When Unisource Solutions opened its doors in 1987, little did Jim Kastner know his hustle would become a stalwart in the commercial office furniture industry. It began with a big idea and a warehouse. To celebrate our 35th year anniversary, we take a look back.
Jim and Ken Kastner hail from the commercial furniture industry. In the ’70s, their father was one of the largest Steelcase dealers in California. The sons joined the family business delivering products, unloading trucks, and installing furniture systems, including building out cubicles, which concept was in its infancy. In fact, the Kastners helped the cubicle concept gain widespread popularity. It began when they assembled one of the first Steelcase panels ever manufactured, which paved way for this newest workspace sensation. To ride the wave, the family business joined forces with Steelcase to sell the cubicle concept to companies. The business took off with the two generations selling and installing a sea of workstations — 8x8 cubicles as far as the eye can see!
When their father sold the business in the early ’80s, Jim saw an opportunity to shake up the transactional business model of “sell and deliver" products. Up to that point, traditional furniture dealers were focused on moving as much product as possible with little concern about making the process seamless for clients. Facility operators had to piecemeal their orders, calling 4-5 different dealers to fully outfit their offices. But Jim was not your typical mover. He understood the pain points of not being able to access excess inventory and get it redeployed effectively. Eureka!
In 1987, Jim founded Unisource Solutions in Montebello, California, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The big idea: Offer bundled services. He pioneered the concept of furniture management — providing procurement on top of moving, warehousing, reconfiguring product, and installation services, and later, product sourcing and customization. Now, customers only had to make one telephone call. We would do the rest.
“At the time, furniture management was a business school concept,” said Jim. “None of our competitors offered a one-stop shop for commercial furniture needs. We figured it would be a lot easier for clients to deal with one company.”
Our first client was Union Bank who asked us to move all their product into our warehouse. They came to Jim because they saw our systems from the “dad days”. So with about 6-7 old-timers, we were off and storing. Eventually, Union Bank utilized our bundled services, and to this day, we’re still doing work with them.
In the early 90s, Haworth came to us, specifically to support Northrop Grumman, another customer who is still with us today. To scale, Ken joined as co-founder, overseeing the furniture side of the business. We’re proud to say, we are a repeated best-in-class Haworth dealer, an honor reserved for a few.
Surviving the Booms and Busts
We expanded to San Francisco in 1992, went through the .com bubble in 1994, the financial crisis in 1997, a restructuring, and the 2020 pandemic. In 2021, we refocused our efforts on greater Los Angeles. Along the way, we introduced a custom in house inventory system created by our own CTO where clients can visually see and manage or request delivery or re-design of the inventory to re-fit their space. This allowed us to execute projects quickly and gave us leeway to further develop our vast service infrastructure to handle clients’ needs no matter the economic situation. By adapting and meeting our clients where they were, we were able to sustain the ups and downs.
Pivoting to Design
Around 2015, we had another "aha" moment. The workplace was changing and we needed to be agents of change. As we saw a shift towards organizations needing more custom solutions to attract and retain talent, we expanded our bundle to include furniture customization, and in 2018 launched Platform as a Unisource-owned furniture brand. We went from strictly product sourcing to product development.
“We’re always looking for ways to add value to our customers,” said Jim. “By listening and focusing on their needs, we are able to come up with creative solutions which have made us incredibly resilient.”
Launching Platform gave us a seat at the design table and clients an avenue to express their brands. Now, we’re able to help companies create a unique sense of place where employees want to come to work.
While creative thinking drives our company, it’s the people who sustain us. We are passionate about building relationships and cultivating growth. And we’ve been able to do so by growing leaders from within. Many of our team members start at entry level and their tenure becomes lifelong. We still have a few employees that started with the firm who have shaped the company we are today.
Rooted in family values — building trust, being reliable, being fair — we’ve been able to attract a diverse team who come to us from all different backgrounds and levels of expertise. This diversity in thought, and life and work experience, has fed our creative process — the key to an engaged workforce and project team.
"As we celebrate 35 years of success, we are proud of the traditions and the business we have built." Says Jamal Nasserdeen, COO. "Unisource Solutions’ growth mindset approach and agility will always be the core of our business. Our future will continue to be built off of our past. We will remain focused, with an emphasis on always learning, always being curious, and most importantly always doing what’s right for our people, our clients, and our partners. Our community. The future holds endless possibilities, and it is up to us to seize them. Let's continue to be driven by a spirit of success and a desire to innovate. Let's together, as a community in this industry, be bold and daring to achieve new heights together. We’re excited to continue building a bright and successful future for the next 35 years!"
Workplace Services Provider
Over our 35-year history, we have adapted to the rapidly changing workplace environment, expanded our offerings, and nurtured a culture of excellence. While the road wasn’t always defined, Jim’s vision was to create a company rooted in innovation, industry expertise, excellent customer service, committed to learning, and family values. These pillars continue to differentiate our company today. As a result, we were able to shake up the commercial furniture sector with simple solutions, bettering our communities and the places in which we work. Through hard work and dedication, we have become one of the most comprehensive and trusted workplace services providers in the region.
Today, we are a 200-employee company providing our bundled services to clients throughout Southern California. Thank you to our employees, manufacturers, and clients for being part of our journey and making us the company we are today. We are proud of who we are and look forward to the future!