The Warsaw Voice » Other » Monthly - February 4, 2010
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Forefront of Furniture Design
Jarosław Lehwark, managing director of BoConcept in Poland, talks to Jolanta Wolska.

When did Danish furniture company BoConcept come to Poland?
The company was established in 1952 in Denmark, and we opened in Poland in 2000. We now have five stores in this country: two in Warsaw, one in Katowice, Sopot and Wrocław. The first four stores are ours, but the one in Wrocław is a franchise and we plan to grow through this method in future. This is the approach our mother company has taken all over the world, so it is natural for us in Poland to go the same way.

Have you noticed a difference in tastes and trends in Poland in comparison to other countries in Europe?
I would say our Polish tastes are a bit more conservative. Poles don't accept new trends as quickly, similarly to people in all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, whether it is the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria or Hungary. Design in this region is more conservative than in countries such as Germany, France and Spain and of course Denmark, which is at the forefront of design.

The Polish consumer is concentrated on the practicality of everyday objects and less on their design. Moreover, if he does look at design, he prefers a heavy piece of furniture, preferably from solid wood. Even the large Polish furniture producers and retailers have a majority of their products in dark colors. We are at the forefront with our white furniture.

The BoConcept chain has 300 shops all over the world and it is following worldwide trends. And the worldwide trend right now is to go for light, even white furniture-practical but not dominant. The room setting should be functional and decorative but not overwhelming.

Can people afford your furniture?
When we started in 2000 we were not very affordable for a large segment of the population. We have not reduced our prices, because we believe that the price is commensurate with the quality of furniture. For many years we have maintained our prices at the same level. Despite turbulence on the currency markets, we kept the same prices as in the previous year. Two years ago we increased our prices by 3 percent despite a drop in exchange rate by about 15 percent, and we had to compensate for those hikes by changes in our business approach.

Today, our client base has increased three- or four-fold, and it is growing very quickly. People's sensitivity to beauty in design is increasing and our society is becoming more affluent, even if this is not as fast as we would like. Yet our products are more affordable. In the past we often had several large orders from a small number of very wealthy clients around 50 years old and older, whereas today we have more orders which are smaller, but many of our clients are young professionals in their early 30s. They may not buy all their furniture at once, but they keep coming back. This means that we generally have a greater turnover.

BoConcept has a policy of giving back to the community. How is that done in Poland?
We work with interior design students, help them with information on furniture and design trends and on how to conduct business. It is a kind of mentoring of which we are quite proud. We also participate in various conferences; we see it as our mission to promote design and the quality of design and aesthetics of the environment and quality of living. That is still not that popular in Poland.

We also have a different management style. We are not solely geared towards profit, as much as we like it. We achieve our goals in cooperation with our staff . We have had zero turnover of staff in the last two years, excluding that caused by maternity leave or resettlement to another town. The atmosphere at work is such that these young, educated people are happy to stay with us, even though they could easily find employment elsewhere.