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Furniture maker targets greater visibility through online channels

Montana Furniture has been a feature of the Scandinavian living space for over 30 years. Its famous storage system, designed by founder Peter J. Lassen, consisting of 36 modules, 4 depths and 42 colours, continues providing endless possibilities to incorporate storage solutions in the home. And today Montana cabinets, chairs and tables, as well as, shelves, wardrobes and mirrors are found in living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, and even commercial buildings, across Europe.

As the business approaches its 40th anniversary, we chatted to Managing Director Joakim Lassen about Montana’s plans to launch online, as well as the challenges of staying visible and relevant in the digital age.

The great-great-grandson of Fritz Hansen who founded the Fritz Hansen company, Joakim Lassen is the fifth-generation of his family to work in the furniture trade. In the early 1950s his father, the late Peter J. Lassen, married into the Hansen family and later became Managing Director of the iconic Danish furniture maker before starting his own business, Montana, in 1982.

As Joakim explained, however, his parents always instilled the importance of “doing something on your own and taking responsibility for it.” And with a passion for environmental issues, rather than joining his father’s business, he obtained a Master’s degree in human geography from the University of Copenhagen and spent the next ten years working as an environmental consultant in this field.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s where Joakim’s frustration with consulting – “telling other people how to solve problems, rather than finding solutions and implementing them yourself” – led him to turn his attentions to the world of furniture. The industry, he says, provided the perfect context for him to apply his learnings in problem-solving and project management, as well as fulfil his desire to create something of his own.

DJOB was launched in 1999. The business was named after a famous table created by Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. Together with his father, Joakim designed a variation of the DJOB table called HiLow. This became the company's flagship product, along with a new edition of Verner Panton's classic Panton One Chair. While Peter J. Lassen helped design the furniture, all other aspects of DJOB were independent of Montana and controlled by Joakim. When Montana eventually acquired DJOB in 2009, the business was worth DKK 30 million.

As well as introducing new products to Montana’s portfolio, in joining forces with his father’s company, Joakim also added a specialist contract division, which produces tables and storage solutions for workplaces – now a third of Montana’s overall turnover. In his roles as Director of Design & Communication, and since 2015, Managing Director, Joakim’s biggest impact, however, has been his efforts to modernise how Montana approaches the market, as he explains:

“In the past, having great products and advertising them in major design magazines was all that was required to establish your brand and reputation in the industry. Now, there are so many channels, you must be more strategic about how you invest your sales and marketing budgets. And if you’re not online, then you may as well not exist. In the last few years, I’ve introduced digital channels and built up Montana’s online presence. This is a work in progress, though. In many ways, we’ve been slow to react in this area and are now playing catch-up. We need to be far more visible to customers throughout the shopping journey.”

A key project which will consolidate much of the work done in the digital field is the forthcoming launch of Montana’s e-commerce platform.

Since its inception, the business has primarily sold bespoke items, based around the Montana storage system, to specialist furniture dealers. It doesn’t keep any stock, and everything is produced on demand at Montana’s original factory on the Danish island of Funen. While traditional dealers will continue to play a central role at the company – liaising with customers and ensuring products are tailored to meet their needs – Joakim sees an opportunity to boost brand visibility through broadening Montana’s store network and leveraging e-commerce to improve accessibility and delivery times:

“Our plan is to secure 300 new partnerships with independent shops and specialist suppliers within big department stores. Via our new B2B e-commerce platform currently in development, customers will be able to buy a selection of object-oriented Montana products and have them delivered to their nearest dealer. While our storage system range has a four to six-weeks’ delivery schedule, items available to buy online will be available for collection between two and six days.”

Once the B2B platform is established, Montana will then launch a B2C e-commerce website. Joakim confirmed how this direct to consumer channel will give the business greater control over end-customer interactions, increase the visibility of Montana’s brand and boost overall sales. Consumers will have access to a selection of items online, he says. This will simplify their shopping journeys, as well as entice people to visit Montana dealers and further experience the creative opportunities afforded by the brand.

Igniting consumer imagination, of course, remains at the heart of Montana’s proposition. ‘Making room for personality’ is the business’s slogan. And Joakim says giving customers the freedom to implement Montana creations however way they wish, is mirrored in the company’s culture too, whereby working practices are driven by the family ethos of ‘doing it yourself’ – “taking ownership and finding your own solutions.”

This combination of innovation and inspiration will underpin Montana’s future growth. Twenty years ago, Joakim explains, Montana was primarily associated with bookshelves. Today, its furniture appears in lots of different contexts. The company's story certainly isn’t finished, says Joakim, but only by ensuring products remain relevant and interchangeable depending on the “inventiveness and passion” of users, will the business guarantee that “many more chapters of the story are written.”

A new 30-colour palette created by award-winning colour designer, Margrethe Odgaard, was a 2019 addition to the tale. The business has also recently introduced more variations of the Panton One Chair and collaborated with renowned designer, Jakob Wagner, on a free-standing shelving system. “Montana products should always be pieces that you’re proud of in your home,” says Joakim. And while collaborations, distinctive designs and colours are one aspect of this, another factor “keeping the Montana brand relevant and alive” is the company’s commitment to high environmental standards.

Environmental and sustainability efforts have been on Montana’s agenda for several years. During the early 1990s, Joakim worked with his father on a cleaner technology  project. Since then environmental practices have always underpinned production. In 2004, for example, the company showed leadership in the industry by replacing all volatile organic components with water-based lacquers. And today, it only works with suppliers that demonstrate good sustainability track-records.

Montana’s efforts in this area were recently recognised when it received the EU Ecolabel award for environmental excellence in product development. “The label acknowledges that our products meet the highest environmental standards throughout their life-cycle,” says Joakim. “That’s good for the planet, the interior environment as well as the health of our employees.”

Moving forward, in addition to securing new dealer partnerships and embedding digital and e-commerce capabilities into its operations, Montana aims to continue developing its proposition and brand across Europe, where products are primarily sold. Asian markets too are on the company’s radar, as it seeks to build on promising sales growth in the region.

“As a family-owned business, we’re focused on long-term strategies for success rather than achieving short-term profit, says Joakim. “This approach has seen Montana become a recognised and respected brand in continental Europe during the last four decades. And I’m confident our e-commerce platform will reenforce our position at the forefront of our sector.”

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