Custer offering ‘workplace re-engagement’ services

Furniture dealer and space designer creates six-part plan for helping clients get back to work safely.
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A technician from Custer's partner/subsidiary company Century uses EPA-approved disinfecting cleaners through a process called “fogging” to get the most effective results in protecting employees against the COVID-19 virus. Courtesy of Custer Inc.

Custer Inc. is offering an array of COVID-19 response services to help employers make short- and long-term physical and “culture-shifting” changes in the workplace.

The Grand Rapids-based Steelcase dealer and workplace design firm said it worked to create a “workplace re-engagement plan” in April and May to help clients address health and safety concerns and changes needed in the workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In partnership with its affiliated/subsidiary companies Renegade, Century Professional Flooring & Cleaning and CS Erickson, Custer developed a six-component services package it is now providing to businesses of any size, a la carte.

The six components include Renegade’s privacy and safety solutions, including design and build of “uniquely tailored” solutions that fit into an existing workstation layout, such as screens and protective barriers; Century’s sanitation and disinfection services, including daily fogging using EPA-approved cleaning agents; work-from-home Steelcase furniture packages; CS Erickson’s hardware and software technology solutions to support virtual collaborative work; space planning consultation and adjustment services by Custer designers; and change management guidance from Custer’s Prosci-certified experts to help organizations successfully adopt new protocols and adjust to new ways of being.

Custer offers a free, one-hour consultation and assessment for those looking to utilize the services.

Todd Custer, CEO of Custer Inc., founded in 1981, said the six-part response plan was created keeping in mind Custer’s history over the past decade of expanding beyond selling furniture into providing “holistic” space solutions.

“We’re trying to do the same with COVID-19 response services, to say, ‘How can we be a strategic partner and a community resource to all our clients, all our customers, everyone we’ve done business with, but also to others we haven’t done business with?’” Custer said.

“How can we be that trusted, authoritative voice in the market because we’ve been doing this for so long and have so much experience, how can we take everything that’s out there — from real estate firms, construction firms, architects, designers, the World Health Organization, the CDC, all of this stuff that’s out there — how can we take all that and consolidate it and make it useful for our clients?”

Custer said his firm used Steelcase research on COVID-19 and the workplace looking at “the now, the near and the far” to inform its response services. That’s why the plan addresses initial retrofitting and reconfiguration needs, as well as ongoing cultural changes — such as cleaning procedures, technology support and change management — and takes into consideration future adjustments that may be made to office real estate, including possible reductions in square footage due to the rise of remote work.

Many of the initial conversations the firm had regarding COVID-19 were with health care clients, Custer said. They resulted in redesigns of waiting rooms, lobbies, and clinical and administrative areas.

Then, large corporations and medium and small businesses also began requesting changes.

Besides the addition of temporary screens and barriers, some of the COVID response work done by Renegade for office clients has included the creation of mobile sanitation hubs — carts with hand sanitizer, gloves, face masks, etc., that can be scattered throughout a workplace — as well as temperature screening stations.

Custer said many office clients are looking to make these changes in a temporary, fairly low-budget way due to cashflow problems and uncertainty over how long the pandemic will go on.

“You have companies that understandably don’t want to spend a lot of money on permanent solutions, because you don’t know what’s going to change and what’s going to happen in ‘the far,’” he said.

Custer also is starting to have initial conversations with K-12 and higher education clients and expects to begin implementing safety, sanitation and social distancing changes to classrooms this summer.

So far, feedback from clients about the firm’s new response services has been positive, Custer said. He said this is an extremely challenging time to be a furniture dealer, with many clients closing shop and revenues way down, so it has been important to be able to develop new service-based offerings moving forward instead of just expecting clients to buy more furniture.

“It’s actually something I think about every night — about making sure that we’re on the right track,” he said.

Custer also was able to apply for and received a Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan to keep everyone on staff through mid-July at least.

“It was challenging, but we feel like we’re going to come out of it strong,” he said. “We’re trying to stay as close as possible (to our clients) to help them navigate through the situation and make sure that they know that we’re with them in the long run.”

Custer said the company has been fortunate to be able to still give back during this time, donating dinners, pizza parties, cakes and more to frontline workers in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne, Indiana, where it has offices.

In addition to its COVID-19 response services and philanthropic work, Custer recently launched a podcast called “A New Way of Working” that features leaders in human resources, health care and more to share takes on what it will take to get various industries back to the workplace safely.

“We try to stay engaged as much as possible to our core values and not forget about that. There are a lot of people out there that need help and need support, and we’ve been in this community for 40 years, and that’s always been our mission, to be here to help out and try to give back as much as possible, even though our numbers are way down,” Custer said.

“We always say ‘people before profits’ and that it’s a family business. That’s what’s important to us.”

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