In movement The 75th Anniversary of Stokke AS
Norsk Møbelfaglig Senter
In movement The 75th Anniversary of Stokke AS
Tripp Trapp®, Stokke® Care™, Stokke® Keep™, Stokke® Sleepi™.
Stokke® Xplory®. Design: Bjørn Refsum / Hilde Angelfoss Øxseth. Design development in cooperation with K8 Industridesign AS. Product development in cooperation with Bård Eker Industrial Design AS.
GRAPHIC PRODUCTION 072038-09.09 Hatlehols AS, Brattvåg PAPER Arctic Volume, 150 gr. BINDING Bokbinderiet Johnsen, Skien PHOTOGRAPHY Anders Häggström, Dag Lausund, Arne Hagen, Peder Otto Dybvik, Gade Co Photography, Hugo Opdal TEXT Eldar Høidal ISBN 978-82-992952-2-2
Stokke® Sleepi™. Design: Grønlund & Hviid Design
In movement The 75th Anniversary of Stokke AS
Eldar Høidal Norsk Møbelfaglig Senter
Tripp Trapp®. Design: Peter Opsvik
Contents Foreword............................................................................................................. 13 A furniture manufacturer with many legs............................................................ 15 Conglomerate, 1969–1977.................................................................................. 49 Movement, 1977–1989....................................................................................... 73 The group hold is consolidated, 1990–1997..................................................... 107 The organisation is enhanced, 1997–2007.......................................................... 145 A new generation emerges................................................................................. 209 Company history................................................................................................. 218 Bibliography........................................................................................................ 222 Sources................................................................................................................ 222 Notes................................................................................................................... 223
“From the production of furniture to building relations between children and parents”
here is a saying that the road is forged as one walks. This tends to indicate that it is not always so simple to plot a course and keep it steady until the goal is reached. The same thing could apply to people's lives, but it also includes industrial companies such as Stokke. Some crossroads will be e ncountered when the management of a company have to make decisive choices. What shall we do now? What can we do best? Which path should we take? Stokke has stood at such crossroads. The fact that the company celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007 indicates that it has fared well as a result of the choices it has made, better than many of its contemporaries in the furniture industry. B ecause today there is not one single family-owned furniture manufacturing company in Sunnmøre that has a company history dating back 75 years. But actually this does not apply to Stokke either, because it is no longer a pure furniture manufacturing company. Of course it still makes both a children's chair and a children's bed, but since 2006 Stokke has been defining itself as a dedicated m anufacturer of equipment for children, one of the most distinctive manufacturers of such equipment in the entire world. This book describes the choices that were made and which caused the furniture manufacturer Møller & Stokke to evolve into the children's equipment manufacturer Stokke AS. It is about three generations of the Stokke family and their assistants, and the work they have carried out in order to create a company which has proved to be vigorous and which has refused to simply manu facture p roducts which could just as easily have been made by others. It is about a company that has sought its own path and that has made unique contributions to Norwegian and international furniture history – a company that has made everyday life easier for many parents and children.
And it is not about just one company, either, but about many companies in just as many local communities. Since the 1960s, Stokke has grown through the acquisition and establishment of enterprises both at home and abroad. In this presentation, the reader will therefore find several company histories in the one. But the common theme is the Stokke family's successful guest for new products and new ways of relating to their surroundings. And, not least, Stokke's history tells of a family company whose owners realised the importance of bringing in outsiders and allowing them to have responsibility and room to manoeuvre. It is about creating the hand STOKKE. The biography of the founder, Georg Stokke, has already been written. In his book entitled “As I remember it”, Harald Grytten paints a vivid picture of the first few years of the company's history. This book therefore takes over from when Kåre Stokke entered the family company in 1960. Nevertheless, in order to present a true picture, we will trace a few threads back in time. The company of Stokke AS in the year 2007 is the result of the collective efforts of many people. So is this book. I would like to thank everyone who has contributed information, and I wish especially to give credit to an interested and knowledgeable Book Committee composed of Kåre Stokke, Rune Stokke and Kjell Storeide. Thanks also to Lars Olausen, who has been responsible for collecting much of the material used and for interviewing key players involved in Stokke's history, as well as to Inge Langlo who has been a source of inspiration and has served as a mentor, providing much good advice en route. Sykkylven, August 2007 Eldar Høidal
A furniture company with many legs T
he company which Kåre Stokke, the only child, joined at the age of 23 in 1960 was one of the most clearly profiled furniture manufacturers in the new furniture region of S unnmøre. Kåre's father, Georg, had just taken the initiative to d evelop and man ufacture reclining chairs in the Star range. At the time the company was also manufacturing furniture on a daily basis both for p ublic establishments and private homes all over Norway. Right from the time he could walk, Kåre Stokke would frequent the factory, and during the holidays he would work in the various d epartments at the factory. By 1960 he had completed his language studies at upper secondary school, he had attended a working c ourse for students, he had studied at the Army Ordnance Officers' Training School and he had studied economics for one year in E ngland. All his further education was carried out at the company which his father had started and for which he had the primary responsibility. Stokke had proved itself to be a company that was willing to try new ways. One of the first deliveries made by the company, which was formed in 1932 under the name of Møller & Stokke, was bus seats. Møller & Stokke was also one of the first furniture man-
ufacturers to employ female workers. Georg saw that women were stable workers and well suited for work being planned by the company. It was also noted in 1954 that Georg Stokke employed a newly qualified designer, Arnt Lande, thus becoming the first furniture manager in Sunnmøre brave enough to take such a step. Taking on an in-house designer showed that the company was willing to engage in the untraditional practice of rejuvenation, a practice that Stokke continued to adhere to during the following decades. Stokke had previously also used a professional designer. The company's 1942 product catalogue features Model 202, a simple low recliner with open sides, designed by Bendt Winge.
Limited cashflow At the end of the 1950s, Stokke was influenced by the same circumstances that had created the Sunnmøre furniture industry during the 1930s and '40s. There was a big demand for robust and
The furniture manufacturer Møller & Stokke started operations in the premises that they rented from Erik Foss in Spjelkavik in 1932. The partners Bjarne Møller and Georg Stokke acquired their professional expertise from the workshop of the Danish furniture upholsterer Carl Møller, which was located in Røysegata in the centre of Ålesund. “Furniture was in the air during those years,” says Georg Stokke by way of explanation as to why he had started f urniture production. Depicted here are Bjarne Møller, front left, and Georg Stokke, front right, sitting in one of the company's first chair models. Behind them are their employees, Hans Aasen and Daniel Myren, who joined the company during its first year of operations.
The first reclining chair from Møller & Stokke, Model 129, dating back to 1932. This model was developed by the factory owners themselves. There were many earlier examples of this chair!
Model 202 dating back to 1942. Design by Bendt Winge. There were not many other furniture companies in Sunnmøre that used models created by professional designers during the war. At that time it was a seller's market.
reasonably-priced furniture, by new consumer groups of office workers, industrial workers, fishermen and smallholders who during that period acquired their own homes and the financial resources to furnish them with furniture bought from shops. During those days in Sunnmøre there was the right mix of available and reasonablypriced labour in possession of good work ethics and an aggressive entrepreneurial culture. People with an enterprising spirit and courage were inspired by success stories like the one relating to P.I. Langlo from Stranda, who during the course of just a few years succeeded in building up a furniture company which became one of the largest in the country up to 1930. Bjarne Møller and Georg Stokke numbered among the ranks of those who were inspired and who participated in meeting the great demand for reasonably- priced and functional furniture during the 1930s. This demand for furniture continued during World War II due to the general lack of commodities and an abundance of money. This was also the case after the war when there was a big demand for consumer goods like furniture due to the priority given to r ebuilding the c ountry and consequently to the important role allocated to building houses and furnishing them.
As regards Stokke, there were two other factors that were responsible for the company's tough transition into the 1960s: the buying out of former co-owner Bjarne Møller and the financial expenditure incurred in connection with the construction of a new factory at Moa in 1948, a building which was extended by one floor in 1956.
Towards the end of the 1950s, the market situation gradually started to change. This was partly due to the fact that the Norwegian m arket was becoming more open to foreign countries. We joined EFTA in 1960 and Norwegian furniture producers were faced with stronger competition from foreign furniture after having previously operated in a market which had been relatively protected. Rationalisation and efficiency measures introduced by Norwegian furniture companies also made competition on the domestic market more clearly felt. Anyone wishing to be competitive on price had no choice but to invest in capital-intensive manufacturing equipment.
