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AIS wants to sprint!

(As published in the MMQB, 2/7/2011. Click here to see the article and video.)

Affordable Interior Systems (AIS), is, in many ways, an unfinished painting or sculpture. There are so many things the company does well -- its manufacturing and customer service -- yet there are a few key pieces that are still on the palette waiting to reach the canvas.

And no wonder. The company is only 21 years old, a blink of an eye in an industry where companies like Steelcase are preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. That doesn’t mean the company or its experience should be taken lightly. It is a company with a chip on its shoulder, ready to go toe-to-toe with any rival on any project.

The company is not a design leader. It has just a few of its own systems furniture products and made its name mostly as a clone panel maker and before that, a refurbisher. Still, the company has lofty goals and a tenacious leadership that will settle for nothing less than a place at the table with the industry’s top firms.

“AIS has a corporate culture that wants to win, needs to win,” said Bruce Platzman, as he explained the company’s culture in his Boston accent while sitting in the company’s Hudson, Mass. headquarters, his office filled with Boston sports memorabilia. “We do have a chip on our shoulder.”

Larry Bird and Danny Ainge would be proud.

While the company admittedly doesn’t lead in design, it believes it does lead when it comes to delivering value and profits to its dealers. “Our customer is really our dealers,” he said. “Dealers that want to sell our products find that they receive value that exceeds the competition. A dealer today can make a lot more GP (gross profit) selling AIS than others in the industry. And they can go to sleep at night knowing they are going to get an on-time and high quality product that helps them grow their bottom line.”

It’s no surprise Platzman and his executive vice president of sales Rob Lazarus both come with a dealer background. Platzman’s career started at a Boston Steelcase dealer and later a Knoll dealership and Lazarus’ father owned a Southern California dealership. The dealer community comes first at AIS, executives said.

About 90 percent of AIS’ business is in systems furniture, yet only 20 percent comes from the clone systems that helped build the company. And therein lies a conundrum. To keep moving forward the company needs to expand its product offering. Its new Calibrate benching system is expected to fill a major hole. AIS also plans to acquire a seating maker when it finds the right fit, Platzman said.

“We need to diversify our product line,” he said. “Our seating business could be much broader than it is today. We want to make an acquisition. I think there will be further consolidation in the industry. I think all of us feel we can get heavily involved in task seating, which will open up some pull through business for us. It will be the same go to market with our panel systems.”

AIS has a unique mix of employees -- industry veterans combined with young up-and-coming home grown talent that fill the headquarters. The passion is palpable. “I always say to our sales people that it would be really easy if we were going up against a bunch of losers, but we’re not,” Platzman said. “You are not going to love coming to work today if you are not winning.”

The company has done a lot of winning since the doors Calibrate Freestanding opened in 1990. AIS has never had a year when it did not outperform the industry. Based on EBITDA, Platzman said the company is the most profitable in the industry. AIS gets calls from its competitors every few years who want to tour the company’s factories and find out just what’s going on there.

Using 2000 as a benchmark, the company has grown 225 percent. Sales have dipped along with the rest of the industry, but AIS has never had a quarter where it lost money. To be sure, the company’s pricing has helped it grow. But its consistent quality, aesthetics and function mean a lot too. “We have a great price, great service and quality products,” said executive vice president of sales Rob Lazarus.

Platzman started the company in 1990 with Arthur Maxwell after the office furniture industry in New England bottomed out. The duo decided to go into refurbishing and found a lot of used products in Colorado and flipped it, making a nice profit. Then opened a remanufacturing firm in downtown Boston dealing mainly in old Westinghouse panel products. The company got its big break in 1990 when Digital Equipment Corp. called and asked if the partners had any use for 10,000 Westinghouse workstations. There was no catch. Clear out the furniture and it was theirs for free. “That really helped get us off and running and gave us a tremendous inventory that would last us a few years,” Platzman said.

Early on, the company opened a facility in Boston in an old nine-story Army building that could literally withstand an atomic attack. They found the nine story building was a logistic nightmare as they tried to move product from floor to floor. They decided it was time to move. The company found a building in Hudson, Mass., about 45 minutes outside of Boston, in the early 1990s. The building had been built by a company that went out of business and never moved in. A New England business publication called the purchase the “Steal of the Year” because of the low price the company paid for it.

As the company grew, it quickly realized it couldn’t control its own destiny as a remanufacturer. They would always be subject to the ups and downs of the economy. If they happened to catch the right bid, the business thrived. But if the used market dried up, business was lean. Still, AIS grew into the largest remanufactuer in the industry.

