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Prentice buyers optimistic about office furniture firm’s future

The buyers of Prentice Office Environments, a major commercial office furniture supplier, and its affiliated Office Furniture Center say they remain committed to the region and to building on the companies’ long history here.

Jan Malof and Christopher Vogelsang on Friday closed on their purchase of William H. Prentice Co., which has roots that trace back to 1834, from Eaton Office Supply.

The new owners say Prentice has managed to outperform the national commercial office furniture industry and that they plan to add four or five employees to the 42-person workforce within the next year.

“We are here to stay,” Malof said Tuesday.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed. Malof and Vogelsang said they had discussed the sale for at least the last 18 months with executives at Eaton Office Supply, which had owned the two Prentice companies.

Malof said Bruce Eaton and his brother, James A. Eaton Jr., who died in October, were deliberate in crafting a succession plan.

The due diligence process took time because the plan also required input from Steelcase, the world’s leading maker of office furniture, which has sold its furnishings through Prentice for the past 50 years and needed to vet the buyers.

“Steelcase is very particular about its brand,” Malof said.

Malof had worked as a sales representative for Prentice in 2004 and spun off Interior Solutions of Western New York as a certified, woman-owned business the following year.

She retained close ties with Prentice, which held a minority ownership stake in Interior Solutions, and Malof continued to work out of Prentice’s historic headquarters on Franklin Street in Allentown. That experience made her a “natural” potential successor, she said.

Malof will remain president and owner of Interior Solutions. Vogelsang, co-owner in Prentice, has experience in the office accessories industry and has held a variety of management positions.

Prentice Office Environments will remain in the Victorian mansion that has served as its offices for nearly 100 years, while Office Furniture Center, a mid-market retail store, will remain on Young Street in Tonawanda.

The new owners are keeping the company names and logos. “There’s a lot of continuity here,” Malof said.

Prentice is one of the largest office furniture and decorating firms in the area, competing with Millington Lockwood, certified dealers of the Herman Miller brand; Buffalo Office Interiors, carriers of the HON furniture line; and Mid- City Office Furniture, known for its Allsteel products.

Malof said the commercial office furniture market nationally has remained flat in recent years, but she believes Prentice has defied, and will continue to defy, that trend.

She pointed to recently completed, or ongoing, large-scale Prentice projects at Mentholatum Co., New Era Cap Co. and the new Catholic Health headquarters, and said higher education and health care are booming sectors for Prentice.

“Now we’re seeing a lot more activity,” Vogelsang said.