PITTSFIELD — If Bruce Springsteen was born to run, then Dan Proskin was born to sell.
When Proskin was younger, the Pittsfield native sold cameras and shoes. He now designs office spaces and sells furnishings as president of BBE Office Interiors, a business that was founded 70 years ago and has been in the Proskin family since the late 1980s.
Dan caught the sales bug when he was 10, while watching his father, Rob Proskin, run the business. Proskin learned so much, so fast, that, two years later, he felt comfortable enough to show customers around the showroom.
He became vice president of BBE in 2013 and officially became the company’s president in January, when his father retired. Father and son oversaw BBE’s move from downtown Pittsfield to outer East Street in 2016.
We spoke to Proskin recently about why he loves to sell, what he loves about furniture, and how the constant changes in technology have affected the way office spaces are designed.
QPeople probably wonder if there’s anything sexy about selling office furniture. What’s your opinion?
AI’m a furniture nerd, and you can print that. I think furniture is fun. Every space presents its own challenges. ... We’ve had people throw a tiny closet at us and tell us, “Hey, we need five people in it.”
Solving a project like that is a lot of fun to me. I love the changing design elements of office furniture. ... I love to see what a factory is going to do next to keep the interest of an interior design firm and how we can use that at BBE to open the eyes of our clients and show them some of the things that can be done.
I love to see what the designers are moving towards next as far as fabrics, finishes, colors, things like that.
QWhy did you make sales your career?
AI was interested from the time I was a 10-year-old boy in what my dad was doing. ... It’s been in my blood since I was a young kid.
QWhat makes selling so attractive?
AIt’s exciting. It’s something different, new, every day. Quite simply, it’s a learning process. ... When I was a kid, there was a lot of knocking on doors with catalogs. It’s turned more into having to call and make an appointment and sit down with people. In today’s world, it’s even using a Zoom meeting to get hold of people.
We’ve had to continue to innovate to get in front of people. It’s an exciting process for me. I continue to work with a pretty talented team to kind of prepare this company for the future.
QHow has technology changed the business of designing office spaces?
AThings were a lot different than they are now.
When I first went as a kid, they were still doing graph drawings of people’s offices. ... Dad would bring them home. They would have templates for desks that the factories would give you, and he would draw in the desks where they would go inside the walls on graph paper. Then he would go back and make a presentation and someone would say, “I want to move this desk to the other side of the room,” and he would go back and redo the whole thing.
So, he took the company from that to basically upgrading us to what was, at the time, the state-of-the-art office CAD software, called GIZA. ... The difference between GIZA and the autocad that an engineer uses is that when we’re placing furniture, we’re placing actual furniture components into a drawing. It’s not just the drawing of a desk. It’s actually the brand that you’re buying, and everything fits like a glove when you install it.
Google SketchUp allows us to take an office from a two-dimensional line drawing into a three-dimensional rendering so that it looks realistic. ... As an example, when we did Williams College’s new admissions facility, their building was basically just in the ground and we were doing a full-blown virtual tour walk-through of their building about what it was going to look like in reality at that moment.
QSo, this technology really puts you ahead of the game?
A: Yes, and it’s really realistic, too. In fact, with a lot of my manufacturers, their catalogs are actually renderings. It’s not actually the real chair in there. You can’t even tell that you’re looking at a computer. ... Our new website that is going to launch in the next 30 to 45 days will open doors for us into new markets. ... It’s going to have that big-city feel about it, but still our service level is mom and pop.
QWhy did your father buy BBE?
AMy dad always wanted to run his own business. He’s made that clear since I was a little kid. As a young adult, he did work for a lot of larger companies, including a home furnishing company, but he never wanted to be part of the corporate work field. Bill Pomerantz (who founded the company in 1950) gave him the opportunity to join what was then Berkshire Business Equipment (in 1977; Rob Proskin became Pomerantz’s business partner in 1983, before buying the company).
He rebranded it BBE Office Interiors. Berkshire Business Equipment really doesn’t say a lot about what we do now. At the time, we did dabble in office supplies, and in some equipment, like copiers and printers and things.
My dad realized pretty quickly in the late ‘80s that superstores like Staples were quickly taking over that element. There was no way to compete with that, so we rebranded the company and chose to focus on the service element of the office furniture side of the business, which was a very smart move on his part. ... [The superstores] work on such slim margins, beating themselves up every day.
If we had stayed in that arena, we would have been clobbered fast.
QHow has the move from downtown Pittsfield to East Street affected your business?
ALet me preface this by saying I miss downtown Pittsfield. There were a lot of nice things about working in downtown Pittsfield, including the exposure it gave us being around the restaurants and the shops at lunch hours and things like that. But, it also presented a lot of challenges for our company.
The biggest one was that our company was under multiple roofs. We had a building downtown and we had a warehouse complex, actually two warehouse complexes, on Dalton Avenue. ... It was really difficult to do business that way. ... Although we still have a warehouse on Dalton Avenue, we have only one employee who manages it over there and everyone else is under the floor here on East Stree. That’s helped us immensely.
QWe already have ergonomic chairs. You can work at your desk now standing up. What do you think office furniture is going to look like in 20 years?
AI wish I knew the answer to that. But, all I can say is, our industry never ceases to amaze me every single year. ... It’s really going to depend on what technology looks like 20 years from now. ... I wish I had a time machine to go and see because I can’t wait to see what 20 years from now is going to look like.