Last year saw contemporary Danish furniture brand BoConcept celebrate two decades of UK business. For January's issue, Furniture News asked country manager, Zoe Shields, to explain how Covid-19 put a different slant on the proceedings – here's part of her response …

Founded by two Danish cabinetmakers in 1952, BoConcept grew steadily, making the transition from wholesale producer to retailer before opening its first branded store in 1993. Globally, the business now boasts 300 stores in 65 countries, spanning six continents.

Back in 2000, he brand came to the UK, where it currently runs 18 stores (principally franchisees) across the country, including its flagship on Tottenham Court Road. Furniture News asks Zoe how the business has negotiated an anniversary year dominated by lockdowns and social distancing, and what the pandemic means for BoConcept’s future …

Did being a global brand help your UK operation react to the emergence of Covid-19?

We have stores in Asia, so we were able to be prepared a little more for what was coming, and were perhaps ahead of the curve. We managed to move very quickly in setting up support tools for the lockdown periods – such as a virtual store, online chat functions, and adding ecom options into some of our markets that did not have this before.

Prior to March 2020, your franchise base appears to have been expanding, and some 85% of your product was made to order. What’s the likely direction from here, with regards to the balance of stores and digital capabilities in the business?

We will keep growing the store portfolio with our franchise partners. We’ve already opened eight stores since the start of the pandemic, and have many more in the pipeline for the next 12 months. 

We’ll also continue to grow and develop our online offer, but with the store and web being equally valuable sales channels. We just cannot foresee a future without bricks-and-mortar stores, as customers still want to touch and feel and try out the product.

What are the most significant changes the brand has undergone in the UK?

I think we are constantly evolving and developing the brand and our franchise system, but these changes have really accelerated, especially over the last few years.

Have consumer tastes changed?

The demand for Scandinavian design – and, consequentially, our customer base – has been growing steadily. We offer affordable luxury – we see customers that are just starting out, as well as those that have much larger budgets. Due to our broad price spectrum, we’re able to work across a wider segment of customers, all of whom have a similar mindset – they appreciate good design and high quality.

Is the brand managed centrally, or is power devolved to each territory/franschisee? 

The brand is managed centrally, to ensure that that we keep the correct brand integrity and expression in the stores. However, in each territory, we of course can make local adaptations to reflect market conditions and customer tastes and trends.

How do you go about recruiting new franchisees?

We work with global headhunters to find new partners, and engage in targeted marketing activities where/when required to develop strategically important territory. 

Our partners typically come from either a corporate background, or have previously had their own company, and we work closely with our franchisees to ensure they’re always good custodians of the BoConcept brand.  We have clear operational guidelines and a playbook, so it’s very easy for our franchise partners to adhere to the concept.

Are you optimistic about BoConcept’s prospects this year?

Our new collection has been a success, and we have an amazing team in the UK. Tough times are inevitably still to come, but we are ready, live and kicking.

Read the full interview in the January 2020 issue of Furniture News.