As Director of Sales, Asia, Jean Paul de la Haye takes us through the product design and business strategies that have led to Wilkhahn’s growth in this region.
Wilkhahn has been involved in many significant projects in Asia including Hong Kong International Airport (with over 16,000 seats), CIMB in Kuala Lumpur, and Rolls-Royce in Singapore, just to name a few. With a strong and growing product portfolio, which includes the much publicised Graph chair, we take the opportunity to speak with the company’s Director of Sales, Asia, Jean Paul de la Haye, to find out more about Wilkhahn’s design and business leadership both internationally and here in Asia.
You have been with Wilkhahn for six years now – starting as Project Consultant and moving up the ranks to your current position as Director of Sales, Asia. How have you seen the company grow during this time?
Like most companies in our industry, we have had ups and downs due to certain construction cycles. After a pretty weak 2012, we have enjoyed steady growth every year and I am very confident we will proceed on this trend. The main reasons are very positive market projections in Asia with exciting new commercial buildings and therefore projects, a strong regional Asia team with hubs in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai that can service our key accounts throughout the entire region, and of course a beautiful product portfolio that is now more diverse than ever.
What have you observed, over the years of your experience, with regard to the contract furniture market in this region?
There has been a lot of change all over the world in the way an office has to be or should be designed. Everyone talks about ABW and this being the future for every company and nothing else. I understand the advantages and a lot of things make sense, but a lot don’t. As usual good ideas and good products will stay and others will go. The fact is, no matter how modern and collaborative companies will be, there will always be the need for high quality meeting tables/chairs, training furniture and task chairs.
I have also observed that more and more companies, especially large MNCs, tend to set up regional or global RFPs in order to reduce their cost and procure products centralised through regional hubs and HQs. This makes it harder for smaller furniture manufacturers due to the human resources required to service those accounts, as well as the aggressive price strategy of large furniture suppliers that manufacture in China.
How has Wilkhahn responded to these developments?
To be honest we have always been very innovative and innovation is actually one of our five core values. Whether it is task chair mechanisms that Wilkhahn developed (for this whole industry basically) – like the FS with the first synchro-mechanism, and the ON and now the IN with a 3D synchro-mechanism called Trimension – or innovative and highly engineered folding mechanisms, these products are very suitable for collaborative workspaces. When it comes to developments [in the corporate sector], our new Stand-Up stool is a great product for ABW projects or our Stitz stool, which we already developed back in the 60’s.
Regarding the regional RFPs, Wilkhahn has responded by launching the [above-mentioned] IN chair this year – a highly ergonomic task chair with Trimension that allows us to compete in large tenders due to its attractive price. Having said that, the product is still completely manufactured in Germany and should give us a competitive advantage to products of similar price but made locally.
Apart from new product developments from Germany, we also continue to strengthen our regional Wilkhahn Asia team to cover and service large key accounts and their tenders. We are working on a few right now and our customers appreciate the regional teamwork in order to deliver their projects the way it is expected from us.
Which products have been particularly successful in this region? And why do you think they have been so well received?
Our main source of revenue in Asia has traditionally always been the front of house and flexible training areas in corporations. When it comes to customisation of high-end tables, foldable tables and cable management solutions we have not much competition. There aren’t many international brands that offer products of this quality, made to order in Asia and delivered within 8 to 12 weeks. All precision work, whether it is veneered tabletops or chair upholstery, is made by hand and therefore can be customised to provide the best solution possible for the client. Our aim is always to be able to fit our products perfectly into the floor plate and not the other way around: designers and architects having to design the floor plate around our furniture!
When we look at newer Wilkhahn products that have been particularly successful lately then we have to highlight the Graph chair. It is only three years old but already a design classic and a recipient of several design and product awards. It was also featured in the latest Spiderman movie as the boardroom and guest chair. The chair just sells itself and when a client is willing to spend money for quality and beautiful design the chance is very high to win the order.
As Wilkhahn’s Director of Sales for Asia, can you tell us what will be the company’s regional focus for the next few years?
With an increasing product portfolio that also includes new cost effective solutions, we will be focusing on regional key accounts to increase our market share in areas like task seating and foldable/stackable training furniture solutions.
In general, we have pretty ambitious growth expectations in Asia and those new products will help us to achieve this. At the same time, our Wilkhahn classics will always stand a fair chance to win projects.