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Buying Cubicles: How to Choose the Right Ones

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Cubicles have long been a staple of the workplace.

First developed by designer Robert Propst for the Herman Miller furniture company in the 1960s, the cubicle, which was dubbed the Action Office then, was the world's first open-plan modular system of panels and attaching components. They were created to provide workers with some privacy and autonomy while doing their work each day.

Eventually companies realized that not only did cubicles provide their workers with an area of their own, they also saved office space by allowing the company to house more employees than they could if they all had private offices.

While some companies today are transitioning back to a more open-work environment, the cubicle still remains a popular option.

When buying cubicles, businesses have two main options. There are monolithic cubicles, where the walls are solid from top to bottom, and segmented or tile frame cubicles, where the walls are comprised of different tiles.

"The monolithic is usually justa fabric wall that could have a glass topper on it," said Mitchell Kirsch, founding principal of Cubicles.com. "With the tile frame system you can mix tiles, fabric and glass."

While those are the two main style options, businesses have a wide range of choice in sizes and features that they want  in their cubicles, such as storage space or electrical hookups. Additionally, there is the choice of buying new, used, refurbished or remanufactured cubicles.

"There are as many different types of cubicles as there are businesses," said Michelle Swanger, owner of Cube Solutions. "There are many manufacturers and each has different lines of cubicles that offer certain styles and finishes."

Since there is such a wide variety of cubicle sizes and features, Kirsch often compares buying cubicles to buying cars.

"You can drive a Fiat, a Ford or a Ferrari, and it's pretty much the same thing in the cubicle industry," Kirsch told Business News Daily. "[Tile frames] are more of the Ferraris and the monolithic are more of the Fords."

Editor’s Note: Considering buying cubicles for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:


Cubicle size and features

When it comes to size, cubicles can be configured in a wide variety. They range from cubicles that are just 3 feet wide by 3 feet long, to cubicles that can be as wide as 12 feet long and 12 feet wide.

"Cubicles are actually made up of many different components – panels, work surfaces, filing and storage, connectors, etc., that can be put together in ways that work for your office," Swanger said. "The same components that make up a small 4' by 2' workstation can be put together to make a large 8' by 8' workstation."

Tom Loughney, owner of CubicleDepot, said it is important to note that the tile frame walls are slightly larger than the monolithic ones, so that needs to be factored in when planning out an office.

"The frame tiles are thicker," he said. "So in essence the frame and tile [look] is going to take up more space."

Determining which size cubicle is needed really depends on what the employees working in them are doing, according to Loughney.

"What does each person do," he asked. "Are they paper-heavy or more techy and mostly on a computer?"

Answering these types of questions will help a business determine which size cubicle is right for their space. Swanger said generally speaking, telemarketing employees typically need a smaller footprint, a 3 foot by 3 foot or 4 foot by 2 foot, with no more than one file cabinet. Administrative employees, on the other hand, will typically need more space, such as a 6-foot-by-6-foot or a 5-foot-by-5-foot cubicle with one or two filing cabinets, and maybe a shelf. 

Kirsch said since most offices are comprised of employees doing different jobs, the cubicles a business buys don't all have to be the same size or shape.

"You can mix and match depending on what your square footage allows and the type of work that will be done," he said.

Another consideration when choosing cubicles are what features are they going to have.  The main options are how high the walls will be, how much storage space will be added in and whether or not there will be an electrical hookup.

Kirsch said that if a business is only having a handful of cubicles that are all up against a wall and near a power outlet, then they can probably just plug them straight into an outlet using a surge protector. However, when more cubicles are involved, they will probably need to have an electrical hookup built in.

In this option, power lines are run from the office straight into the cubicles and are hidden either underneath or inside the cubicle. Either choice allows computers and other electrical items to be plugged straight into an outlet that's built into the cubicle.

"If you are putting in 25 cubicles and they're not near a wall, then you to have to integrate power into the cubicle," Kirsch said.

Swanger said she always recommends businesses choose cubicles with an electrical hookup.

"As a general rule of thumb, the cubicles should always be configured with integrated electrical," Swanger said. "This allows for the safest and easiest use of power in each cubicle."

The size of the walls is also a choice businesses have when buying cubicles. Swanger said businesses should consider how their employees interact when making the decision. 

"If they work together most of the time, short panel walls may be preferable," she said. "If privacy is an issue, taller panels may be the best answer."