The fact that Georg Stokke became the sole owner of the company with effect from 1956 hardly came as a surprise to anyone who had been following Møller & Stokke closely during the years prior to that date. Bjarne Møller was the son of the furniture upholsterer Carl Møller, to whom Georg Stokke had become apprenticed in 1930. Bjarne was more influenced by traditional crafts than his colleague, who displayed his industrial ambitions at an early stage. In Georg's biography, which was written by Harald Grytten, the founder stated: “I already at this point, was convinced that the days of handmade cane furniture were past. I was of the opinion that the production of other types of furniture would take over and that such furniture would be produced as industrial goods.”2 The factory building which was inaugurated in 1948 was built in accordance with well thought-out plans where production flow was the key concept. Georg had visited the US in 1951 and returned home full of ideas about how production could be further rationalised. In his biography he summarises the experiences he acquired on his US trip as follows: “Rationalisation, active marketing, planning – these ideas were already in the air. On my trip to America I saw them in operation and understood that I could learn from them and make use of them to help us manage the new era.” An ownership shift had previously occurred in the original general partnership as far back as 1949 when the company's share
Sunnmøre wins through Most of the companies involved in the upholstered furniture indu stry became established in Sunnmøre from the 1930s onwards. It is not possible to explain this wave of establishments by rational economic arguments alone. We also need to consider technological and cultural factors. Prior to the interwar years, most Norwegian furniture produc- tion had been done in cabinet-making workshops either in or near large cities. Furniture production was regulated by cooperative agreements between the trade associations, the trade unions and the authorities, so that it was difficult for beginners without the right professional ballast to enter into competition with established manufacturers. Throughout the 1920s there was an increased demand for furniture from new consumer groups and it soon became evident that the authorities lacked the will to enforce legislation designed to regulate the production and sale of crafted products. One im portant reason for this was that the new manufacturers springing up in rural areas, particularly in western Norway, were setting up their production facilities in accordance with industrial principles. They were not therefore subject to the Crafts Act which contained provisions stating that those involved should have official trade qualifications. The new furniture manufac turers were employing young boys who started work without a longer apprenticeship period than that required in order to perform limited specialist tasks in a value-creation chain domi nated by piecework.
The unions were strong in the urban cabinet-making companies. The employees' representatives ensured compliance with the professional requirements imposed on the workforce and kept wages high. The master cabinetmakers were reticent about adjusting to modern production processes that they thought would threaten the traditional quality criteria applicable to the cabinet-making trade. Furthermore, it was not easy for them to switch over to modern production principles which involved using more machinery in the small premises where the first cabinet- makers were located. All this put the traditional cabinet-making companies on the defensive and the new furniture producers in Sunnmøre were ready to take them over. These included Georg Stokke and Bjarne Møller, who started their business in 1932 in premises leased from Erik Foss in Spjelkavik.
Georg Stokke was the industrialist in partnership with Bjarne Møller, and over time became the sole owner of the company.
The entry ticket to the market for Sunnmøre manufacturers was reasonably-priced and functional furniture for ordinary people. Georg Stokke recalls that there were many manufacturers offering their products on the market, and anyone wishing to sell products was forced to keep their prices down.1 In the face of such competition, the traditional cabinetmakers were unable to assert themselves. Although they were generally close to the markets, they were unable to provide consumers with equally cheap products. This was because they had higher production costs, especially higher labour costs.
In 1936 Møller & Stokke built their own factory at the foot of Myrabakken in Spjelkavik. Georg purchased a plot of land from Johan D. Myren, who was married to his sister, Synnøve. They had previously been purchasing the wooden frames for their furniture, but now they had had their own woodwork department, on the ground floor. This is where the furniture was upholstered. Polishing, varnishing, assembly and packing took place on the first floor. A drier was later built in the eastern end.
Production and staff increased quickly after furniture buyers throughout the country became aware of the functional and reasonably-priced furniture being manufactured by Møller & Stokke. Depicted here are members of staff gathered together during a lunch break in the late 1930s. We recognise, from the left: Alfred Holkestad (in a suit and flat cap), Paula Olsvik (with her back to us), Per Wick (on the right of the door opening), Nelly Olsvik, Nikka Forøy (seated), Ingrid Olsvik, Mary Blindheim, Bjarne Rødset (at the back, against the window), Annemor Solberg (seated), Ester Blindheim (seated), Randi Myren, M. Grytebust (back), Lars Rødset, Bjørg Røssevoll, Arnt Lande and Knut Myren (up on the right).
Stokke's new factory which was built in Spjelkavik between 1946 and 1948, was an imposing building in the local industrial landscape. “One of the largest new factory buildings in our county”, wrote Sunnmørsposten when it was opened in 1948. The building had a total floor area of 3,000 m2 spread over three floors, and was equipped for rational industrial production. The ground floor was used for cutting material, technical installations and a dining room for the 60 employees; the first floor housed a machine shop and a drawing office; and the sewing and upholstery division was located on the second floor. Photograph taken in 1949, with Stokke's factory in the foreground on the right. Just behind it is Spjelkavik Skofabrikk (a shoe factory).
capital was doubled to NOK 100,000, with Bjarne Møller acquiring a 25 % stake and Georg Stokke 75 %. As time passed, Georg realised that a break between them would be inevitable in order to achieve what he regarded as being important industrial development for the company.3 Georg also thought that it was basically rather tricky to continue having divided ownership. His experiences indicated that it was difficult for two or more co-owners to always be in agreement when important strategic decisions needed to be made about the company. This could result in failure to take action and to make any necessary adjustments to the company. Georg was therefore willing to sacrifice a good deal in order to achieve the concentrated ownership which he thought would be the best for the furniture company, which changed its name to Stokke Fabrikker AS at the end of 1956. The most obvious sacrifice made was the amount of money paid to buy out Bjarne Møller. NOK 180,000 was the amount they had agreed upon. For Georg Stokke and the company this was a considerable amount, coming as it did in addition to an outstanding loan of NOK 125,000 which had been taken out seven years earlier in order to finance the new factory.
As of 1 October 1956, Georg Stokke became the sole owner and only Board member of the company. His deputy was his wife, Johanne.4 In 1958, Paul Gerhard Røsvik was employed as the Office Manager of Stokke Fabrikker. Almost three years had passed since Bjarne Møller had been bought out, but Røsvik remembers that the c ash situation was very tight when he arrived at the company. Some times money was so scarce that they had to borrow money from the bank in order to pay their employees. The bank always gave them the helping hand they needed, which shows that the bank regarded Stokke Fabrikker as being creditworthy and that it was confident that the tight cash situation was merely transitory.
Johan Riise, a new agent The Administration Department at Stokke Fabrikker was very simple in 1958. It consisted of five people in addition to Georg Stokke. His office was the furthest down the corridor on the first floor of the
This is how Møller & Stokke presented themselves to Norwegian furniture customers after the company moved into its new premises in 1948.
Møller & Stokke's products consisted of upholstered lounge furniture, chairs and sofas. Bed-settees were also items that were very much in demand during a time when people had limited living space. This is a Haakon wing chair made in 1948 and the Kari lounge suite made in 1950. Both designed by Arnt Lande.
Administration Building. Georg Stokke took his management responsibilities seriously and made all important, strategic d ecisions himself. However, he usually asked his employees for their advice, and in his capacity as Office Manager, Paul Røsvik became a valuable/trusted conversation partner for Georg. Paul Røsvik be lieves that they complemented one another. The new Office Manager had an analytical and systematic mind and contributed towards a critical review of the company's strengths and weak nesses. It is obvious that Stokke suffered from poor profitability up until 1958, and the main reason for this was not because the company did not have the right products. On the product front, Stokke was not lagging behind any of its competitors in Sunnmøre. However, both Røsvik and Georg Stokke were aware that sales work out in the field was not good enough and that it was not
dedicated enough towards Stokke's products. They thought that more could be gained in this area. Therefore, one of their central moves after 1958 i nvolved a shakeup of their sales team, with some members being made redundant, while others were taken on. The most important person involved in this new sales drive was Johan Riise, a native of Sunnmøre, who joined the company in 1958 after having previously built up one of Norway's largest furniture agency businesses in Oslo. He had previously contributed towards a heavy increase in sales in eastern Norway, both for Ekornes and for Møre Lenestolfabrikk. Johan Riise remembers that he first met Georg Stokke at a furniture exhibition at Kontraskjæret near Akershus Fortress in Oslo in 1958. They hit it off and Georg quickly came straight to the point and asked if Riise would be interested in
Social responsibility A responsibility which rested heavily on both Georg, and later his son Kåre, was their responsibility towards the company's em ployees. They could both wake up in the night worrying about how they could raise enough money to pay their employees. Many things could be postponed, but their employees' wages had to be paid punctually, because most of them had homes and family obligations which could not be postponed. The legendary bank manager, Ola Skjåk Bræk, was fully informed about businesses in Sunnmøre and knew that the companies' managers were concerned about those who provided them with their daily bread. In his
emoirs he talks about a furniture manufacturer who once sub m mitted terrible accounts figures. Skjåk Bræk asked him why he had done this: “I was unlucky with some models and had to reduce production. But I could not let my people go. We had been to the same school and are good friends. They have also built houses which must be paid for, and their families have to live. I have told the tax office that. You will not be getting any tax from me this year, but you will receive tax from my people.”5 This statement was not made by someone from Stokke Fabrikker, but it could easily have been.
Arnt Lande was permanently employed as a designer at Stokke in 1954. He had also worked for the company before embarking on his architectural studies. When developing his products, Lande emphasised that furniture should be simple to produce so that competitive models could be made which most people could afford to buy. This is a Guri sofa from 1954.
An exhibition of Stokke's furniture, about 1950. The company exhibited their models in several hotels in Norway's largest town at this time. This photo probably shows furniture on display at the Hotel Astoria in Trondheim. A Haakon recliner in front, with a Kari lounge suite on the left. An “Åkerblom” chair can be seen in the middle of the photograph.
taking over as Stokke's agent in eastern Norway. Johan Riise had been an agency spokesmen for a long time, calling for an increase in sales commission which had remained at 4 % ever since the War. He had argued strongly in favour of higher commission for agents in order to encourage them to boost their marketing and sales efforts. He had had difficulty in persuading both Ekornes and Møre to accept his claims. Stokke was not well established as the other two Sunnmøre manufacturers and Georg firmly believed that it would be beneficial to cooperate with Riise in order to boost sales volumes. He realised that they could live with 6 % sales commis sion if the company's sales increased by as much as Riise was hoping. The result was therefore that Johan Riise terminated the contract with Møre Lenestolfabrikk and entered into an agency contract with Stokke Fabrikker with effect from 1958.