And the industry took notice. The company was acquired by US Office Products in 1996 with the hope that AIS would gain access the the vast empire US Office Products had built and with the promise that AIS could create new products of its own. The company decided it would clone Herman Miller’s Action Office II and Steelcase’s Avenir because of the brand recognition of the two lines and the massive installed base. In 1995, the two systems products probably controlled 80 percent of the systems market share and the patents had run out.

As the US Office Products empire began to crumble, AIS management bought the company back for the same price they had sold it (and that’s after US Office Products had invested $5 million into the operation). Mike DuGalley was hired to take AIS’ platform national and he did.

By 2001, the company was expanding beyond New England and growing 30 percent to 40 percent a year. That’s when the company came up with its own systems product, Matrix. “AIS needed to get beyond the clone environment and take a leap of faith,” Platzman said. “This company is not afraid to take some risks, but we are risk averse. If it’s calculated risk, we’ll take it.”

2001 was a big year because J.D. Power selected AIS to supply its headquarters. J.D. Power looked at nine different workstations at the time. The company made the final two along with Herman Miller. Both companies were asked to do mock ups. AIS said it won the project because it was 20 percent less expensive with a shorter lead time, even though Herman Miller had a 20-year relationship with J.D. Power. “J.D. Power is associated with quality and customer satisfaction,” Lazarus said. “That was an important project for us.”

AIS completed a more somber job in 2001 as well. The company was instrumental in helping the federal government rebuild after the terrorist attacks. AIS received a call to help create a temporary workspace for the Department of Navy to relocate 2,300 work stations shortly after the attack. The 6-foot by 6-foot gray station needed to start shipping immediately. AIS started shipping them in 72 hours and finished the entire project in 30 days.

“Most of the people who work in our factory come from different countries,” Platzman said. “These guys were working seven days a week and they would bring in American flags to put on their lines. These are guys from Mexico and Puerto Rico and they were pulling together to help their adopted country. It gave me goose bumps.”

The company also experienced a major milestone in 2003 when it won the Shingo Prize for lean manufacturing excellence. Though almost every office furniture maker pushes for lean manufacturing, AIS has pushed it to the extreme, not only because it saves time and money, but because they must. Massachusetts is not known as a friendly place for factories. And many ask why AIS hasn’t moved to Mexico, or at least farther south. “I love it that we are not only competitive in a tough industry, we are successful in a state not known for manufacturing. But we are going to stay here,” Platzman said.

The company also has pushed forward with its environmental initiatives, becoming the first carbon neutral systems furniture maker in the industry in 2010.

AIS has grown by continue to move forward. It could have stayed a rock-solid remanufacturer or clone maker. Instead, it has pushed ahead and created a place in the market for itself, despite formidable competition. Don’t think for a minute the growth has stopped. AIS is going ahead full steam. Be careful if you get in its way.

Turner Sales Agencies Represents AIS, Covering Canada Markets

Hudson, MA – November 5, 2010 – AIS has formed a partnership with Mike Turner and Turner Sales Agencies to represent AIS in Canada, from Quebec to Alberta.

Turner holds over 25 years of industry experience which includes key management roles in the design/specification, dealership, and manufacturer segments of the industry in Canada. His recent role as the Canadian National Sales Manager for Allsteel provided strong experience in building dealer distribution, as well as major account development in both the private and public sectors. Turner most recently was a part of MDR Associates and has since branched out to start his own business.

ABOUT AIS: AIS is a rapidly growing manufacturer of commercial office furniture and boasts one of the most impressive stories of growth and success in the systems furniture market. The company is known for offering feature-rich product lines that entice designers and meet immediate and future needs of end-users while offering exceptional value. AIS is an innovator that leads the industry in sustainable, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. AIS employs 320 people, with over 500,000 sq. feet of manufacturing and operations at three locations. For more information, visit the AIS website at


AIS Receives OFDA Gold Manufacturer of the Year Award

Hudson, MA – June 14, 2010 – The Office Furniture Dealer Alliance (OFDA) presented AIS with the prestigious Gold, Non-Aligned Manufacturer of the Year award at NeoCon 2010. AIS has received recognition from OFDA for the past three years. In 2008, the company was awarded the Bronze, Non-Aligned Manufacturer of the Year award and in 2009, the Silver award.

Winning manufacturers are determined by the results of the Association’s annual OFDA Dealer Manufacturer Satisfaction Index Survey, a dealer poll designed to recognize best of class performance and topics of concern for the dealer community. This award represents excellence in six areas of performance including Training, Product Lines, Service and Support, Sales and Marketing, Management, and Technology, as voted on anonymously by dealers, given to both aligned and non-aligned companies.