Another top option is how much storage space the cubicle will have.  Choices include overhead bins, file cabinets and shelves.

New versus used

Besides the size, shape and features of a cubicle, businesses also have the option of buying new, used, refurbished or remanufactured cubicles. Each comes with its own pros and cons.

The upside to buying new cubicles is that they will be built exactly to a business's specifications, which include the sizes, fabric and work surface colors, Kirsch said.

"If you buy new, whatever you want you can get," Kirsch said.

However, new cubicles are significantly more expensive than the other options.

"New cubicles are three times the price of refurbished," Loughney said.

For example, a new 8-foot-by-8-foot cubicle could cost $3,500, compared with $1,200 to $1,500 for a refurbished one, according to Loughney.

Used and refurbished cubicles are the cheapest options. Used cubicles are those that have already been used by another business and are sold to a new company as is.  Refurbished cubicles have also been used by another company, but have been cleaned up before being resold.

"We steam clean it and then touch up the paint," Loughney said of their refurbished cubicles.

Loughney believes businesses that buy used cubicles are sending a positive message to its employees.

"You are repurposing something," he said. "You are showing your employees that you are responsible financially and environmentally."

Kirsch said with used cubicles, businesses have to take what's available in size and color. He said since they are saving on the costs, they can't be as picky about details as they can be when buying new.

"If you have flexibility, then used cubicles are a great option," Kirsch said.

Swanger said businesses must be careful when buying used cubicles to ensure they are getting what they want.

"They will rarely be available in the exact configuration you need for a particular office," she said. "Often this means additional costs because extra components must be purchased." 

Swanger said another downside of used cubicles is that after buying some, growing companies will often have a hard time finding the exact same ones when they need more.

"It is often difficult or impossible to match the manufacturer, fabric and paint colors as your company grows," Swanger said. "Businesses that purchase used cubicles often end up with a hodgepodge of used furniture."

The other option is remanufactured cubicles.  These are used cubicles that are stripped down to the metal core and rebuilt. After being stripped down, new fabric, work surfaces and paint are put on.

The benefit of remanufactured cubicles is that they are priced less than new ones. Kirsch said there is a big cost savings because the metal core doesn't have to be rebuilt. He believes remanufactured cubicles are just as a good as new ones.

"Remanufactured has the same flexibility and customization [options] as new," Kirsch said. "An uneducated eye could not tell the difference."

Buying cubicles

When buying cubicles, businesses have a wide range of sellers to choose from. When deciding on a cubicle provider, there are a number of factors businesses should take into consideration.

Kirsch said since there is a such a wide range of cubicles and options, the most important factor is to find a seller who knows what he is doing, has a variety of cubicles to offer and can give a business what they need.

"You want to find someone who has a track record and has proven their abilities in the marketplace," Kirsch said.

Loughney said a business in the market for cubicles should also find a seller that can help map out their https://www.businessnewsdaily.com to ensure the cubicles they want will fit in it.  He said many cubicle providers offer space planning services that include office renderings.

"You don't just want a 2D rendering, but a 3D rendering, so you can get an idea of what the space will look like it," Loughney said.

It is also important to consider price when selecting a cubicle provider. Swanger said businesses want to make sure that they are being quoted prices based on the total number they are buying and not just on a per cubicle basis.

"A 'per cubicle' price can be misleading and will change based on the configuration," Swanger said. "A pod of cubicles will cost less than the same cubicles in a line because the pod shares common panels."

Swanger also said businesses want to make their decision based on an installed price, since that too can vary.

"Installation pricing will vary depending upon your location, timing and building conditions," Swanger said. "Some companies will charge a competitive price for the product, but charge an excessive amount for installation."

When shopping for cubicles, it is also important to factor in how long it will take to build and ship the cubicles.  Swanger said it typically takes three to four weeks to build and ship a cubicle order and another few days to ship them.

"Even if you use a local dealer, the cubicles are seldom manufactured or assembled locally," she said. "If you don't start out looking for cubicles 2-3 months before you need them, you may find yourself pressed for time."

In the end, a new cubicle including delivery starts at approximately $350 and goes up from there.

"The cost depends on the dealer, size, configuration and accessories you choose," Swanger said.

Editor’s Note: Considering buying cubicles for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:


Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has spent more than 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.