This was to prove to be a good choice for Stokke – and for Riise. Stokke had no trouble in accepting a higher rate of commission as a result of increased sales. Johan Riise and the other agents were undoubtedly right when they maintained that low commission was detrimental to both manufacturers and agents alike. If agents received a low rate for each product sold, they would be forced to service a large number of suppliers, something that could affect their follow-up of indi vidual suppliers and their products. With slightly more generous financial parameters the agents could also deliver better quality service. Johan Riise retained fully-manned premises in Oslo where companies could unpack items for furniture retailers. He also employed his own furniture architect who provided manufacturers with product development assistance. He provided good follow-
Furniture was wrapped in brown paper and secured with ropes before special furniture packaging was developed during the middle of the 1960s. This is Bjarne Nygaard in the Packing Department.
Arthur Møller was Bjarne Møller's brother. This is Arthur working with a spray gun. The photograph must have been taken after 1948, because there were no varnishing booths at the company's first premises.
Some of the models manufactured by Stokke from the middle of the 1950s: Petit, Form, Combi, Congo, Akaba and the Spilka I bed-settee. Most of the models were designed by Arnt Lande, but the Form chair was designed by a German designer.
MODEL SPILKA I
up of the companies' collections and gave advice about product development, the choice of materials and pricing. This is what Johan Riise has to say about how he first started cooperating with Stokke: “I went up to Stokke's factory in Ålesund immediately after the furniture exhibition was over and went through the company's collection. We agreed to focus more heavily on a small chair that had been designed by Architect Lande. It was named Leika after the dog that was sent into space on a Russian spaceship. [...] I found that the price of the chair was not competitive enough and I wanted to know how it had been calculated. It appeared that it was based on the cost of a trial run of 100 chairs. So I said: “If you were planning to manufacture 10,000 chairs, what would the price be then?” “But they have to be sold,” objected Georg Stokke. “Yes, but that's my business,” I replied. “If you produce 10,000 chairs at a competitive price, then it will be up to me to sell them.” I sold over 11,000 chairs during the first year.”6 The development and marketing of the Leika chair is a good e xample of the successful cooperation that existed between the manu facturer and the sales link. Stokke had given a lot of thought to the development of this model in particular. It was an attempt to achieve the greatest possible cost-effective utilisation of materials
Georg Stokke saw this German chaise longue at an exhibition in 1955. Georg had been on several trips abroad and concluded that many customers were ready for this style of furniture. After Stokke joined Westnofa in 1955, he hoped that the company would receive the marketing help it needed in order to bring this product to the right customers. After a short while he realised that he was a few years too before his time with this experiment, which was called Soloform.
and rational production. For chair upholstery they needed exactly one metre of standard-width material. The arms were designed so that they could be cut from one piece, with minimal wastage. Transport of the chairs was also carefully planned from the start. They could be packed flat with four chairs to one carton. There were often 25 cartons in one consignment, i.e. one hundred chairs at a time. And when the agent introduced his sales force and promised excellent sales of a rationally designed product, things could not have been more promising.
Concentration Kåre Stokke spent his first few years with the company learning about the furniture industry and Stokke Fabrikker's marketing apparatus and production set-up. His cousin, Arne Seljeflot, s tarted working for the company at the same time, and became the company's Production Manager in August 1960. Together with Stokke Sr. and Office Manager Paul Røsvik they intensified their work on improving the organisation of the company and achieving better flow in the production system. Arne Seljeflot had completed his upper secondary school education at a technical college in the Skien area and was interested
how furniture should be built up so that it could be processed as rationally as possible through the production apparatus. “If a 'good' model is also sold in reasonable quantities, it needs to be adapted to the production apparatus, thus achieving favourable prices which will in turn lead to more sales, longer production runs and consequently greater rational utilisation of the production system.”7 The same thought also applied to the development of suites. Speaking about the Derby suite which was launched in 1964, Lande said: “Rational use is made of the materials. The suite c omponents have been designed so that machines can be used for most of the operations.”8 Arnt Lande and Stokke started using the concept of industrial design and were among the first to do so in a Norwegian
Kåre Stokke entered the family company full time in 1960. By this time he had completed a study year in England. During his time there he had acquired a good command of the English language, which served him well when meeting foreign customers at exhibitions and in furniture businesses.
The 1958 Combi Star reclining chair allowed users to change their sitting position by making simple adjustments. The chair came at the right time. Norwegian workers had more free time, some of which was spent leaning back in a reclining chair supplied by Stokke.
not only in the technical details of production, but also in finance and calculation. He participated in production analyses, purchasing plans, and calculations which provided the company with better tools for financial management. His calculations showed clearly which products were profitable and which were non-profitable. Arne and Kåre realised, like Georg and Paul Gerhard Røsvik had previously, that the key to profitability was the cultivation of an industrial profile. The company would need to reduce product diversity and concentrate on developing product ranges with long production runs. This principle was one which was also adopted by architect Arnt Lande. In a conversation with Møbelavisa (a furniture newspaper) in 1966 he explained his work on the development of new models. He spent a long time calculating
furniture context. In an article in Møbelavisa in 1966 where the concept was defined, it was emphasised that industrial design built a bridge between production, sales and consideration for consumers.9
Relaxing ... Stokke was constantly searching for rational products with commercial potential and from time to time their furniture hit the bull's-eye, thus giving Stokke Fabrikker a decisive boost forwards. This was the case with the 1958 Leika chair and the new reclining
chairs, the first of which was the 1960 Combi Star. One of Stokke's strengths had been its ability to find products which fulfilled the needs of the market. This was the case after the War, when there was a need for simple furniture which could allow new house- owners to feel that they belonged to the welfare society that was emerging. The expression “coming from a furnished house” evokes a smile today, but a few decades ago the extent and quality of one's furnishings and furniture were important indicators of one's position in society. The fact that ordinary working people could buy furniture that was similar to the furniture used by wholesalers, lawyers and other high-status professions was one of the most important aspects of social equality in Norwegian society, and
eveloped, and private consumption was directed towards d so-called luxury consumption. It was in 1960 that the last regulations on goods were lifted with the liberation of car sales. Now everyone who had sufficient capital could buy their own car, travel around and acquire new inspiration. New inspiration was also provided by television. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation started ordinary TV transmissions in 1960 and during that decade, an increasing number of Norwegian households started buying their own TV sets. Towards the end of the decade, households without a TV set of their own were the exception rather than the rule. These social changes influenced furniture fashions and functions. In Western society, an increasing number of hours in the day were
Stokke Fabrikker took part in several exhibitions with the other Westnofa Ltd. companies. This photo was taken at an international exhibition during the early 1960s. Stokke chose to focus mainly on the Combi Star, safe in the knowledge that it was way ahead of the field in the development of chairs for rest and relaxation purposes.
Stokke's big sellers during the early 1960s were the Combi Star, Kro and Leika. The demand for these chairs was considerable and steady. There were therefore no fears that some would be produced merely for storage. In 1964 Stokke announced to its customers that these models were available for immediate delivery.
Stokke contributed to this trend from the 1930s onwards with their industrially produced copies of lounge furniture based on exclusive traditional crafts.
eing spent sitting down. You started the day by sitting at the b breakfast table and continued by sitting in the car on the way to work. Many people sat throughout the day at schools, in offices or in front of production machines and they also sat down at the end of their working day, in front of the TV screen. In the home environment, which was still Stokke's main focus in the early 1960s, an opening arose for a new type of model; the reclining chair. Stokke put in an early appearance. As early as around 1958 the f actory management and designer Arnt Lande started experi menting with high-backed chairs with backs that could be lowered when the user wished to vary his/her sitting position and relax, a style which was very popular during the 1960s. Stokke wanted to give people chairs that they could relax in, thus anticipating a
Around 1960 the framework conditions for Norwegian furniture manufacturers were somewhat different from what they had been during and just after the War. A basic level of prosperity and furnishing had been reached. It was no longer sufficient for a chair to have four legs, a seat and a back. It also needed to have the correct design, and not least, it had to be good to sit on. In 1958, normal working hours were reduced from 48 to 45 hours a week. Wages continued to rise and there was almost full employment among able-bodied men. New consumer goods were being
t heme which it would cultivate more or less exclusively with effect from the1980s, i.e. furniture which allowed for movement and variation. The movement and variation achieved was not extensive and probably not of the type advocated by the factory's product developers at a later date, but even so, a straight up-and-down movement from a sitting to a reclining position allowed users to enjoy a new feeling of seated comfort and much longed-for relaxation after long stressful days. Stokke came to the market with the right type of product at the right time.