“AIS is elated to win the Gold Manufacturer of the Year Award. For all of our talented people at AIS, it’s a testament that their hard work and efforts are truly noticed and they do make a difference. We are a company that prides itself on doing things a little differently. We aren’t afraid to implement change; we do it quickly and better than the rest. Our dealers appreciate this and we will do everything in our control to keep this precedent moving forward – it’s the AIS way,” said Rob Lazarus, EVP of Sales & Marketing.


The Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA) is the trade association for office furniture dealers and their trading partners. Founded in 1904, the Association provides vital research, information, government advocacy, training, and networking services to office furniture dealers. More information on OFDA resources is available at or by calling (800) 542-6672.


AIS is a rapidly growing manufacturer of commercial office furniture and boasts one of the most impressive stories of growth and success in the systems furniture market. The company is known for offering feature-rich product lines that entice designers and meet immediate and future needs of end-users while offering exceptional value. AIS is an innovator that leads the industry in sustainable, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. AIS employs 320 people, with over 500,000 sq. feet of manufacturing and operations at three locations.

AIS is the First Systems Manufacturer to Achieve CarbonNeutral® Status

Hudson, MA – 5/19/10 – AIS, a leading manufacturer of systems furniture, is proud to announce it has achieved CarbonNeutral® certification. AIS has strengthened its sustainability commitment by neutralizing unavoidable greenhouse gases produced in the manufacturing process at the company’s Hudson, MA facilities.

As the first systems manufacturer to make this strong commitment, AIS hopes to educate others and pave the way for increased responsible thinking in the contract furniture industry. “I firmly believe we all have to take responsibility for our CO2 footprint. The effects our future generations will endure due to social irresponsibility is avoidable. If we all join forces and take action, we can make a positive impact. By measuring and reducing our carbon emissions to net zero through carbon offsetting, we are enabling innovative, clean and renewable energy technologies to develop,” said Rob Lazarus, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, AIS.

To achieve CarbonNeutral® status, AIS is working with The CarbonNeutral Company, one of the world’s leading providers of carbon reduction solutions. The CarbonNeutral Company completed a program set out by The CarbonNeutral Protocol, the global standard for organizations to measure and reduce their carbon emissions to net zero. The program involved an independent assessment of the CO2 emissions produced from the manufacturing of AIS workstations in the Hudson, MA facilities. With this data, AIS was able to counter balance its emissions through carbon offsetting. This means that for every one tonne of CO2 that AIS produces, it pays to enable an equivalent amount of CO2 to be saved by an offset project somewhere else in the world. Without carbon financing, these projects would not be viable. Carbon financing also delivers added benefits at the project site, such as employment.

Mark La Croix, Executive Vice President of Business Development, The CarbonNeutral Company said, “By adopting a leadership position in achieving CarbonNeutral® certification, AIS is able to present a credible, low carbon alternative to customers seeking increasingly sustainable office furniture options.”

AIS has been an industry leader in implementing lean manufacturing philosophies. This commitment has led to receiving the Shingo Prize for lean excellence, as well as being recognized as one of the Top 25 manufacturing facilities by Industry Week Magazine. The company has instilled a philosophy of reducing waste from every possible aspect of its manufacturing streams, which include energy, greenhouse gases, raw materials and excessive man power. Because of this commitment, AIS is able to offer its products at a reduced cost with increased environmental attributes. After years of lean improvements throughout the company, it was a natural progression for AIS to begin researching and understanding its carbon footprint to offset the unavoidable emissions.

Continuing the lean and green journey, AIS is pulling its teams together to encourage employee-led Kaizens focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Kaizens are a part of AIS’ lean manufacturing philosophy. Kaizens are continuous improvements that identify and eliminate waste, helping us sustain natural resources and ultimately increase productivity. Encouraging our employees to think responsibly here in the workplace not only helps AIS but also educates our teams to utilize these tactics at home. It’s a way to help spread our message and make an impact beyond these four walls,” said Steven Savage, Chief Operating Officer, AIS.

To learn more about AIS’ CarbonNeutral® status, visit the AIS showroom at NeoCon – Suite 1082 or visit

Carbon Offsetting Projects:

AIS offsets its unavoidable emissions in three projects. The first being a forestry project in Mendocino County, California called the Big River/Salmon Creek Forests Project. The second, a methane capture project in Tieling, China, captures methane gas released in the coal mining process. The third, a renewable energy project, generates clean energy from 40 wind turbines in Mongolia, China.


