Copyright© 1995 Rajah Dodger
All rights reserved, except that electronic not-for-profit reproduction rights only are explicitly granted with the stipulation that this authorship and permission note must remain attached.
"I don't know how you find them, Thomas", my visitor commented. "I've never seen a quieter secretarial pool in any of the offices I've surveyed this year. What's your secret?"
"Ergonomics," I said mildly. "It's all in providing a proper work environment conducive to productivity. Special desks, special chairs, that sort of thing."
"Well, Mr. Porlock, I must say if the rest of your operation is as impressive as this, the home office will have no trouble approving your expansion plans."
I smiled to myself. Sheila Manderly would find nothing on the rest of the tour to object to. Just as well that she didn't seem to be interested in the details of just how "special" some of that furniture was...
Six months ago I had been contemplating bankruptcy. I had the busiest import-export firm on the Gulf coast but my back office couldn't keep up with the activity. Companies were being misbilled, shipments were lost and customers were getting more and more unhappy. Further, my personnel costs were going out the window even though I kept having to replace trained workers (who left for better paying jobs) with new, cheap help.
Then I saw the ad in the back of the paper. It was barely noticeable in the Furniture For Sale group. "Women's Chairs -- special design for motivation. $325 each, ask for Sondra." That and a phone number. Something about the wording of the ad piqued my interest.
Sondra had a low, whiskey-tinged voice on the phone, and gave me directions to a warehouse building on the east side of town. I pulled my 4x4 into the dirt parking lot and went up to knock on the door. Before my knuckles could hit the metal, the door swung open. A sultry redhead in a loose-fitting jumpsuit greeted me. "Cal? I'm Sondra. Won't you come in?" I followed her into a forlorn office space, and sat down on an old wooden chair while she perched on the edge of the desk.
"What are you looking for," she inquired. Well, I wasn't totally sure but I found myself telling her about my business and the problems I was having. "So you see, the word you used to describe those chairs -- motivation -- sounded like it might be helpful. Although I must say $325 sounds a little on the high side."
She looked me over for a few minutes, and finally commented, "For some people it would be high. For the right customers, though, it's cheap at the price. Let's go see a demonstration."
She got up and headed through the back door into the warehouse as I wondered how you "demonstrate" a chair.
The warehouse was dim and echoed with the sounds of ancient air compressors dying in the southern heat. She moved quickly around several areas where I noticed woodworking equipment, a plastic extruder and some unfamiliar machine tools. Quiet women working industriously occupied most of these areas. We stopped at a desk with a "Bookkeeping" nameplate. The woman there had her fingers flying over the keys of an adding machine. Sondra interrupted her. "Janice, I have a customer here -- would you please take a break?" A strange look -- of pleading? -- passed over the bookkeeper's face, and she mumbled something like "yes, ma'am" while she totaled her tape and set down her pencil.
The woman pushed her chair back and stood up, straightening her skirt, then walked to one side of the desk. "Check it out," Sondra invited me. I walked around the desk and looked at the chair. To all appearances it was a fairly standard issue office chair, casters, adjustable seat. The seat cushion was of some unfamiliar material, and didn't have the stiff feel I normally associate with office furniture. I sat down in the chair and rolled it up to the desk.
Now I began to see some difference. Without having to make any adjustments, I found myself at an optimum height for working. The back of the chair seemed to find the small of my back automatically. When I leaned back away from the desk, the chair supported me in a comfortable position, but not one where I'd easily fall asleep. I looked at Sondra, who had an enigmatic smile on her face. "I can see where you might go $200 for this," I remarked, "whatever you have here is better than anything else I've seen in the market. But I can't see $325."