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Friday, May 24, 2024

A System for Growth

It’s a good time to be a self-described “furniture geek,” thanks to the proliferation over the past few years of creative office workplaces that have transformed the way companies and their employees use their office spaces, and the furniture that goes in them.

Rosemarie Smith, founder and chief executive of Newport Beach-based Systems Source Inc.—one of the largest woman-owned contract interior firms in the country—will tell you her firm is much more than that.

The company, formed about 20 years ago, has grown from a core business of providing furnishings to corporate clients to becoming a designer of interior workspaces.

Clients include the Irvine offices of Allergan PLC and the Costa Mesa campus of Experian PLC, along with Microsoft Corp. in Washington and Netflix Inc. in Los Gatos.

How did she do it? Smith started out with a plan not just to sell furniture, but to create “long-lasting, honest relationships,” her bio notes.

Smith’s personal mantra: to “do the best and highest good for all concerned.”

That approach has allowed the company to survive multiple downturns, and put it in a position to thrive during the latest surge in creative office renovations.

Sales in the past decade have almost tripled. Smith is expecting the company to generate close to $200 million in sales for the 12 months ending this June.

Systems Source has placed in the top 15 of the Business Journal’s listing of women-owned businesses based in Orange County every year over the last 10 years.

One more accolade for Smith: she was one of five winners of the Business Journal’s 25th annual Women in Business awards held on May 8 at Hotel Irvine (see other profiles, pages 1, 4, 6 and 8).

New HQ, More Staff

Systems Source continues to grow its workforce. It boosted companywide employees 20% to 215 in 2017, while its OC count climbed at a faster pace, 27% to 100.

As a result of the growth, last year it moved to new and larger headquarters, at the MacArthur Court office complex across the street from John Wayne Airport. The space is about 14,000 square feet and showcases many of the same designs and furniture the company sells to some of the country’s biggest office users.

The company’s other four offices are in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and Spokane, Wash.

Smith said that her firm’s growing workforce has played a big role in the company’s climb to prominence.

“Our success is because of good people. I help provide a space for entrepreneurship, but they are the ones who act upon it.”

The first employees Smith hired are still with the company today.

Furniture Trades

Smith, an Inglewood native, started Systems Source through a heavy amount of bartering.

“I traded furniture for a cubicle in a building. I also traded my incorporation papers for a coffee table,” Smith said on the company’s early beginnings.

“I was working for a manufacturer and they did not have very good distribution. I thought I can do that, the ignorance of youth, you think everything is going to be easy.”

Ignorance may have in some respects helped the company survive multiple downturns, she said.

“We all stayed together, we didn’t look at what we didn’t have,” she said of the Great Recession.

“We kept as many people as possible and management took pay cut, but we knew it was temporary.

“We doubled down on our investment with our software, which was a huge differentiator for us and pulled us out of that.”

The software Smith is referring to is the SSI Database that hosts all project documents such as floor plans, furniture standards, warranty information and product information. It has the capability to enter quotes and service requests.

“There’s very little software made for our industry and having our own is one of our secrets to working with companies [like] Netflix and Microsoft. Our best client is one with multiple locations.”

Smith said plans for the future include investing more money into the SSI database and software.

Smith also attributes the company’s success to its partnership with furniture designer and manufacturer Knoll Inc. (NYSE: KNL) based in Pennsylvania.

Systems Source was Knoll’s largest dealer last year, according to Smith.

“Becoming a Knoll dealer changed my life, the quality of their products and the support they give us has made all the difference in the world to our success,” Smith said.

Not Alone

Though the company values itself as a women-owned business, Smith said that “no one does this alone,” thanking male and female mentors alike.

“I do think that [my work] has inspired a lot of the women who work for me and the men are so supportive. A lot of the large projects that got me started was because of a man that gave me that position.”

That said, “I had a tear in my eye to think how far women have come,” Smith said as she recalled walking into the award luncheon.

“I see [women in business] as being the norm going forward and it won’t even be looked at as unusual because we are everywhere.”

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