Finally out of the red The first reclining chair that was launched had a simple tilt system and was quite simply called Vipp. The chair could be tilted back and operated by body movement. Designer Arnt Lande was pivotal in the development of the model. Lande possessed an unusual degree of practical insight and concentrated on technical s olutions. Before embarking on his design studies he had worked in Stokke's Production Division, and the combination of his industrial experience and ability to find practical solutions for design and functional challenges proved to be fruitful. The response from customers was excellent and the company management realised that there was a promising customer base for this type of chair. With the next reclining chair, the Combi Star, they developed a system whereby the seat could be locked at several different angles. This was an important step forwards. This p rinciple allowed users to find a stable, comfortable position. Now peace in the household was assured: husband and wife did not need to argue about who would be the first to take a nap on the sofa after dinner. Now one of them could have their longed-for rest in Stokke's Combi Star. The reclining chair family was augmented in future years by new members. In 1964 the Telstar tilting chair was launched as a more affordable alternative to the adjustable Combi Star. The first Telstar model did not have a lock, only a tilt function. Customers also wanted to be able to lock the less expensive model in a reclining position, and such a version was quickly introduced to the market.10 Another milestone was reached with the development of the Swing Star in 1965. Again, Arnt Lande was responsible for the practical adjustments, with Kåre Stokke involved as an interested party and marketing expert. At the time this chair was the most demanding and most advanced chair that Stokke had made. It was the first Scandinavian chair to rest on a chassis that allowed unrestricted 360 degree rotation. At the same time the chair adjusted backwards into any position desired by the user. “This chair can be adjusted to accommodate several positions. It can also swing round, and is therefore eminently suitable for all TV lounges,” was
the company's own description of the chair when it was launched in 1965. This was a reclining chair that many people had long been calling for, and this was reflected by the sales figures. With this model, Stokke had a product that ensured a good flow of cash into the company. After many lean years, the 1966 accounts showed figures that brought the company out of the red for the first time. Sales increased by 35 % compared to the previous year.11 In 1967 sales reached the NOK 15 million mark, giving a net profit of NOK 1.5 million. This was a completely new situation for Stokke Fabrikker.
Meticulous design for export Reclining chairs constituted a substantial product segment for Stokke. Another segment was devoted to furniture intended for public environments. This furniture was fairly similar to that contained in Stokke's export collection, i.e. furniture which sold through the company's export organisation, Westnofa. One architect who was important to Stokke in this regard was Gerhard Berg. Even though Stokke had its own designer in Arnt Lande, the company sometimes obtained drawings and products from other sources in order to bring in new creative ideas which the company believed were necessary for making headway in the various markets. Gerhard Berg was introduced to the furniture industry in Sunnmøre through Vatne Lenestolfabrikk during the autumn of 1954. He made his debut as a designer on behalf of Vatne at one of the first furniture exhibitions ever held in Norway, in the air-raid shelter located beneath Abelhaugen in Oslo. After his days with Vatne, he d esigned many models for Hareid Bruk, a company which was run by Petter M. Erstad from Sykkylven for several years after World War II. Erstad employed Berg to design products which would fit in with his export strategy. Erstad was one of the first furniture manufacturers in Sunnmøre to investigate foreign markets, in the first instance England. Erstad was not entirely successful and after a period of time his company went bankrupt. Georg Stokke became interested in Berg and thought that his designs were well suited to the export collection that Stokke was building up. Stokke therefore took over some of the models that Berg had designed for Hareid Bruk. The Runde chair, suitable for home use, was one of them. It was a small, compact armchair with a rounded shape, where the back and armrests were joined together. The Marina chair was also transferred to Stokke. Berg was an experimental designer who was intrigued by the new plastic materials which the furniture manufacturing industry was starting to use in the 1950s. While developing the Sula and Aksla
Sula, design Gerhard Berg, approx. 1958. This chair was made for a competition sponsored by Askim Gummivarefabrikk. The furniture industry was keen to focus on foam rubber as an upholstery material. Berg later designed an armchair, Aksla, with the same concept. Both were put into production by Stokke.
models for Hareid Bruk, he worked with Askim Gummivarefabrikk. Together they developed aluminium moulds into which they moulded foam rubber cushions. The cushions were glued onto the chair's round back and glue was then injected on the front side of the mould so that the textile cover sat firmly. This upholstery method had been unknown to Stokke when they first contacted Berg. The first model Gerhard Berg designed especially for Stokke was a light easy chair with loose cushions, the Caro (1957). It was later supplemented by a sectional chair without arms, the Duo. These two models were purchased for the airport terminal at Vigra when it opened in 1958. During the 1960s a number of new models were produced, all with distinctive and upright lines. Westnofa's catalogues for the 1960s feature some of the best Norwegian designs that were marketed under the name of Scandinavian design. They include Ingmar Relling's Bagn, Base, Baku, Junior and Senior, Øyvind Iversen's Citychair, Arne Halvorsen's Finse and Stokke's models designed by Arnt Lande and Gerhard Berg. Berg's chairs in the catalogue include the Tyrol, Duo and Caro. The Kubus range was in a class of its own. It was gradually developed into i ndividual pieces of furniture, i.e. sofa, reclining chair, living room table, coffee table, conference table, conference chair and stackable
The first Stokke models required a considerable amount of manual work. This photo shows the assembly process.
With the Kubus range, Stokke made its mark as a top designer. This range, which was designed by Gerhard Berg, was marketed in both the home furniture and contract furniture sectors.
Harald Breivik finishing an arm on the Aksla chair. It was the design of the arm in particular that gave Aksla its prominent design status. But the product was not entirely suited to an industrial context.
Before Kåre and Turid built their house in Spjelkavik in 1964, they lived on the top floor of the factory. Here is Kåre with his children Geir and Rune on his lap, November 1962.
Kåre Stokke took over from his father Georg as the Managing Director on 1 August 1964. Georg suffered a period of illness and wanted to slow down after having spent 30 active years in the furniture industry.
chair with and without arms. Kubus was an example of furniture which had been adapted as a result of international trends, but which was also attractive to consumers in the domestic public market. Gerhard Berg describes the Kubus range as one of the most exciting projects he had ever worked with. It allowed him to think in a grand scale and in a more architectural manner.12 The Kro chair, designed by Arnt Lande, was the item of contract furniture that remained with Stokke for the longest period. This chair was launched around 1960 and was manufactured by the company well into the 1980s. Towards the end of the 1970s, between 3,000 and 4,000 chairs were still being produced with good financial margins. Gerhard Berg participated in boosting Stokke's reputation as a modern and market-oriented furniture manufacturer, but his exclusive designs played a lesser role in strengthening Stokke's financial position. Kåre Stokke nurtured the company's cooperation with Gerhard Berg in the same way as he nurtured Stokke's other important connections. Gerhard Berg was often invited to Kåre and Turid's home after they built their own house in Nedregårdsveien in S pjelkavik in 1964. Turid entertained Gerhard Berg and his Danish-born wife, Lillian, in an exemplary manner, and as the evening wore on, the conversa tion turned to design and trends both at home and abroad. Turid felt that Gerhard Berg was a designer who gave the impression that he knew where he was going. Kåre praises Berg for his sure sense of style, but adds that his models could sometimes challenge the company's production logistics. The m anagement at Stokke was being increasingly forced to consider rational production, partly as a result of rising costs during the 1960s. The m achinery and equipment which the company had been using since the end of the 1950s was intended for industrial production, i.e. production of large quantities of identical and standardised components. Not all of Gerhard Berg's models were suited to such principles, and one
roblem was that several of Berg's models failed to generate the p required sales volumes.
Georg has to retire For Georg it had been a relief to have his son Kåre involved in the daily management of the factory. It had not been difficult to persuade Kåre to participate in the family business. Kåre had been involved in the various aspects of factory m anagement from a young age. He was still just a boy when he was given the responsible task of going to Møre Privatbank in Ålesund every Friday to collect the employees' wages. He was also allowed to try his hand in both administration and production as his abilities and skills gradually developed. The first consequtive period worked by Kåre at the factory was during 1958. He then spent a year studying in England in order to obtain formal qualifications for joining the management team at Stokke. From 1960 he worked fulltime, and was responsible for managing production, as well as for marketing and sales. The insight he had acquired into factory management and procedures was to prove useful when the family was dealt a hard blow in 1964 with Georg's diagnos of cancer of the thyroid gland. His p rognosis was not good, and he made all the arrangements that he thought would be necessary in order to ensure stable development for the company – no matter how things might turn out for himself. He transferred Stokke Fabrikker to his son Kåre in August 1964, and Kåre was also given responsibility for the daily management of the company. Such responsibility felt like a heavy burden to bear at the age of 27. When he took over and was interviewed by the company's information magazine, he said that he had no plans to make
any changes in the production process. He wanted to continue the expansion of more efficient production processes and to develop the company's designs so that they were in step with the times – preferably a little ahead.13 Georg Stokke continued as Chairman of the Board of the company after Kåre took over as Managing Director. Georg succeeded in overcoming his illness and during 1965 he returned to the company on a full-time basis at the age of 54. Kåre retained his position as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker and was the sole owner. However he and his father continued to cooperate closely during the following years. In many ways their cooperation helped to form the development of Stokke, with for example the establishment of new subsidiaries. The experiences and feelings Georg had had during his period of illness in no way served to dampen his entrepreneurial spirit – in fact quite the contrary. Georg tells Harald Grytten in his autobiography that “ being able to be active and effective are two of the most important things. Being able to use your life to create values during the time we are given, takes on a new and urgent meaning the day you stand face to face with the sudden threat posed by a killer disease.”14
There was a woman behind it The one factor that contributed more than anything else to Kåre's success in confronting the challenges of being the young leader of Stokke Fabrikker AS was his wife, Turid. Kåre himself is the first to acknowledge how important Turid has been for the development of the company. He realises that he could never have devoted so much time and energy to the company in his role of Managing Director if Turid had not supported him by taking care of the important tasks of looking after the home and children. Kåre met Turid in 1956 when he was in Oslo as a student at Oslo Handelsgymnas. At the time Turid Hagberg was 15 years old and in her first year at the same school. They quickly found each other and established a relationship which would come to last. Turid also accompanied Kåre when he went to England to study economics in 1959. Turid had just finished upper secondary school at the time and had no objections to living abroad. She was interested in learning languages, and with her business background from N orway it was natural for her to start studying at the Commercial College in Manchester. In the England of those days it was not easy to obtain lodgings as an unmarried couple living together. In order to remove such practical problems, Turid and Kåre decided to get married
The Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudmund Gudmundsson, visited S tokke Fabrikker in August 1964. Here we can see Kåre Stokke, who earlier in the month had taken over as the Managing Director of the company, showing him the arm of a chair. The Foreign Minister was presented with a Combi Star chair as a gift.
