Danish furniture designer wants to conquer England: “Denmark is too small”

Designer Peter Jean Wallich Bonnesen is following the dream as an entrepreneur in England, with his new furniture brand “Jean & Wallich”.

It is too risky to just concentrate on Denmark alone, he says. We have therefore met the Danish designer to hear how the idea came about, his business plan and the strategy behind his conquest of the English market.

How did the idea come to design furniture?

I have been working in graphic design now for many years, where I have created a graphic identity and logo, etc. for businesses. I have always had a great interest in furniture which started as a hobby in my spare time. I designed a lot of furniture pieces and produced some bespoke items for my own home, and also friends and acquaintances.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted a large library wall in my apartment in Copenhagen, in a neoclassical style that suited the apartment and its original, elegant architecture. I designed it all myself with different types of doors and cut-outs. Subsequently, I found out that it would cost the earth to produce it at home in Denmark if it were to be made in durable materials for sustainability. So, I searched for a producer abroad and found a small family-owned carpenter in Latvia, who could produce it for a much cheaper price.

Therefore, in the process, I found out that I could design display cabinets and shelving in decent durable materials that could be produced relatively cheaply abroad. So, I started my new venture a couple of years ago customising bespoke wall-to-wall solutions, door fronts for kitchens, etc. Thus, the basis of my new furniture business had begun.

Jean & Wallich, England.

What is your business strategy?

Having produced bespoke pieces for some years, it has been natural to me to think of new avenues for my business. That’s why I decided about a year ago, I wanted to establish my own furniture brand in 2018/2019 with special focus on the production line of display cabinets. It is important for me in this process to not only to think of “design” but also in branding and sales optimisation.

After many discussions with a business lawyer and two entrepreneurs in my circle of business, who have experience in establishing companies abroad, I decided to go for it, and so this year I finally established a company in England, with a branch office in Copenhagen.

I could design a million different cabinets, if I wanted to, but to start with, through my new furniture brand “Jean & Wallich” I chose to introduce three collections of display cabinets.

Every time I make a new design, there are challenges with prototypes to get it ready for the final production, and for sale. There is always something that has to be changed, even things that one has not even taken into consideration.

My experience is that it is actually often better in the start-up phase, with perhaps limited cash to introduce an already existing design, and then introduce a new twist – some new colours etc. – instead of constantly designing new products. It does not cost anything to introduce a new colour, other than that I need some more storage space. In this way, you can free up more time for the actual sales.

My ambition is primarily to sell directly to customers. This enables me to skip the retailers in order to keep the prices at a reasonable level while sending it to customers free carriage.

I am launching with 3 collections of cabinets, namely “Belgrave” and “Belgrave V2” which are cabinets in solid wood and “Siloh” which are cabinets produced from steel.
Black cabinet.

“Siloh” which are cabinets produced from steel.

Why establish a business in England?

Many entrepreneurs suffer having to get their business up and running. The experience from others I know say that it takes too long. Many start where they live and focus on sales there. I, on the other hand, think Denmark is too small a country to achieve volume and growth.

England has a much larger population and market, so it seemed natural to me to research any opportunities there.

Added to this are a number of other reasons.

  1. I have had a number of enquiries from people abroad, who were interested in my designs.
  2. I have done a little research of my own and found that my designs are timeless. They are classic designs, which in many ways opens itself up to a larger audience and particularly in England. It would primarily appeal to inner city people who are very particular about their taste. I have also found that it would appeal to people who may not be as fashion conscious but who seek good quality furniture.
  3. 3) In England, despite greater competition, I can offer competitive prices. This is due to, amongst others, my set up in relation to production and storage.
By Jean & Wallich

How will you get into the English market?

I have spent quite some time researching the best way to get into the English market. There are some ‘strong’ online portals for designers, where it is possible to sell ones products, e.g. notonthehighstreet.com, where there is a whole range of designers represented. Here I can have presence through a portal with other designers and be seen.

The only snag is that it requires having an English company. It is one of those things that from the start made me interested in looking outside of Denmark.

Initially it is just the case of having an English company number so that I promote my products through the designer portals. Long term I am thinking of setting up an office in England.

Right now, the plan is to launch beginning of 2019. By this point I will need to have warehousing facilities in place.

To begin with I will introduce to market some smaller products, in the price range of £400-500 pounds. These products are physically easier to manage in terms of delivery to end customer. Long term, larger furniture pieces will also be sold there. This demands a little more in the way of logistics.

Do you now have an English company and a Danish branch?

