Founded over 75 years ago, SCC Member and Patron Kinnarps is today one of Europe’s leading suppliers of workplace solutions. Originally from Kinnarp in Sweden, the family-owned company is the home of Scandinavian office furniture. It is a household brand in Sweden and yet not as known in the UK. The LINK spoke to Ashley Hayward, Managing Director of Kinnarps UK, about the Kinnarps story, the re-designed showroom in London and the pros of having a well-thought-out working environment.
Kinnarp, where it all began
It was in the small locality of Kinnarp, located in Västra Götaland County, Sweden, where Evy and Jarl Andersson founded Kinnarps in 1942. A lot has happened over the decades and one of the milestones for the company was when it went on to launch in London in 1974, establishing itself on the export market. Today Kinnarps sells its products in over 40 countries and the headquarters is still located in Kinnarp.
Ashley Hayward, Managing Director of Kinnarps
Ashley Hayward joined Kinnarps in 1994 as a sales support staff member and has undertaken a variety of roles, through Sales Account Manager and Sales Manager, until his appointment as Managing Director in January 2017. Ashley says that from his first trip to Kinnarps in the mid-90’s to his most recent business meeting only last month, he still finds the factory a fascinating place to visit. “From the moment you land at Gothenburg airport you see our products in use everywhere from passport control to the car rental service centres. Then, after a short drive (in Swedish terms), you arrive in the town of Kinnarp where you are able to purchase “Kinnarps pizza” and homewares from the Kinnarps gift shop. When you visit Kinnarps it makes you feel part of something quite special.”
Kinnarps with the soft K
Ashley points out that the Swedes are a proud nation who value a company’s history and roots, something that Kinnarps has in spades. He says that the heritage of Kinnarps, like most large Swedish companies, is an important factor in the home market. When it comes to the UK, he thinks that the outlook is more international, with speed and dexterity as the most sought-after values. He explains that current reputation is much more important. “There is an emphasis on evaluating recent experience and past glories are less relevant. The difficulty can be how to appear and remain current without relying on the past.”
According to Ashley the majority of people in Kinnarps’ marketplace know they are Swedish, but the brand as a whole is less well known by the average facilities manager who they target in the UK. “In the UK we are only known by those who work in the workplace interiors community, be it facilities, procurement or design. Many years ago, we did debate whether to pronounce Kinnarps with a hard ‘K’ when speaking but found that customers actually enjoyed being ‘in the know’ and the Swedish pronunciation with the soft K was a ‘secret’ that people liked knowing or discovering.”
Family-owned Swedish business with a deep heritage
“Our founder once said, ‘I never meant for it to get so big’, which I think shows the humility and unassuming nature of a Swedish business with a deep heritage. In many ways, we are lucky to be able to take the best of Swedish culture and stir it in with our UK values, resulting in a unique and appealing ethos that is manifested in low staff turnover and many long-serving employees,” says Ashley.
Regarding ‘Brand Sweden’, Ashley thinks it is certainly a good thing when it comes to topics such as sustainability, ergonomics and wellbeing. Topics that are of significant importance for the Kinnarps business. “There’s a clear acknowledgement that Sweden is ahead of the curve; a credibility that when we say we excel at these topics it is, of course, true.”
The Workplace House
In London, Kinnarps has recently launched Workplace House, their re-designed showroom where the benefits of an agile working environment are showcased. To make the dream of Workplace House come true, Kinnarps worked with like-minded suppliers. “I had wanted to break out from the expensive ‘showroom of static furniture pieces model’ for some time and was delighted when the opportunity came knocking,” says Ashley. He describes an agile working environment - or activity-based working - as the go-to solution for companies looking to find efficiencies in their property costs and/or improve the experience for their employees. He explains that agile working has many benefits including releasing expensive floor space whilst giving employees a more attractive working environment; allowing companies to grow without the need to take on more property; or getting teams to work more collaboratively and improving the workplace experience. “There’s a host of reasons and related benefits to consider, but it starts with an organisation’s goals and strategy, something we use Workplace House to help us extract and define,” says Ashley.
However, he also points out that this is not the only option. “Our Next Office consultancy process is designed to help organisations find the right solution for them. This could mean ‘going agile’ but could lead them to take a more conservative workplace design route. Every client is unique, so we have no off-the-shelf answer. We work with clients to discover what will fit their individual needs and specifically help drive their business.” Workplace House is also a living example of co-working and through it Kinnarps is able to demonstrate in a real setting how its products play its part. “Whether commercially sold as co-working spaces or simply designed as such within large corporate entities, the move to sharing space, choosing from a mix of settings and rubbing shoulders with other professionals is the key driver to designing workspaces today,” says Ashley.
Well-thought-out working environments
Kinnarps is continuously working with communicating how a well-thought-out working environment has an impact on being happy at work, creativity, productivity and health. Even though there is a great deal of research and discussion around the topics of workplace design in relation to creativity and productivity of employees, Ashley thinks that some of the communication is often ‘preaching to the converted’.
Ashley explains: “As with all new thinking, the front curve of adoption is to those keen to take on new ideas, who are hungry and actively seeking out what you’re proposing. That’s the low-hanging fruit in salesman’s terms. The challenge is to get the message to the next level – the vast majority of businesses all striving to grow and adapt to a changing world as best they can. We often find guests will come to Workplace House to see products but will soon be discussing their workplace strategy or the challenges they face. Our showroom often acts as a series of prompts that opens dialogue far beyond simply furniture.”
Ashley emphasises that their clients want them to support their business in the near future and help drive change and success. He believes that Kinnarps will only succeed if they challenge and listen. Ashley says: “I like the phrase ‘as a consequence of what we do, we happen to sell some furniture’. It describes our approach to customers… we look beyond furniture to ask why it is needed and how it is used.”
This article was originally published in the April 2019 issue of our Member Magazine, the LINK. Read the full issue here.
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