Turid and Kåre were married in 1959. Since then Turid has closely followed the development of Stokke and has been an important sounding board for her husband.
The house that Turid and Kåre built in 1964. It was often used for business entertainment and as a showcase for presentations of furniture p roduced by Stokke Fabrikker.
Kåre placed great emphasis on nurturing contact with retailers both at home and abroad. De Boers from Toronto in Canada was one of Stokke's major customers. He often visited Turid and Kåre at home when they moved to their own house in Spjelkavik in 1964.
The Ergo dining chair in teak lacquered beech. A solid 1960s model with clean lines. Design: Farstrup Savværk and Stolefabrik.
before they went to England. Turid was only 19 years old and Kåre was 22 when they celebrated their wedding. It should also be said that it was not unusual to get married at such a young age in the 1950s. As Turid puts it; “Today everyone wants to stay young as long as possible, but at that time we wanted to grow up as fast as possible!” They returned to Norway and Spjelkavik in the summer of 1960. Kåre threw himself with gusts into managing the factory. In the beginning they lived in the so-called caretaker's flat on the top floor of the administration wing. Kåre not only lived there, but he also took on many of the duties of a caretaker. He ensured that the boiler was working properly and used to make the rounds of the factory to check that everything was in order after the others had gone home. Although Turid had dinner ready every day at around four o'clock, she remembers that she often had to keep it hot for him. Sometimes she got tired of waiting and took it down to him in his office. Sometimes the small family had relatively lively discussions about how they spent their time and about their priorities, but in retrospect Turid says she understood why Kåre spent so much time at work. The company had some demanding tasks in volving its economy and the reorganisation of the sales and distribution apparatus. At one point, Turid wanted to work in the family b usiness herself. She thought that this might at least let her see her husband more often, but Kåre disagreed. He thought that it would be a bad idea to mix business with their p rivate lives and that it would be better for the other employees if his wife worked somewhere else. So after their return from England, she worked as a supply teacher at Spjelkavik School for a while.
Her feelings of loneliness faded away after the family grew. Rune was born i January 1961. Then the others followed at inter- vals: Geir Kåre in 1962, Knut Olav in 1964 and Kristin Elisabeth in 1969. 1964 was a very active year for the Stokke family – not least for Turid. Kåre had just taken over responsibility for the family business. They built their own house in Spjelkavik, a stone's throw away from the factory. They built a holiday cottage at Lesjaverk. Knut Olav was born. And Turid became busier in her role as hostess and a discussion partner for Stokke's business connections. Early in the 1960s there was very limited hotel capacity in Ålesund. Hotell Noreg was the best accommodation alternative for agents, suppliers and other business contacts in Sunnmøre, although even there capacity was limited. Kåre therefore often took visitors home and gave them food, drink and lodging. On these occasions Turid was the one who was in charge. She remembers that things were particularly busy during May when American Westnofa customers visiting the Copenhagen Exhibition came to Ålesund and Sunnmøre to see the factories where all the furniture was made. It could sometimes be quite h ectic in the mornings. First the children had to be woken up, s erved a good breakfast and sent off to school with packed lunches. After they had left, there was a new round of breakfasts, this time for the long-distance travellers. Both home-baked bread and home-made jam were on the menu. The significance of such personal customer service for maintaining and strengthening the business side of activities should not be underestimated. Buyers of furniture products have had many choices. A supplier that also nurtures personal relationships will often have a competitive advantage and be preferred over others.
Marketing Manager Audun Bondevik was pivotal in the Blisto joint venture. He wanted to increase the marketing budget of Stokke and Blindheim and thought that the companies would earn good returns on such an investment. Bondevik was also the editor of Møbelavisa, a magazine which Stokke and Blindheim had distributed to all their retailers since 1964.
In 1963, Stokke Fabrikker entered into a market and sales joint venture with Blindheim Møbelfabrikk. These two companies had collections that complemented each other. Stokke and Blindheim's management team was presented in the first edition of Møbelavisa. From the left, Kåre Stokke, Einar Blindheim, Karl Hanken and Georg Stokke.
So even though Turid Stokke never directly contributed to improving the financial situation of the company, her efforts have without doubt played a role in the positive results that carried Stokke forward each year.
Blindheim and Stokke – a new couple One of the first initiatives taken by Kåre was to invite Blindheim Møbelfabrikk to formalise the sales collaboration which the two companies had enjoyed. Stokke and Blindheim had been cooperating by using the same agents ever since the 1950s. In 1964 the time was mature to put this collaboration on a firmer and more formal footing. One of Kåre's supporters in this process was Audun Bondevik, who had been a freelance marketing consultant for Møre Lenestolfabrikk, Vest-Norske Møbelfabrikk, Blindheim Møbelfabrikk and Stokke since 1962. In 1964 he was employed on a permanet basis at Blindheim and Stokke and started drawing up joint marketing and sales plans for the two companies. At this time there were several furniture companies in the country that were re organising their sales strategies. Previously all marketing contact had taken place through agents. After 1962, several companies started to directly influence the public by using integrated presentations, usually in cooperation with their retailers. Audun Bondevik advised Stokke on this matter, and the company began directly advertising its product in weekly
magazines for the first time in 1962. Shortly afterwards, advertisements for Stokke furniture could be found on Nitedal's matchboxes. Naturally the agents who were supposed to convince furniture retailers to accept Stokke's products had no objections to this help in getting started. It was no coincidence that it was Stokke and Blindheim that joined forces on the sales front. The two companies, each with their own specialities, complemented each other and both became market leaders in their own areas. Blindheim produced board furniture and had two top sellers: Ergo de luxe shelving system and Olapulten desk. Stokke produced lounge furniture, reclining chairs and simple chairs for the public sector. The companies' collections were combined in various ways in their presentational material. Blindheim's Ola-pult and Stokke's simple Kro chair were a combination which was in great demand for many years. This sales cooperation appeared to be mutually strengthening for the two companies. The advantages of being able to offer such a wide product range placed the companies in a strong negotiating position in sales. The retailers also benefited from the alliance because having a single supplier able to offer different types of products simplified their work. In the first edition of their information magazine Møbelavisa which was published in 1964, the companies stated that Møbelmagasinet in Stavanger had carried out a wide-ranging marketing campaign for the Stokke and Blindheim collection in August 1963. This furniture company presented Stokke/Blindheim products in three large advertisements in the newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad. At the same they d isplayed the photographed interior in their show
window. Those responsible for the campaign at the furniture company said; that relatively extensive marketing was expensive, but that such expenses were just as necessary as wages and transport expenses. Good sales are dependent on good marketing.15 These statements made by the retailer in Stavanger were probably also intended to have an “internal medicinal” effect on the management of Stokke and Blindheim. Audun Bondevik experienced that not everyone initially had the same understanding for the necessity of devoting such considerable resources to marketing. This attitude changed when the effects of such marketing campaigns became apparent. In order to keep the retailers informed about all product news and to be able to include useful information from the market, the agents of Stokke and Blindheim and the managers of the companies met twice a year. The information magazine Møbelavisa was also used to provide the network of retailers with information for the duration of the Stokke and Blindheim joint venture. Audun Bondevik was the editor of Møbelavisa for a number of years.
Star chairs to the fore Malvin Vegsund was one of the agents who worked for the two companies in Sunnmøre. In 1968 he took over the Møre and Romsdal sales region, in addition to Dombås, Otta and Vågå. The contract he signed when he began working, provides us with good insight into the working conditions of agents and the way in which the furniture companies organised their sales work at this time. Vegsund agreed to visit the furniture retailers regularly and at least 8–10 times a year. He was to submit regular reports to Stokke and Blindheim after customer visits so that the companies could be kept informed about developments in the market. Paragraph 8 of the contract was central. It stated that an agent could not enter into new agency agreements without the approval of the companies. The principals were worried that their sales efforts would suffer if their agents travelled around with too many catalogues in their suitcases. Malvin Vegsund had to terminate some of his contracts with other furniture manufacturers b ecause their models were too similar to the products and lines of Blindheim and Stokke. All the agents working for the two joint venture partners were self-employed, and their income varied according to the number of sales they made. Stokke paid Vegsund a 5 % commission, while Blindheim paid 4 %.16 Malvin Vegsund remembers well which Stokke models were easiest to sell in 1968 and in the following years. They were the reclining chairs in the Star family. Both Swing Star and Telstar were popular pieces of furniture which almost sold themselves, at least until the advent of Ekornes' Stressless recliner which started to take over more and more during the early 1970s. In Stokke's description of the Copenhagen furniture exhibition in May 1968 the retailers
were mainly interested in tilting and reclining chairs. That year Stokke's collection contained 10 Star models which they claimed covered the whole range, from the most affordable models to the best and most expensive ones. Saga Star belonged to the latter category. This was a loose-cushioned chair that was launched in 1968, where nothing had been spared in order to ensure maximum comfort while sitting down.17 Stokke also supplied furniture that was in demand in public spaces. Malvin Vegsund mentions Kubus in particular. This model never sold as well as the Leika and Kro chairs, but several public buildings were furnished with pieces from the stylish Kubus range, including the City Hall in Ålesund.
