Spokane Journal of Business

Contract Design Associates to exceed projections

Office furniture sales are still staying strong for Spokane company

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-Kevin Blocker
Contract Design Associates co-owner Gwen Guenzel stands in a portable, sound-proof work station the company carries at its showroom, just east of downtown Spokane.

Though a good majority of customers for the office furniture supply company Contract Design Associates are uncertain about the status of future workplaces, what is for sure is that many are still buying from the retailer.

Despite the fact many businesses aren’t sure when they’ll return to the office due to the presence of COVID-19, Gwen Guenzel, CDA’s co-owner and partner, says the company expects to surpass 2020’s financial expectations.

“Our customers are still planning for the future even though they aren’t necessarily sure when they’ll be returning to the office,” Guenzel says. “Some customers are taking this time to really think who needs to be in the office full time and who doesn’t.” 

Many businesses are trying to make more space within their floor plans by thinking about how to situate furniture and stagger work shifts most effectively in the effort to keep employees at a safe distance from each other. 

CDA’s 2020 sales got off to such a strong start that Guenzel says this year’s revenues will eclipse last year’s volume. She declines to reveal the company’s annual revenues.

“We’re fortunate that we have a variety of customer types throughout the region,” she says.

Employers in the commercial, governments, health care, and higher education sectors constitute a majority of CDA’s customer base, she says.

“We do very, very little home and residential sales,” Guenzel says.

However, Guenzel qualifies that by saying, “We can figure it for anybody; we will make it work.”

CDA offers some lightly-used furniture, and the company does its best to try to fulfill all its customers’ needs.

Founded by husband and wife team Bruce and Jill Butterworth in 1980, Contract Design Associates now serves customers throughout the Pacific Northwest. The company opened a store in Missoula, Montana, in 2012.

When the Butterworths retired in 2017, their son Jared and Guenzel became CDA’s principals with a split share of the company.

CDA has a total of 26 employees, 19 of which work out of the company’s 17,000-square-foot building at 402 E. Sprague, east of downtown Spokane. Roughly 7,000 square feet of the building is a retail showroom floor.

Guenzel, a 45-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma native, moved to Spokane in 2001. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Oklahoma State University.

The Butterworths hired Guenzel almost immediately after she moved here.

Working in a variety of positions with the company through the years helped put her in a position to make the case to the then-retiring couple that she should be a principal in the company moving forward, she says.

When she was asked how a person gets to be an interior designer, Guenzel responds with an honest answer.

“I have no idea,” she says. “I still went into the wrong field, but I’m glad that I did.”

Upon entering college, she says she didn’t want to study architecture and wasn’t good enough at art.

“Being able to manage and organize space, interior design was a good fit.”

Upon graduating from college, Guenzel and her then-husband moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where she worked at a local wallpaper store.

She eventually landed a job at an architecture firm and worked as their only interior designer.

Guenzel moved again, this time to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she worked for a general contractor at a carpet and tile company.

Dissatisfied over time, Guenzel went to work as a draftsman for a company that designed log homes.

Her next stop was at a job where she was the company’s “move manager,” she says.

“It was a campus of about 2,000 to 3,000 people where I was responsible for the changeout-move cycle, where I coordinated the relocation of anywhere from three to 300 to other office spaces,” she says.

“That’s where I figured I like commercial furniture, and the space planning of people in adjacencies in departments,” she says.

Guenzel says in that capacity was where she was first introduced to Herman Miller Inc., a Zeeland, Michigan-based office furniture and equipment store, which turned out to be the brand of office supply furniture CDA sells.

Guenzel says she finds satisfaction in her position, where she helps her customer base problem-solve and works with the company’s employees.

“That, and I love furniture,” she says.

Kevin Blocker
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