Passion and a zest for adventure has led POE to 30 years in business. I had the chance to sit down with Larry Born and discuss a variety of topics, from POE’s humble beginnings to the future of POE and the industry. Check out our Q + A conversation below.
C: When did you enter the furniture business?
L: I entered the furniture business shortly after returning from a year bumming around Europe. When I got back to St. Louis, I only had 25 cents left in my pocket and I used that (chuckles) to call a friend to pick me up from downtown after hitchhiking from Philly. Shortly after that I found a job at a local St. Louis furniture dealer and that’s where my love for helping businesses truly began.
C: What drew you to the furniture business?
L: At first, I thought that working at the local furniture dealer would be temporary as I was always looking for my next big adventure. However, I ended up falling in love with this industry and my wife Mary and I never left after that.
C: What do you love most about POE?
L: As I matured in the industry, I realized that something was missing. I realized that I wanted to create a business where members won together and had a culture where people were excited to come to work. One of the things I love most about POE is that we support our member’s individual dreams and goals.
C: Outside of the office, what are some of your favorite hobbies?
L: I’m a little adventurous. While I won’t jump out of airplanes, I love traveling and skiing.
C: What’s a fun fact that not everyone knows about you?
L: Well, I have a few. A buddy and I ran class 3 rapids in a canoe, I repelled off of a 300 foot natural arch, I caught the largest snake of a particular type ever recorded in Missouri, and I ran with bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
C: Larry, you’ve been an owner of POE for 30 years now. How was POE founded?
L: In 1987 I approached Chuck Donnelly and Bob Funke and asked them if they were interested in starting a business. They said that they were. From there, we approached a manufacturer who was trying to get into the systems market at the time and negotiated a partnership. Prior to launching, all three of us approached Teresa Perkins (Donnelly) to see if she wanted to join in a key administrative role. In the end we started with a small, but mighty selling and administrative team. In fact, we made a profit the first year in business.
C: How was the name ‘POE’ chosen?
L: In all honesty, it was a process of elimination. Everything else was taken. We needed something aligned with what we did. We wanted two words, but it was hard to find something that wasn’t taken. Prior to the internet, we had to flip through Yellow Pages to ensure names weren’t taken. After much research and debate we finally ended up with Professional Office Environments.
C: You were originally aligned with another manufacturer when you started. In 1991 POE switched to Haworth. What made Haworth stand out from other furniture manufacturers?
L: We knew that we needed a lead manufacturer in order to receive the best support. Business Interiors, a dealer that has since gone out of business, released their partnership with Haworth in the St. Louis market. Once that happened, we jumped at the opportunity and became a Haworth dealer. We’ve been partners ever since – almost 30 years!
C: What was your most popular product back in the early 90s?
L: Systems products were new in the 90s and all the rage.
C: During the late 80s and early 90s what was the biggest project POE participated in?
L: We had two Southwestern Bell projects. The first was in 1992 for mobile systems and was about a $300K job, however, in 1994 we ended up winning the entire 27-story Southwestern Bell 1010 Pine Building. We won this by proposing a unique system design.
C: What was the biggest driver from customers back in the early 90s?
L: The biggest driver back in the early 90s was if they felt we were a good fit from a dealer/manufacturer standpoint.
C: What has been the biggest difference from the industry 30 years ago to today?
L: The biggest difference is that 30 years ago our industry was much more commodity based. However, today it’s based on knowledge. Today, the conversation goes way past furniture and instead on how we can help business owners create the right space for their business and employees.
C: Describe POE’s culture today versus 30 years ago.
L: Back in the beginning, the culture was whatever members thought it should be. However, about 10 years ago we really took a step back to focus on what we wanted the future of POE’s culture to be. I really think that our open book management policy helped us create a formula for who we are today.
C: Where do you see the A/E/C industry going in the next 30 years?
L: I predict that we will see a lot of consolidation and mergers as margins begin to tighten and customer requirements change.
C: Where do you see POE going in the next 5 years?
L: I think millennials will help force change, especially when it comes to utilizing technology to make companies more efficient. In 5 years, I predict POE will have less of an emphasis on furniture and more on services.
C: What are you most excited to see in the years to come?
L: I always like to look forward to what’s next, not just in business, but personal. However, I am most excited to see the evolution of our management team, our members, our industry, and how our clients will adapt to new opportunities.