Sunnmøre centre in Oslo In the middle of the 1960s, Blindheim and Stokke were involved in a drive launched by the industry in Sunnmøre and aimed at the market in the central part of eastern Norway, which also served as the most important bridge to Norway's export markets. The idea behind what was to become Sunnmørssenteret (the Sunnmøre Centre) or Sunnmøre Varehus (the Sunnmøre Showroom), was that it should serve as a warehouse for industrial companies in Sunnmøre and as a centre for transporting goods to the Oslo region and returning consignments to Sunnmøre.18 According to Inge Langlo, the Centre was not a delegated transport centre, but after a number of start-up problems it began to perform an important function as an exhibition area for several furniture producers in Sunnmøre. “The Centre had huge problems in selling floor space. During a Board meeting of Westnofa Ltd. held at the Viking Fjordhotell in Ørsta, representatives from Sunnmøre Varehus were given the opportunity to present the project. The Board discussed the matter and decided that Westnofa and its shareholder companies should join forces and purchase an area of approximately 1,300 square metres for offices and for exhibition purposes. Westnofa was responsible for the interior design and used Gerhard Berg as a professional consultant. The companies' Oslo offices moved in, and thanks to their pleasant and functional exhibition area, they settled in well. Stokke and Blindheim were together, as were Åslid and P.I. Langlo in one division and Vestlandske and Møre Lenestolfabrikk in another.”19 Per Natvig worked as an agent for Stokke and Blindheim with responsibility for sales in Hedmark and Oppland. He started working as an agent in 1971 and his base was Sunnmørssenteret at Alnabru. He remembers that Arne Austrheim was the manager and that many great exhibitions of furniture were held at Sunnmørs senteret. During the days when exhibitions were held at Sjølyst, customers were transported by bus from Sjølyst to Sunnmørs senteret where they were received in an exemplary manner by the companies' representatives.20
Interior architect Arnt Lande at the drawing board in 1966. As a furniture designer, Lande was loyal to the limitations imposed by industrial furniture, both financially and technically.
Here are two of Stokke's products from the 1960s: the Telstar and Kro chairs. Kro was a light and useful supplementary chair which was also suited to Blindheim's shelving and desk system.
Leika was a product designed for industrial production. This chair sold in large numbers, including to customers in northern Norway. Design: Arnt Lande.
Sunnmøre Varehus was completed at the beginning of 1969. This building, which was located close to the centre of Oslo, provided the Sunnmøre furniture industry with a functional exhibition arena. Together with the other Westnofa companies, Stokke was able to display its new models in the large exhibition area.
Kro as a stackable chair. Design: Arnt Lande.
Blisto created so-called matrix material for its retailers who were then able to extract ready-made advertisements for the extensive collections supplied by Blindheim and Stokke. Stokke was also able to draw on Vågå Bruk's furniture.
At the same time that Stokke started using Sunnmørssenteret the company concluded its collaborative venture with its agent in eastern Norway, Johan Riise. This had been a successful venture and Riise received much credit for the excellent progress that Stokke had made throughout the 1960s. Their cooperation did not cease abruptly either, because several of Johan Riise's agents, including Arne Austrheim, were employed at Sunnmørssenteret and continued to sell Stokke and Blindheim's products.
management of the two companies considered this to be the only way of realising the ambitious plans that they had been nurturing for some time, i.e. printing one expensive colour catalogue containing the companies' products which could be distributed to households throughout Norway. Their coordinated marketing efforts were also aimed at another important target designed to level out their production curve and ensure the utilisation of production capacity throughout the year. This was expressed by Stokke's owner, Kåre Stokke, when the newspaper Sunnmørsposten reported on the establishment of Blisto Møbler AS. Like most other Norwegian furniture companies producing furniture primarily for the domestic market, Stokke acknowledged that problems were caused by p ressure on production prior to Christmas and a slump in the market during the spring.
Varying growth rates As a result of the positive experience gained from their cooperative venture, Blindheim and Stokke decided in 1965 that they would like to extend it to include technical cooperation. An engineer, Kjell Wanvik, was employed to work on time and motion studies, the determination of piecework rates, production planning and other rationalisation measures.21 However, their cooperation proved to be most successful on the sales and marketing side. In 1966, the two companies produced a joint catalogue containing 56 pages of entirely new models. In 1971 cooperation between the two companies was carried an important step further when it was decided that all Blindheim and Stokke products should be marketed under the name of Blisto Møbler. The intention behind this decision was that it should be more efficient and thus cheaper to carry out marketing and sales work. The companies would print just one catalogue and they would have joint advertisements, letterheads and logos, etc. The
After the formation of Blisto Møbler AS in 1971, the joint v enture between Stokke and Blindheim became so close that it gave rise to speculation about whether or not the next step would be a full merger between the two companies. Møbelavisa also raised this question with the company owners in 1972. At that time Einar Blindheim responded by saying that the companies were indeed planning to extend their cooperation, while Kåre Stokke stated categorically that the companies would continue to operate as independent entities. However, he added that they would be trying to maximise the production benefits of their cooperation and “ensure that none of their production process encroached on any areas that were naturally covered by others.”22 During the 1960s and 70s several Norwegian furniture companies attempted to engage in cooperative ventures similar to
The Upholstery Department at Stokke Fabrikker. In the middle of the 1960s this department was located on the fourth floor of the factory building in Spjelkavik. Harry Holte can be seen operating the staple gun. Holte later became the Foreman of the Upholstery Department.
The Exhibition Room at Stokke Fabrikker during the early 1960s when the company was marketing itself as a design-orientated producer of furniture for ordinary consumers.
the Blindheim and Stokke model, but hardly any of these succeeded in pursuing cooperation to such an extent. It could be said that the two Sunnmøre companies were pioneers in their field. However, during the late 1970s some difficulties started to emerge. Initially Blindheim had been setting the trend and had been responsible for the most significant contribution in terms of turnover and growth rates thanks to the company's well-known brands, Ergo de luxe and the Ola desk. However, this position gradually started
to change with the introduction of the Star recliner range. Furthermore, in 1967, Stokke entered into a very promising cooperative venture with the designer Peter Opsvik, which resulted in and included the launch of the Tripp Trapp chair for children in 1972. Blindheim failed to achieve any similar innovative advances in its furniture collection and after a while the widening gap between the two c ompanies' furniture portfolios and their innovative a bilities made it harder for them to cooperate.
The export organisation Westnofa Ltd. 40 years of exports The motivation for establishing Westnofa was the same as the motivation behind the formation of Blisto. P.I. Langlos Fabrikker in Stranda, Møre Lenestolfabrikk in Ørsta, Vestlandske Møbelfabrikk in Sykkylven, Aaslids Møbelfabrikk in Volda and Stokke Fabrikker in Spjelkavik realised that by joining forces they could attain a far stronger profile abroad than they could achieve separately. The establishment of an export apparatus is demanding. It requires good logistics, expertise relating to the various markets and the resources to front new markets by displaying excellent quality at
exhibitions and by adopting other measures. Successful cooperation was conditional on the various players complementing one another and on ensuring that members of the organisation did not step on the toes of any of the others involved in the cooperative venture. This was also a problem and a challenge which Westnofa's representatives abroad had to handle on a daily basis. Westnofa was forced to choose between different representatives and stores in the various countries. At the time it was not certain that these choices were the correct ones for all the factories involved. Inge Langelo, who followed Westnofa almost from the start as the Sales Manager of P.I. Langlo from 1957 and as the Sales Manager of
Møremøbler from 1970, touches on these circumstances in an article he has written about the organisation: “One of the problems was that because of the product groups which existed it was necessary to approach several different distributors. The market for furniture for private home use was served by other players than the office and contract furniture market. The market for special children's furniture, such as Tripp Trapp, has its own channels ... The f actories wanted to develop and produce models which they were equipped to produce, and they expected Westnofa to obtain the orders. That could not always happen. Therefore, dissatisfaction arose, along with demands for unsold models to be freed up for sale through other channels than Westnofa.”23
member companies. Westnofa was also to invoice customers and pay the manufacturers. Any profits after the export organisation's administration and marketing expenses had been deducted were channelled back to the member companies to help with their product development.25 However, although the contract was supposed to benefit all the parties involved, dissatisfaction gradually arose in the organisation, and accusations were made about some companies and products being given priority over others.
