Issue Issue 2 2008
Bene is part of the future
Look around the offices of the world’s major organisations and the chances are that you will see a modern, well-lit and inspiring environment.
Gone are the dull, dark workspaces of yesteryear, which have been replaced with spaces that wouldn’t look out of place in a penthouse overlooking the River Thames in London or New York’s Central Park. With executives now keener than ever to gain an edge over the competition, more emphasis is being put into making our working environments modern, functional and architecturally sound.
One of the companies driving this movement is Bene, an Austrian company that is setting trends in office furnishing with its concepts, innovative products and services. Through a history that dates back to 1790, and outstanding work in the office furniture industry that spans over half a century, the Bene brand has become synonymous with quality, modern design, professionalism and competence. The company became the undisputed market leader in Austria in the early 1970s, and has undergone expansion across Europe since the 1980s. It now rates as one of the top six companies of its type, with its ambition of becoming the continent’s market leader closer than ever.
The product portfolio is one that is worth reviewing; amongst its offerings include bespoke pieces, classic designs with a modern twist and futuristic, almost art deco pieces of office furniture. A whole office refurbishment is possible, with lighting, seating, partitioning systems, work assemblies available alongside complete solutions for media rooms, conference facilities and storage space. A number of materials are used throughout with glass, wood and aluminium all featuring prominently. While the variety may be vast, all of the products are designed to enhance the office environment and to encourage productivity.
Bene opened its first offices outside of its domestic base in 1988, with London and Moscow the chosen locations. New sites in the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were established between 1993 and 1998 as part of the expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. Sales operations have since been created in Germany, France, Benelux, the Middle East, Asia, Spain, and beyond, with Bene currently operating 76 points of sale in 30 countries. This expansive setup allows it to offer the process of development, production, sales and consultancy services under one umbrella.
It is a system that Friedrich Hartner, the company’s technical director, believes is integral to the success and expansion that has epitomised Bene to date. “The network is hugely important to the company as it means we are almost a directseller. We have built very strong relationships with our customers because we work so closely with them. It also assures that everyone is working in the same direction, which is key. The process is not just a case of working an assembly line, it is far more complex than that, but by working as a team we are able to get the best out of each other.”
The approach would appear to be paying dividends; as well increasing its turnover by up to 30 per cent in each of the last three financial years,the company has received a great deal of critical acclaim. The most recent example was the renowned iF product design prize for 2008 that was awarded by the International Forum Design, which was in recognition of Bene’s pure glass corridor wall. The partitioning system, which was designed by Johannes Scherr, was adjudged to have stood out from the competition due to its intelligent design, flexibility and innovative technology.
Commenting on the accolade – the fourth time that Bene has been awarded what is thought of as the international symbol for outstanding design -the company’s managing director, Thomas Bene, said: “The Bene brand represents design quality and a holistic approach to the organisation of the working environment. We are particularly pleased with this prize and it demonstrates our design competence in the office furnishings business.”
They are sentiments that are shared by Friedrich. “We’ve won a number of awards over the last few years. Such design awards are very important to us. We are very pleased when our designers are recognised in this way, as they are valuable to us. If our employees are well thought of then it improves our reputation, which in turn gives us a better chance of increasing the number of orders we receive,” he comments.
The praise heaped on Bene’s employees is by no means exclusively for the company’s product designers. Asked what he believes to be one of the key strengths of the business, Friedrich replies: “We have a number of very sophisticated and skilled workers at our headquarters, as 85 per cent of them have studied a profession for three or four years. As well as that, they are also trained to deal with jobs that are highly complex. The depth of knowledge and creativity that we have across all of our departments is a clear strength.”
What is also clear is a vision for the future that runs throughout the company. Looking forward, Friedrich says: “We have to look to new markets as well as strengthening our position in the areas we already operate in. To do this we will have to invest in the sales network because the most important factor is to sell more of our products. I think that in the next five to ten years we will see a change in the industry that will mean that only the bigger companies will survive. If a company is unable to spend money on new machinery, products and the best technology then they will have no chance.”
That is not to say that Freidrich believes that Bene could get lost in the battle of the office furniture heavyweights – on the contrary he believes that the company can soon achieve a position at the summit of this expanding industry sector. “We are all working to become the number one company in this business and we are not that far away, it is more than achievable. We know that it will take a lot of work, but Bene has a fantastic reputation. The company is hugely focused on growth, offering a talented group of employees – it is an aim we can fulfil,” he says.
Products: Office furniture