a conversation

4

Ask me something more simple

Lutz Reeg worked for renowned companies as designer, developer and product manager. He has known the furniture business very well for many years. The 56-years-old architect and wood specialist founded the developers' network der schwarm (the swarm) in 2o14.

In his discussion with Christoph Kümmel, Reeg talks about the risks of the furniture business and the opportunities for up-to-date and reformed product development.

Mr Kümmel, aged 44, has been working in leading positions as head of product management, innovation and marketing for German premium manufacturers for many years. The graduate industrial engineer is intensively examining the structural change and its consequences for the furniture industry.

Lutz Reeg

Lutz Reeg

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

Mr Reeg, der schwarm offers external product development for the furniture business. What is new about that?

LUTZ REEG

Its simplicity.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

This is a very simple answer. Can this do judgement to what you are doing?

LUTZ REEG

Please do not get me wrong: “simplicity” has nothing to do with “being simple”.

Actually, we are, unfortunately, surrounded by simple, trivial and random things. Speaking of furniture this means you are confronted with it almost on a daily basis: an advertisement in your newspaper or an advertising poster in the street. Mostly, these are meaningless and not our thing.

True simplicity does not have anything to do with that. Think about furniture classics. They often are simple: formally reduced and intelligently designed. Which is one of the reasons why these pieces are still well-sold today.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

How do you explain to your clients that you give simplicity such a high priority? Is that all?

LUTZ REEG

You see, our clients are specialists. They know about product development being a complex and difficult matter. They have to accommodate numerous interests and combine diverse points of view.

A committed designer can be guided by inspiration, outward requirements and instinctive feel. Whereas a technician or a business administration engineer handle hard facts. It is common knowledge that this may lead to complications. Because every department wants to defend their proper and untouchable competence.

All that tends to be quite difficult at the beginning. However, we help to make it easy.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

I.e. you are looking for the smallest common denominator?

LUTZ REEG

No, not at all. We do not want to break down the important contents – no false compromises. This would inevitably lead to the loss of exactly this type of quality which is to render the project successful.

Christoph Kümmel

Christoph Kümmel

Lutz Reeg

Lutz Reeg

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

And what is your way to handle it instead?

LUTZ REEG

“Way” is a very good keyword. First of all, we formulate a stable idea and make it accessible to all people involved. Every department has it own competences and along the way, these competences are to contribute to the common project. This can be achieved when everyone develops a sense for the job of the other involved parties along the way.

Only then do the steps and methods turn self-evident, logical – and consistently easy.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

So, der schwarm is committed to simplicity. But where is the benefit for the client?

LUTZ REEG

The product itself is the benefit. It is supposed to demonstrate clearly and totally naturally what it stands for. The end customer needs to understand it quickly and intuitively. Sympathy does not arise for something difficult, unwieldy and complex - but for a simple and self-evident product.

And yet the new piece of furniture can have a lot to offer. Think about diverse functions, colours, materials. Nevertheless it has to be simple.
This also paves the way for simplifying the production process. Which in turn will have a positive effect on the selling price.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

You have thus described the aim of very sensible product development process. But is this not a matter of course?

LUTZ REEG

Unfortunately not. Often, such development projects are not following a straight path. The designers are not thoroughly briefed, the marketing department is getting involved too late and the sales department is presented with a fait accompli. The result is a product full of compromises. Unnecessarily.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

And the product will probably look like it.

LUTZ REEG

Exactly. The end customer instinctively realises that there is something amiss. Even if he or she cannot point their finger at it, it will lead him or her to not buying the piece of furniture. This is the yardstick – nothing else.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

And what is the manufacturer's reaction to it? Because he does have the possibility to handle everything better the next time.

LUTZ REEG

Of course the manufacturer is looking for the reasons: unsuccessful design – too high selling price - unmotivated sales administration? Too frequently, this results in actions in only one department. Within the company, this can cause quite an amount of displeasure and almost never leads to the hoped-for success.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

Alright. But what does der schwarm offer in order to solve such issues?

LUTZ REEG

First of all, it is of major importance to understand what led to such a situation.

Some of our customers have been in the business for a long time and have experienced very successful periods. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s they made considerable profits and built a sound basis for their often owner-managed companies. Excuse my straightforwardness, but they nearly always got through with an even almost amateur-like development of new products off their own bat.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

So what is different today? Have the external influences changed so much that the proven concepts can no longer be relied upon?

LUTZ REEG

Unfortunately, that is exactly the case. Within one decade, the boundary conditions for the furniture market have changed rapidly. Consider the demographic change, the competition of Asian copyists and new trade patterns involving the internet and direct selling. Target groups cannot be defined clearly anymore and the value of formerly well-established brands is losing ever more weight. Increasingly, furniture is being advertised on the basis of its price.

On the other hand, also the customers requirements have increased. Today, people do not purchase what they need. Zeitgeist, emotion and identity are very important to the end customer.

Ignoring these influences means inevitably sliding into a crisis.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

That is a truly dark scenario.

LUTZ REEG

Maybe. However, we are not impressed by that. We rather compose an intelligent answer by fundamentally rethinking furniture. We react on the change of time with modern possibilities of cooperation. This is why der schwarm is a network – including all competences.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

And what are the primary measures that you arrange with a new client?

LUTZ REEG

None at all. Because we need to have understood the essentials before we can suggest sensible arrangements. What is our client’s identity? What is the client specialized in? What was the client’s presence on the market like so far? Why did this or that not work out? First of all we have to put together these puzzle pieces in order to uncover the entire picture.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

What are the next steps once you have figured out these factors and boundary conditions?

LUTZ REEG

From this moment onwards, we take the work off our client’s shoulders. To start with, we put together a team out of our pool of specialists, who will work closely together throughout the project’s duration. All people involved will meet at our virtual conference table. This is when we will work out a sensible schedule for our project. We will present this process to our client and explain all the measures we consider to be important.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

What happens if your client’s company has a development and marketing department of its own?

LUTZ REEG

This is mostly the case. And it makes everything more easy. Because we are especially interested in using the company’s in-house knowledge for new developments. We approach the company’s employees and involve them in the process. Thus, we are building the first connection with the company and create the necessary internal acceptance for what we are doing.

For it is the client’s employees who need to live with the new product after we have done our job. And this would not really work if an anonymous piece of paper falls out of nowhere after we are done. This would be completely wrong.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

And this leads to a really difficult question: How do you achieve getting your client’s sales administration into the same boat?

LUTZ REEG

Ah – this is the question of a true insider! As you are obviously very well aware, the reservation and scepticism of the sales administration can bring down many an ambitious plan. And in order to avoid that, we have to act skilfully.

For a start, the in-house sales administration provides us with a large amount of unfiltered information on the market, and especially on the competition situation. Therefore, at the beginning of our cooperation, we will have an intensive discussion with representatives of the company’s sales administration.

However, we do not involve the sales administration in the actual ideation for the new product. The department's competences do not include development – also if that is often not easily understood.

Nevertheless, we will involve the sales administration into the process prior to the product’s completion. We will ensure that sales aids will be available for the product's launch. This always meets high approval.

CHRISTOPH KÜMMEL

Actually, sales administrations notoriously pose obstacles which can be hard to negotiate – and as soon as you have achieved that, this is a real progress. What happens after the market launch? And how do you measure your success afterwards?

LUTZ REEG

Soon after the market launch we ask our client for feedback. We are mainly interested in the novelty's well placement on the market. And after six months we can expect the first reliable evidence on sales figures. Of course we will compare those to our prognosis.

Then, we have to make small adjustments here and there. And despite our extensive knowledge about furniture development, we still continue our learning process with every new piece.

In order to make a simple thing ever more simple. And more contemporary. That is our goal.

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