Langlo intimates that it is difficult for such cooperative models to work in practice. Nevertheless, Westnofa kept things going for over 40 years, longer than any other export organisation in the furniture industry. The brand name Westnofa acheived a good reputation abroad. It was associated with top quality Norwegian furniture production. Sunnmøre furniture representatives were met with nods of approval at exhibitions when they said that they represented Westnofa.24
In 1965 Vestlandske's Siesta chair was presented for the first time at Westnofa's exhibition in Stavanger. It attracted considerable attention right from the start and was responsible for a substantial growth in turnover and an improved financial position for Westnofa – which in turn also benefited the other member companies. Nevertheless, there were mutterings about Siesta being given too much space and pushing aside products that were then unable to exploit their own potential. This created an imbalance within the organisation, and at Stokke in particular there was growing dissatisfaction with Westnofa's contribution to sales work. For the first few years the percentage of Stokke's turnover that was channelled via Westnofa amounted to approximately 10–15 %. Several of the other companies had a considerably higher export percentage. Stokke's management started to feel that some of the
One of the reasons for this goodwill was Westnofa's ability to be innovative and bring forward young, talented designers. Gradually, a concept called Westnofa Workshop was developed. This was part of Westnofa's stand that was given over to designers with progressive ideas.
A split organisation
Raten Sie die Preisen? In connection with the presentation of the member companies' products at exhibitions, product manuals and price lists were also prepared. Since there were five companies, all of which had relatively broad product ranges, their stand representatives had to deal with a thick wad of information. Kåre Stokke and Inge Langlo attended several foreign exhibitions abroad together, and they did their best to present relevant and precise information to everyone who wanted it. Inge Langlo remembers his first export exhibition in
Helsinki in 1958 when they had problems handling all this information. Leafing through and finding the correct product and price in response to a query could take a long time. One G erman customer became so impatient that he commented “Raten Sie de Preisen?” (Are you guessing the price?)
Membership of Westnofa was unlikely to have been experienced as a problem for those companies which experienced that the organisation met their expectations as regards marketing and selling their products abroad. The cooperation agreement was formulated such that Westnofa was to be built up as a legally independent unit with offices in Ørsta, with responsibility for the exports of all its
company's products were not considered to be of interest to the retailer network that Westnofa had developed, especially the reclining chairs which had been top earners for Stokke during the 1960s. One measure which received considerable support in the Westnofa organisation was participation in Sunnmørssenteret in
The Gjende lounge group was simple, with pure lines. In addition to having the right expression for the times, it was designed so that it could be manufactured efficiently by Stokke's machinery.
The Swing Star (1965) provided users with even greater options for variation than previous reclining chair models in the Star range. This range thus precluded Stokke's subsequent motto: Furniture for movement and variation.
In 1964, Stokke entered into a contract with Ring Møbelfabrikk in Moelv for the take-over of their collection of movable office chairs. These chairs complemented Stokke's former collection of office furniture. In 1966 the Advokat executive chair was launched. This was the successor to the President executive chair.
The Ola desk produced by Blindheim Møbelfabrikk arrived in the middle of the 1950s and was a great success for approximately 20 years. This success also benefited Blisto's portner, Stokke, since Stokke was producing the chairs for the work desk. Here is a Kro chair.
Stokke Fabrikker after the extension was built in 1967.
Oslo. The companies had their own arrangements concerning the exhibition area and offices, but they had a common reception and switchboard. Westnofa invited customers here, including c ustomers from Denmark and Sweden. Around 1970 Stokke and the management of Westnofa started to disagree about sales to Sweden. Westnofa wanted to handle all foreign sales for member companies, including those made to Sweden. In 1969 Stokke established a division in Tranås in Sweden which was initially intended to be an assembly and sales company
for pine furniture going to Vågå Bruk, but which was relatively quickly developed as Stokke's sales organisation in Sweden. Stokke's presence in Sweden proved to be successful, and it almost certainly helped Stokke to extricate itself from its joint export venture with Westnofa, with Westnofa's approval. Stokke thought that Westnofa was a useful partner while the company was standing on the threshold of the big wide world, but after a while it realised that solutions that had been appropriate during the 1950s were not necessarily the right ones twenty years later.
Building expansion at Moa Stokke's plans to undertake building extensions in the early 1960s clearly reflected the company's increased activities and improved profits. The last extension had occurred in 1956, when one floor was added to the original 1948 factory building. Early in the 1960s production capacity in the carpentry shop was fully exploited, although Stokke managed to handle most of its woodwork itself. A list drawn up in 1962 shows that Stokke F abrikker received woodwork from a subcontractor for approximately 300 chairs and 150 sofas, which equated to approximately 8–10 % of its wood processing operations and was used for models which were made in small batches.26 In 1963, Stokke Fabrikker contacted the Rationalisation Office of the Federation of Norwegian Industries, IRAS, to obtain help in forming a general plan for a new factory facility in order to aid the c ompany double production. There was a great need for increased capacity because sometimes Stokke operated with relatively long delivery periods. They also wanted to provide better conditions for the employees in the Administration Department. A new canteen and exhibition premises were included in the plans. During the post-war period, both the IRAS and the National Institute of Technology were key advisers to industrialists hoping to achieve rational and expansive modes of operation, and Stokke Fabrikker definitely belonged to this group. The new building was planned in accordance with modern guidelines. The aim was to achieve optimum flow between the various production divisions. The report produced by the IRAS is characterised by 1960s industrially rational logic and language. The work stations in the new machine carpentry shop were described thus: “Work stations and machinery respectively, shall be placed with regard to standardised work station arrangements, i.e. the location of pallets and equipment that is contingent on movement patterns for handling operations
should generally be uniform at the various work stations the location of machinery, with light coming in from the side, shall be favourable with regard to work physiology, likewise pallets shall be positioned alongside the transport corridor in order to minimise transport distances”27 Production equipment was arranged in order to minimise transport and materials handling. The technical arrangements were then followed up by time and motion studies of work operations that were designed to ensure that workers made the most effective use of their time and to keep production costs as low as possible. For this extension, Stokke used the new methods being used for constructing production buildings, i.e. a one-storey building. Tran sporting semi-finished goods and raw materials between various floors was not compatible with modern requirements for industrial operations. There was some internal discussion within the management group about which part of the extension should be done first, the administration wing or the production premises. Møbelavisa reported that a lack of space was “critical both as regards the offices and several of the production divisions.”28 According to Arne Seljeflot, it was Georg Stokke who made the decisive point with the following retort: “Remember, boys, there should also be a face, not just a large stomach!”29 The first building phase thus consisted of offices, a welfare room and an exhibition hall covering an area of 725 m 2.30 It was completed in 1964. In the following May, Sunnmørsposten was able to publish a photo of the inside of the new building. The photographer had captured the new, airy exhibition hall where two women were displaying a variety of small chairs, reclining chairs, sofas and tables. The tables were produced by Blindheim Møbelfabrikk.31 The facilities at Moa continued to expand during the following
Stokke used sports celebrities in the marketing of its furniture. At the end of the 1960s, Ole Ellefsæter was one of Norway's most popular athletes, and people noticed when he recommended Stokke's Combi Star recliner.
The Ministar recliner was launched in 1968. It was one of ten models in the Star range which was Stokke's most profitable furniturecollection during the 1960s. This picture shows speed skater Magne Thomassen reclining in the chair.
y ears. During the three years prior to 1968 the factory building was extended by a further 3,000 square meters, with most space being devoted to a 1,800 square meter production hall. This provided an opportunity to extend the company's stitching division, etc. During this period ready-made upholstered furniture underwent reorganisation when the company switched over to models with loose seat and back cushions. The loose cushion models required far more stitching than previously. There was also a great need to expand capacity in the factory's packing and dispatch division. Production Manager Arne Seljeflot told Møbelavisa that the company was hoping that the new extension would help to reduce Stokke's 6–8 week delivery period by up to two weeks.32 During this period the Molde architect Knut P. Bugge was responsible for designing Stokke's new production premises in Ålesund, Rauma and Vågå. Bugge was a reputable architect who had also produced the drawings for Turid and Kåre's new house in Spjelkavik in 1964.
but organised leader. Like most of the Sunnmøre founders he was not particularly fond of the trade unions. He thought that the company could manage perfectly well without the interference of external organisations. However, in his capacity as employee's representative he sometimes felt that it was necessary to have assistance from representatives from the furniture workers' own trade union, the Norwegian Union of Woodworkers in Oslo. One example was when the employees were calling for the abolition of the Møretariff (the Møre tariff) which was introduced in 1939 to compensate for the extra costs incurred by Sunnmøre producers in getting their goods to the markets. Georg Stokke was one of the spokesmen for this scheme which involved furniture workers in Sunnmøre receiving a slightly lower hourly rate than their c olleagues in western and eastern Norway. The Møretariff was abolished after the entire furniture industry went out on strike in 1949. Subsequent to this, events were less dramatic and Røvreit can only remember one disagreement about minor pay adjustments. Matters never progressed to the stage where questions were asked about trade union membership rights at Stokke, something that d id occur at other furniture companies in Sunnmøre. When Kristian Røvreit started in 1962 there was already a well developed system for employees' representatives at the company and the tone of the negotiations conducted between the parties at the company was generally good. This spirit of cooperation certainly did not deteriorate after Kåre took over as owner and became r esponsible for contact with the employees' organisations. “Kåre Stokke was easy to talk to. He spent a lot of time on the factory floor and talked to people. There were not many closed doors there,” says Kristian Røvreit, who was the chief shop steward at the Stokke group for a number of years.33 As regards the payment of employees in the Production Department, piecework had always been used at Stokke. It was also the preferred method of payment at other furniture companies
Full speed ahead for piecework So what was the working environment like in this modern furniture factory? Kristian Røvreit came to Stokke as a 27-year-old in 1962. He came with previous experience from several workplaces in the district, including Løndals Møbelfabrikk, which had been s upplying wood to Møller and Stokke ever since the 1930s, as well as the building industry. In retrospect he describes the working environment at Stokke Fabrikker during the 1960s as being a good one. During his first few years at Stokke, Georg was the manager. Kristian Røvreit had been engaged in union work at his former workplaces and became involved relatively quickly as an employee's representative at Stokke. He experienced Georg as being a firm,
Sales representative Bjørn Olsen from Johan Riise AS, interior architect Arnt Lande and Kåre Stokke on an outing in connection with an exhibition trip to Denmark.