AIS is a rapidly growing manufacturer of commercial office furniture and boasts one of the most impressive stories of growth and success in the systems furniture market. The company is known for offering feature-rich product lines that entice designers and meet immediate and future needs of end-users while offering exceptional value. AIS is an innovator that leads the industry in sustainable, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. AIS employs 320 people, with over 500,000 sq. feet of manufacturing and operations at three locations. For more information, visit the AIS website at


The CarbonNeutral Company ( is a world leading provider of carbon reduction solutions. It works with over 300 major businesses and hundreds of small and medium sized companies in 32 countries to develop offset inclusive carbon reduction programs. Since 1997, it has purchased carbon credits from over 300 projects across six continents.

CarbonNeutral® is the registered trademark of The CarbonNeutral Company and is a global standard to certify that businesses have measured and reduced their CO2 emissions to net zero for their company, products, operations or services. Permission to display the CarbonNeutral® mark is only given to clients whose carbon reduction program is implemented in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol. The Protocol assures the quality of offset projects, carbon footprint assessments and communication and is regularly reviewed by an Independent Advisory Group. The company’s ‘audit trail’ includes an annual independent verification of CarbonNeutral programs – from contracts with carbon offset partners to contracts with clients and everything in between.

The CarbonNeutral Company has offices in New York, London and Singapore, with a network of associates in Japan and UAE. The CarbonNeutral Company is a founding member of The International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA), which provides leadership and a unified voice advocating for rigorous industry standards (

AIS Partners with Moore Solutions to Develop Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee & Florida Panhandle Markets

Hudson, MA – March 16, 2010 – AIS has partnered with Moore Solutions, a well-known and respected independent firm to represent the AIS product line and further develop Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida Panhandle territories. Moore Solutions holds over 10 years of experience. The family-owned company has excelled at building and maintaining lasting dealer and A&D relationships.

“In our hunt for sales coverage for the Southern markets, the name Moore Solutions continued to surface. After reaching out to President and Principal Sam Moore, it was clear from the onset that this was the firm we’d hoped to find. Their sales strength and valuable relationships they’ve built over time make them the perfect fit. Moore Solutions will be a great partner to AIS, helping us to develop and cultivate the marketplace in these Southern states,” said Rob Lazarus, Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing, AIS.

Moore Solutions’ official start date with AIS is April 1. To learn more about Moore Solutions visit:


AIS is a rapidly growing manufacturer of commercial office furniture and boasts one of the most impressive stories of growth and success in the systems furniture market. The company is known for offering feature-rich product lines that entice designers and meet immediate and future needs of end-users while offering exceptional value. AIS is an innovator that leads the industry in sustainable, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. AIS employs 320 people, with over 500,000 sq. feet of manufacturing and operations at three locations. For more information, visit the AIS website at

AIS Provides Office Furniture for the Largest Build in ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition History

Hudson, MA – February 8, 2010 – AIS, has partnered with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (EMHE) to provide office furniture to a newly rebuilt school in Washington D.C. The amazing transformation will be aired Sunday, February 14th 9pm EST on ABC. The Emmy Award-winning reality TV series stormed the nation’s capital to rebuild The Fishing School which offers after school programs to children ages 6-13, empowering the youth to dream big and provides the tools to make those dreams a reality. AIS’ donation includes the office furniture for 3 floors and installation services, provided by Maryland Office Interiors. Interior Architects (IA) of Washington, DC provided the design and planning resources and all panel fabric was donated by DesignTex.

AIS’ donation includes over 24 Matrix Workstations, 3 Private Offices, 4 Teacher’s stations, 1 Conference Room Table, 43 Element Chairs, and 80 Storage units.

“The moment we heard about The Fishing School, our design team called AIS, as we were confident they could pull this off. From the space planning and design concept stages, to the production and install, AIS truly took the design and functionality of the new Fishing School to the next level. We are beyond grateful for their generosity, support and dedication to this amazing organization,” said Kim Lewis, Art Director, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

“This is the second time AIS has contributed to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. AIS is passionate about supporting its community. The Extreme build in Hawaii was such a success and inspiration for both the Keiki O Ka Aina Family and AIS, it was a simple decision to supply the requested donation of product and effort again to another encouraging project,” said Rob Lazarus, Executive Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AIS. “We also could not have done this without the teams at Interior Architects and Maryland Office Interiors who provided ground level support to ensure this is a perfect build from start to finish,” continues Lazarus.

