Big dreams for furniture business

Growing a national furniture and homewares retail group isn't easy when the category is suffering. But Anton Assaad, founder of Great Dane, is optimistic about the 'artisan' end of the market. Apart from getting fired up about his iconic Scandanavian designers, one of his biggest finds, he says was working with a professional coach to improve his business.
When Anton met Domonique Bertolucci, of Success Strategies, two years ago as a result of his wife's urging, he realised that he needed to work smarter, not harder.''I drove everything myself, but as Domonique said, you can only go so far on pure energy and at some point, you need strategies and so I learned to buy strategically.'' As a result, he and his team started to systemise Great Dane's stock.' 'The question was how could you grow on vintage furniture one-offs - on a multi-store basis? How can you have a consistent stock flow.''
So we built a showroom offer in which 30% and 40% stock is the same but customised; between 30% and 40% is vintage; and 20% (of the stock) are one-offs.''Buying (furnishings) had to have set costs and I had to know my margin - and that empowered me to move the business (to the next stage).''
It all began back in 2002 when Anton risked his life's savings on buying a consignment of vintage Danish-designed furniture, sight-unseen. He then rang a long-lost cousin in Spain and asked him to fly over to Denmark and check it out. It just so happened that the cousin was thinking of a similar venture and had already shipped in furniture.''I was sitting in a grotty warehouse and in the first month, I'd written a business plan and I knew I wanted to do these products new.''I knew that this would appeal because they would be still made by the same factories as 50 years ago.
The customers tend to be well-heeled older couples who have the money to spend because the furniture isn't cheap: on average, shoppers may drop $10,000 in one visit.'' A lot of people who deal in this mid-20th Century stuff have a trader mentality; I see it as very special.''You don't buy furniture to have it for a year; it's a lifetime purchase. We really believe that and it's a testament to our business.''
Anton's wife Emma became the marketing manager two years ago and the couple have a plan which they review together annually ''and that is one of the best things I've done - it's flexible but there's goals and directions,'' Assaad added.''And it allows the staff to see where we're going in terms of investment in new stock and the gaps in the vintage market we need to fulfil - it allows us to take it to the next level of four to six shops in two to three years time.''

Assaad usually travels four times a year to Denmark to meet with the original designers and sometimes their families. If they're still alive, the designers are aged 80 and over and have to be convinced about getting their old designs back into production.''There's a certain language you have to have to deal with the Danes,'' he explained.''You have to be direct in an indirect manner; rather than saying `I need to this done'. It's more about: `I'd like to do that.'''''You need to have a cross cultural understanding; otherwise, you can end up somewhere you don't want to be. That's true for any culture.''
Recently, he tracked down yet another elderly mid-20th Century Danish designer Arne Voda, who ''wasn't a well known designer in Denmark but did some extraordinary work''. Assaad has started production of a few 'beautiful' pieces to add to his collection.''The most wonderful thing is that now we're working with him and a tiny cabinet maker and another young guy in Denmark and .. that's the most exciting thing I've done in the past 12 months.''
And it's this passion for the culture and significance of design that his clients also buy into. ''If you look back at the period of the 1950s, there were 7,000 cabinet makers in Denmark so there were many other designers who were just as good as the masters - and that's the group we look at. ''

Great Dane has stores in Melbourne, Sydney and, Brisbane and owns a local workshop. The business is quite labour intensive but sustainable. Because of the workshop, we provide a standard of restoration only done by two companies in the world. Most people are amazed by what we do and how much time is spent. That's the big part of our passion to provide the best quality. The restoration cycle is also systemised; they do certain products every six weeks it's much more efficient and productive than three years ago.

Assaad says he's had offers to take Great Dane offshore and he already exports to US, New Zealand and Asia from the website. He's trying not to panic about the state of the Aussie dollar since part of being an importer is coping with fluctuations; some of his dealings are hedged but not the rising freight prices.''Come the New Year, most businesses will restructure prices but there's no point panicking now. We have to see what will happen.''

1 comment:

James said...

Wow, sounds like a real passion. I will never look at furniture in the same way again - it is for life. Thanks for that posting, I got a lot out of it.