Yes, I have registered an English company with a Danish branch. Now I just need an English bank account.

In the early stages my set up will have a design department in Copenhagen, production will take place in for example Lithuania and Poland, with sales being online and later have an office in England. For the time being, I am working on getting a distributor in England, e.g. Amazon, so that we can launch in the market.

A UK company – your way to the UK marked

What are you doing to get online presence?

Currently, I am running several banner adverts in, for example, Denmark and Sweden. I am also making good progress with the creation of my new web shop jeanwallich.com as well as using a great deal of resources on market research through mediums such as Instagram, where the products can be presented really well. Instagram is hugely significant and offers many new opportunities for exposure.

It is clear, that selling online requires the best possible visualisation of my products. I want to focus on visual optimisation as it is crucial for the sale of products in this price category. It is important that people get a good idea of what product they are buying.

The better the images of my products online, the higher the chance that people will buy without having seen the product in reality. I believe this is possible. For example, postal orders have always been very big in Sweden due to such long distances. In my experience, Swedes will buy a cabinet costing 8,000-10,000 Kroner without ever having seen it in a store.

What considerations and reservations did you have before registering your English company?

There is a lot said in the Media about BREXIT. I have had to weigh up how this would impact on my business when England leaves the EU. I do think that I am in a strong position because I can control my production costs and sales are online. There is a relatively large contribution margin that will also cover any customs duty taxes, if they arise.

There is also much talk about money laundering these days. When setting up an English company, I think there are many who have come to think that: “this is something suspicious or rotten about it”. I have also considered whether this is actually legal but I have had very good advice on what is the best legal set up from CPIE Services. I have also researched this further and there are no issues regarding establishing an English company with a Danish branch as a Dane. My objective is to get established in the English market.

The new coffee table “Monument”.

By Jean & Wallich

How was your experience of working with CPIE Services?

CPIE Services have been good at advising me and managing all administration for the registration of the company and bank application. They have been very proactive in the process of sending documents out, following up and reminding me what needs to be done. CPIE Services handled everything very professionally. I am very satisfied.

Why did you choose to seek help with registering your company and bank account?

I could have registered a company in England myself but soon saw how involved the process was. It is also the advice I received from a Danish lawyer. There are many issues now with getting a bank account that no longer makes it easy – especially given the emphasis on money laundering. It requires professional help, and this is where CPIE Services provide the professionalism needed.

For me it has been money well spent. They have saved me a lot of trouble and time, which is an important factor in the start up phase. It would not have been worth while doing it myself. It is better to concentrate on selling 3 cabinets to finance it than to launch into oneself trying to find the right way.

How long does it take to get a company set up in England?

I think it is relatively quick setting up a company with a Danish branch. If you have a business plan and company profile ready, you can set it up within 1 to 1.5 months.

It is important to me that there is a strong signature on my furniture where you can clearly see that it’s my design. I want to do a lot of storytelling through my furniture, and for people to know that I am the face of my product. I am looking forward to standing out as a designer and personalising my products. This, making people genuinely feel that, not only is the furniture not produced en masse at a factory somewhere in China, but each piece has been thoughtfully made. That’s why I’ve chosen my middle name “Jean & Wallich” as the brand name. It makes it all the more personal.

What are the 3 things you have learnt during this process of setting up a company in England?

1. Find out if your product is unique

Research the market. Find out if you have a unique product and how to penetrate the market. For example, is it price, quality and/or design that is the most important parameter?

2. Go for it – don’t wait too long

Do not wait too long. I know several cases where they have waited too long to get going. It affects the bottom line. The competition is larger but if your product is strong then I would advise you to look beyond the Danish borders – hereby generating a higher turnover. Many make the mistake of relying on too small an investment, minimising risk, but ultimately reducing the potential turnover. Nor will the turnover increase particularly for them later on. It’s about taking the right steps from day 1.

3. Make the most of social media – it is a huge advantage

With social media such as Instagram and Facebook as well as the benefits brought by Amazon offering handling, storage and promotion, it is all in our favour. 10 years ago this would not have been possible. So harness its potential and get ahead. Remember that social media is not land based. This is a huge advantage.

“If you believe in your product, there are many opportunities to promote your product – not just in Denmark but also abroad. It is self-evident that we must think internationally.”

Design by Jean & Wallich

Read more: For you as an entrepreneur!

5 unique advantages: Why you should establish a company in the UK

Take advantage of the benefits: Establish a branch in Denmark

Know these answers before you establish a company in the UK


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