In the 5th season premiere, AIS furnished over 20 office spaces in the rebuild of the Keiki O Ka Aina Family Learning Center located in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time, the assignment represented the most traveled distance and largest build in the history of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. AIS manufactured, delivered and installed 22 workstations from Boston to Honolulu, HI in a week. The current build in Washington D.C. with the Fishing School now represents the largest build to date.

About “The Fishing School”
The Fishing School is a nationally-recognized youth development organization that provides children and families with academic and parental support through its community-based centers located in Washington, DC. The philosophy of TFS is inspired by the adage, “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will feed himself for a lifetime.”

About AIS
AIS is a leading manufacturer of commercial and government office furniture and boasts one of the most impressive stories of growth and success in the systems furniture market. The company is known for offering feature-rich product lines that entice designers and meet immediate and future needs of end-users while offering exceptional value. AIS is an innovator that leads the industry in sustainability, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. To learn more about AIS visit:

About Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
The Emmy award winning reality program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” now in its 7th season, is produced by Endemol USA, a division of Endemol Holding. It’s executive-produced by Anthony Dominici. David Goldberg is Chairman, Endemol North America. The show airs Sundays from 8-9p.m., ET on ABC.

Media Contact: Erin Torres – Marketing Director – 978.562.7500 –

Sid Meadows Rejoins AIS as Regional Vice President of Sales

AIS announces the addition of Sid Meadows to the AIS sales team. Meadows will resume the role of Regional Vice President of Sales responsible for sales activity in the South Central, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida markets. Meadows was a previous employee at AIS for nearly 2 years responsible for the South Central market. During his employment he grew this developing region to unprecedented levels for AIS. To continue this trend, Meadows was rehired to further expand AIS’ presence and success.

“Sid is the kind of sales person we need to bring these emerging markets to new heights. His perseverance and hands-on work ethic will produce positive growth for AIS. We are happy to have him back and a part of the AIS team once again,” said Rob Lazarus, Executive Vice President of Sales, AIS.

Meadows holds over 16 years experience having worked for Haworth, Eisys and Innovative Office Solutions. His official start date is January 4, 2010.

AIS Promotes Rob Lazarus to Executive Vice President of Sales

AIS announces the promotion of Rob Lazarus to Executive Vice President of Sales. In his new role, Lazarus will be responsible for implementing sales strategies and working closely with AIS Senior Sales VPs, Regional Sales VPs, Territory Managers and Independent Sales Representatives to create growth centric marketing distribution plans and goals for each region.

With AIS for over 8 years, Lazarus previously worked in the roles of Senior Vice President of Sales and Regional Vice President of Sales for the Western Region of the United States. Offering over 20 years of experience at both the dealership and manufacturing levels, Lazarus excels at building a strong distribution network working with both direct and independent sales representatives. “Rob’s knowledge, passion and positive energy make him a valuable asset to the Executive Management team,” said Bruce Platzman, President/CEO, AIS.

“Over the years, Rob’s hard-work, perseverance and the passion to ‘make-it-happen’ have fueled AIS to strive and better ourselves as a company overall. His dedication to AIS and forward-thinking abilities make him the perfect fit for this role. We look forward to Rob leading the sales team into the future and expect great things from him”, said Platzman.

AIS to Exhibit at NeoCon East October 28-29 - Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD

AIS will exhibit at NeoCon East, the premier design exposition for commercial interiors with a focus on the Federal Government, October 28-29th at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD. The company will display its newest commercial office furniture system enhancements in booth #2123.

This year AIS will feature its Matrix product line with integrated benching components for an updated modern look that addresses the need for enhanced storage and guest seating space in a modest footprint. AIS’ most cost-efficient product line, DiVi, will also be present illustrating the system’s strengths and aesthetic options.

Making its debut at NeoCon East, the AIS Technical Table will available for demonstration and customer feedback. The Technical Table features enhanced electrical and data capacity and is offered at an attractive price point; it is ideal for Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity applications.

For more information and registration details for NeoCon East, visit:

AIS to Exhibit at OFDA 2009 Dealer Strategies Conference October 4-6 - Austin, TX

AIS will exhibit at the OFDA (The Office Furniture Dealer Alliance) 2009 Dealer Strategies Conference October 4-6 at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort and Spa in Austin, TX. The company will display its Matrix frame and tile panel system enhancements in booth # 13.

AIS has been a long-time supporter of OFDA. Earlier this year, OFDA presented AIS with the prestigious Silver, Non-Aligned Manufacturer of the Year award at NeoCon 2009. This marked the second consecutive year the company received recognition. AIS is the only systems manufacturer recognized in 2008 and 2009.

For more information and registration details for the OFDA 2009 Dealer Strategies Conference visit: