Benny Frandsen is an engineer, a business man and a true lighting connoisseur. Today, his company, Frandsen Group, is one of the biggest Danish lighting manufacturers, comprising a handful of sub-brands, which, combined, design hundreds of lamps each year. Recently, Mr. Frandsen told DANISH™ the story of his company.
As told to DANISH™
There’s a huge different between running our business 20–30 years ago compared to now.
Back then, we had a huge number of sales staff who went around to the individual stores to sell our products. It was an endless battle depending on the stores and figuring out whether they would survive or not. Nowadays, we do business with huge chains, where there’s minimum insecurity associated with them economically. But unsurprisingly, the economic part of doing business must add up so these represent a very important customer base for us.
But some things, you are still unable to control. Such as economic crises, which I’ve been through a few times now.
That’s the less funny part of doing business.
Frandsen Group has survived all the crises it has faced, but has certainly not been immune to them as one of the worst things about such crises is the loads of time spent on negative thoughts. For instance, during the oil crisis in the 1970s, it was all about surviving. Spending most your time just focusing on surviving the next payments.
That’s not uplifting; just think about how creative you could be in that time instead.
During the most recent financial crisis, I had blind faith that the crisis would be over in no time, but I soon wisened up. Even though Frandsen Group managed okay, all our businesses were put on hold. We decided to emphasis and indeed to put all our weight behind our product development, essentially to develop and design our way out of the crisis until the balance turned around.
The opposite of these harsh times is when things are running well and you are earning good money, making it a daily joy to develop as many products as we do. It’s almost like being constantly pregnant, giving birth to so many designs so often – all in all, we now create about 300–400 new designs per year.
We have a big family of products now, which I find joy in every day. That’s the exciting part of it. Having fun developing good lighting products. It has always been fun, but in truth, in the beginning everything was a bit simpler.
From Basement Start-up to International Lighting Company
Originally, I trained as an electrician and thereafter as an engineer, but after working for one year as an engineer I felt stuck. It was too dull, less creative than what I wanted. Consequently, I started the company in 1968. The firm started in our basement, where I had two of my wife’s pupils come and help me every afternoon, assembling lamps and helping with other ongoing prototypes and projects.
They were exciting times.
I began by creating some very idealistic designs that it seemed only I alone believed to be fantastic. But six months later, I concluded that I’d better ought to start looking at what the market really needs and wants, and thus began designing products that sold.
Then I designed the Ball series, which still is Frandsen Group’s best-selling product line. Even today, we sell thousands of them, so in a way you can call it an instant evergreen.
In the beginning of the 1990s, I sold the company to a lampshade manufacturer called Lyskilde, but bought it back a few years later, when the company had grown a bit. The lampshade manufacturing part of the company came to nothing though, and eventually we renamed the company Frandsen Lighting. At that time, the plant produced lots of lampshades for IKEA.
Actually, around 600,000 lampshades per year.
But the business line was too risky, so we changed our focus to become a more design-centred company. Over the years, we gradually closed down the hardcore manufacturing plant, because we couldn’t compete with the low-wage countries.
In this transition period, where we went from a strong focus on manufacturing to a design company, we miraculously sustained the same yearly turnover. Then, after the transition was completed, we were a 100 % design company, creating our own Scandinavian design and private labels.
Keeping a Great Designer Alive
Focusing on technical lighting for the contract market, we started Frandsen Project around 20 years ago. In the beginning, it was mainly focused on developing in-store lighting for different apparel chains, but nowadays, Frandsen Project concentrates on creating lighting solutions for the hotel business mainly.
Some eight years after first establishing Frandsen Project, we obtained the rights to produce the Globe lamp by the late great Danish designer Verner Panton. Around the same time when we obtained those rights, Frandsen Group started what was to become a great relationship with Panton’s widow, Marianne Panton.
Ever since, she has been involved in approving all our additions to the Verpan brand, which all stem from a true treasury of unlisted designs left behind by Verner. Mostly, she approves our ideas as long we’re true to the design, while giving us leeway to update the materials and building quality per today’s standards.
And the whole updating of materials and construction principles is an important aspect – something I’m sure Panton would have done himself. Also it’s a way of enabling an opportunity to engage with international markets even more.
You see, our business is very international.
Today, Frandsen Group’s headquarter in Horsens (Denmark) is, besides housing the managerial and administrative functions, a mere design house. Here, we create prototypes and assemble different parts from our sub-suppliers, creating final products for Frandsen Project. However, the whole manufacturing part of our retail business has moved abroad due to lower wages, enabling us to offer more competitive prices.
In China, we create between 600,000–700,000 lamps per year – numbers we wouldn’t have a chance to match with our production facilities here in Denmark. There are simply not enough sub-suppliers for that to happen. Different areas of the country specialise in different industries, and in the area where we are situated, there are 6,000 sub-suppliers we can solicit to work with us. Also, the Chinese have the expertise and know-how to create what we’re after, creating decent business opportunities for us.
New Adventures Ahead
Also, regarding the creation of good business opportunities, to me, the number one condition for success – economically and in general – is timing.
In other words, being in the right place at the right time with the right products is essential. You must know what is going to happen tomorrow in the international markets – know where we are headed design-wise. Concurrently, you ought to foresee what the end-user wants. In our case, it’s not like we have a future lab or anything, but we must be curious and hungry about what’s happening right now, especially when it comes to the lighting industry.
Concerning especially our business, another important criterion for success is quality. At our medium-to-high price levels, people expect a certain level of quality, and you have to provide this to maintain their loyalty and satisfaction with the products. In addition, good quality products last longer, so it’s also a matter of being more sustainable. Speaking of environmental sustainability, we’re also constantly seeking new ways of sustaining our business economically.
Recently, we inaugurated our first Verpan flagship store in Aarhus (Denmark). It’s a new business territory for us, and perhaps it may not be our next cash cow, but it’s exciting to enter the retail market with our own physical store. If the experiment succeeds, we will create a franchise chain that showcases Verner Panton products in London and other major cities. At the same time, the store itself is a showcase of what you can do in a 100-square metre store, which we can show to potential contract customers. Exciting times, indeed. ●
Frandsen Group comprises a number of sub-brands as follows…
Frandsen Lighting creates a lot of different private label products for companies such as Bolia, BoConcept and Idémøbler and for foreign furniture chains. With a long history of designing and producing lamps, Frandsen Lighting is the original part of the Frandsen Group and dates all the way back to 1968.
Ranging from interior decorative lighting to international commercial projects, Frandsen Project is the contract division of the Frandsen Group, and creates bespoke lighting solutions to i.e. hotels, shopping chains and malls all over the world. Frandsen Project includes the newer sub-brand rewired, which is focused on creating lighting for the retail market. With simple design as the focal point, rewired produces its own designs as well as original designs by the Danish architectural firm Friis & Moltke.
Based around the designs of late Danish designer Verner Panton, Verpan is the sub-brand that most closely fits in with the Danish Modern design tradition.