matter where one sits in the building, one can turn in any direction and see natural light. Based on studies, the ability for employees to see natural light from their work space is healthy. Natural light also warms the building in the winter.

The building, which is a prototype for the state, has attracted a lot of attention from customers. And while green building has been faster to catch on in some other regions of the country like the Northwest, Houpt feels it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm-instead of the exception-in Mississippi, as well.

“It is going to happen,” Houpt said. “It has to. Once people understand the advantages, it will be a normal construction process instead of abnormal. It is different and new, and a lot of people don’t like change.”

His advice for anyone building a new office is to first start with a good architect to design the building. You need both an architect and an interior designer who understand what one wants to accomplish.

“You get a lot better product than you do any other way,” he said. “It will be something you will be proud of. It is an investment in your company. If you have a fine building, it will appreciate in value instead of depreciate in value. You want it to be the best you can, so it is wise to invest a little more money on the front end, and use a good architect and contractor. I was fortunate I had a very good architect, interior designer and contractor on this building.”

A pleasing office atmosphere is also healthy for employee morale. A healthy and inviting office environment that includes ergonomically-designed chairs and work stations can help reduce illness and absenteeism.

“It you are a business owner, you must be concerned about a healthy office environment,” Houpt said. “In order to do that, you obviously have to be concerned about ergonomics. If not, it will cost you huge amounts in the long run. What I see these days is a majority of employers are concerned about ergonomics. From a legal perspective, they don’t want lawsuits. They want to do the right thing for employees. If you don’t, the employees will be off the job.”

Houpt’s advice on office furniture purchases is that one doesn’t have to buy the most expensive thing. But buy good quality at a price one can afford. One place one doesn’t want to stint is on office chairs. While ergonomic specialists also advise taking frequent breaks to walk around when one works extensively at a computer, a good ergonomic chair is the first defense against repetitive strain problems.

“If you don’t have a good chair, you are going to cause yourself health problems,” Houpt said. “It is just a question of when.”

Next to a good chair, the next most important piece of equipment for computer workers is an articulating keyboard pad. They cost $150 to $250. Houpt believes they are the least expensive thing you can do for employees who are heavy users of a computer.

“Buy a good one and have someone explain how to use it,” Houpt said. “That is huge for people who are on computers at least half the day. I think most people these days understand that. I have one client here who has a doctor on staff to make sure the people who work for the company get the proper ergonomic equipment that they need. You have to be concerned about the people who work for you. If you aren’t, you won’t be successful in the long run.”

Another critical element to the success of the company that does business in most of the state is its primary focus is on the needs and desires of their customers. Houpt said if one doesn’t give good customer service and good products, and consider what customers want, then it is unlikely the business will survive.

“We have some excellent sales people who are backed up with very, very good customer service people,” Houpt said. “Everyone works together along with installers, who deliver and install the products. I tell people in our warehouse, ‘You are the last person from our company our customers see. Please make sure they are happy when you leave.’”

Business Interiors has seen the volume of sales increase over the past couple of years.

“Business is very good,” Houpt said. “2006 was the best year we have had. We are doing well in 2007, and 2008 looks like it is going to be a good year, also. We have been fortunate. We have great customers.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.


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