in Sunnmøre, something which was related to the way in which the whole industry had been organised in Sunnmøre right from the start. This industry filled an empty space when a market for reasonably priced, ready-made furniture emerged in the cities during the first part of the last century. In Sunnmøre, furniture production was organised as series-based piecework carried out by young, unskilled labourers who were quickly given specialized tasks. After World War II, the producers in Sunnmøre swept away the traditional craft companies in the cities. It was then competition from efficient foreign producers that served as the motivating force for continuing to make p roduction as rational and cost-effective as possible. Piecework and continuous production rationalisation were two of the measures that were used. The situation for piecework was good at Stokke Fabrikker both in the 1960s and the 1970s. The company had furniture which was produced in long series, such as small chairs for the contract market and reclining chairs in the Star series. They could make up to 1000 units in one series. The production workers at the plant at Moa were skilled and efficient in their specialized role in the company's production operations. Kristian Røvreit operated the router permanently, day after day, year after year. Other workers had their permanent machines. And they preferred it like that. They gradually became completely familiar with both the models and the machines. They quickly gained dexterity and were able to earn very good wages. If they had alternated between different machines and work tasks, they would have had to have undergone training and trial periods and it would have been difficult for them to maintain the high tempo acquired when working on one fixed task. During the annual national collective wage negotiations, the emphasis was on fixed pay scales. This showed that the furniture industry was a low-wage industry by national standards, although drawing up such statistics always presents problems. A worker on just a fixed wage at Stokke in 1962/63 could have an hourly wage of
Stokke was quick to see the possibilities offered by plastic materials. The Element chair (launched in 1968) attracted considerable attention when it was displayed at the Copenhagen Exhibition in 1968. It was the first Norwegian chair to make use of plexiglass and foam rubber upholstery. Design: Asbjørn Synnes. Georg and Kåre Stokke believed that plastic represented the future for the furniture industry, and this view was significant in their decision to participate in the formation of Westnofa Industrier in 1969.
between NOK 2 and NOK 3. Hardly anyone was earning just a fixed wage. The piecework earnings of a normal fast worker could easily amount to between NOK 5 and 6 per hour. This applied to Kristian Røvreit when he was employed as a builder in Ålesund in 1961/62. The building trade was regarded as being a leader in s etting wage standards in the region. When Kristian Røvreit started working for Stokke he earned more as a pieceworker than as a building worker. In order to determine correct piecework rates, it was necessary to carry out time and motion studies. These studies were not very well received by the company's production workers who did not appreciate having someone standing behind their backs and recording the time they spent on their various tasks. They felt that they were being watched. Kåre Stokke relates that the management at the Norwegian Union of Woodworkers was a useful ally in encouraging the company's employees to understand the value of these time and motion studies. He says, “We received a visit from Olaf Axelsen who was a member of the management of the Norwegian Union of Woodworkers (Deputy M anaging Director from 1954–1973, Managing Director from 1973–1983. Ed.). He told our workers about the tough international competition being faced by the furniture industry and explained that the time and motion studies formed part of the rationalisation process which the Norwegian furniture industry needed to undertake in order to survive the competition it faced. He said that this would help to secure jobs at both Stokke and elsewhere. They were very understanding at the Union office.” The disadvantage of the piecework used by Stokke and other expansive furniture companies at that time was that it could lead to repetitive and monotonous working days. However, good earnings went a long way towards compensating for this and probably also enabled Stokke to implement a number of measures designed to promote the welfare of its workers.
Georg and Johanne Stokke lived next door to Kåre and Turid and the grandparents loved spending time with their grandchildren. This picture was taken at the christening of the youngest, Kristin, in 1969.
Company policy Bodil Torset and Ingebjørg Nedregård, who started working at Stokke in 1949 and 1960 respectively, relate that Friday was payday, and in those days they also served meatballs in the canteen. For a while the men paid full price for their lunch, while the ladies received a 2 kroner discount. This was because the ladies earned less, and, it was claimed, because they ate less.34 When IRAS was drawing up plans for a new factory in 1962, it was mentioned that the workers at Stokke Fabrikker that year had a 1-hour lunch break every day between 12:30 and 1:30 pm. The consultancy company anticipated a reduction in this break in the near future, and indicated that the need for a modern canteen would then increase. This was probably a correct observation. After the length of the working week was reduced to 45 hours in 1958, several industries joined the trend of reducing lunch breaks. With shorter working days it was no longer necessary to have such long breaks. There was a widespread desire to finish the working day earlier than before, and especially to stop working on Saturdays so that workers could devote more time to their families and l eisure activities. In 1998 former Production Manager Arne Seljeflot recalls this reduction in working hours: “Up until then, we had the famous 8½-hour day, plus 5½ hours every Saturday. The reduction was first arranged by having every other Saturday off. Later on we worked a 9-hour day with a ½-hour lunch break and every Saturday off.”35 Sometimes the employees also met outside working hours, either in connection with company events or at their own initiative. Torset and Nedregård recall hobby evenings, plays and parties.
Every Christmas there was a Christmas party at the factory when the employees and management danced round the Christmas tree together and sang well-known and much-loved Christmas carols. Bodil Torset recalls that Stokke had a company chaplain during the 1950s. His name was Bjørn Siem and he was also qualified as a carpenter. He turned up on one Saturday every month to hold a service, something that helped to put the company's employees in the right mood for the weekend. Rune (born in 1961), a third generation member of the Stokke family, started wandering around the factory when he was a young boy. He remembers the easy, direct atmosphere that existed between the employees, and between the employees and management. Some of the employees were possibly more goodhumoured and playful than others, helping to add fun and variety to days that might otherwise have been dulled by monotonous, repetitive industrial work.
Children in the boat at the family holiday cottage in Lesja. The family took advantage of every opportunity to visit the cottage after it was built in 1964. It was a place where the children could develop in natural surroundings, something they greatly appreciated. July 1968. From the left: Nils Liaaen, Knut Stokke, Halvor Liaaen, Geir Stokke and Rune Stokke
Geir's first day at school. Good to have mother's hand to hold.
From Arnt Lande's hand came an steddy flow of rationally constructed, functional furniture. The Menuett armchair was one of many sound Lande products. It was launched in 1972 and sold well for almost 20 years.
The conglomerate, 1969–1977 D
uring the first few years of Stokke's company history its organisation was simple and clear. Everyone understood what people were talking about when Stokke the furniture manufacturer was mentioned. It was known as Stokke Fabrikker, a manufacturer of reclining chairs, lounge furniture and contract furniture, located since 1948 in Moa in the municipality of Ålesund. The fact that the company collaborated on exports and sales with Westnofa Ltd. in Ørsta and Blindheim Møbelfabrikk did hardly any thing to detract from this view. It was just the way that all furniture companies with ambitions of being something more than just a flyby night company were organised. But Stokke had ambitions far beyond this. During the years 1964-65, the desire to find new business areas, possibly combined with the desire to please some district mayors by providing new jobs, was responsible for making the organisation far less trans parent than had previously been the case. One key to understanding the expansion that followed was offered by Georg Stokke himself. He quickly returned to working full-time after his unplanned absence due to illness in 1965. At that time Georg was a man in the prime of his life, in his mid -50s, with a range of unrealised business ambitions. For G eorg Stokke and his peers in the Sunnmøre furniture industry, the desire to have several legs to stand on was part of a survival strategy which they exploited more or less consciously. With low establishment and production costs, this was a strategy which could be used without incurring
any great financial risks, providing them with a safety net. If one model or a product range fell by the wayside, the company had alternatives which could help it through the loss, giving time to find new solutions. There were plenty of examples of companies that had staked everything on one product, or on one recipient of sub-deliveries, which had to shut down when the one leg they rested on collapsed. Georg Stokke did not want to expose himself or his employees to such risks. Experience gained by Stokke during the 1970s helped to confirm that this was a sensible strategy. Up until the early 1970s, Stokke Fabrikker had enjoyed great success and made substantial profits on its reclining chairs. I 1971, Ekornes presented its Stressless recliner, taking a huge bite out of the reclining chair market. It was then a good thing to have several legs and companies to rely on. With effect from 1965, the company that had initially been c alled Stokke Fabrikker AS developed from having a simple and easily recognisable size to being a conglomerate of companies. Around 1975 it was no longer quite so easy to know what people were talking about when the name Stokke was mentioned. It would depend on the whereabouts of the person who was talking, i.e. whether they were in Vågå in Ottadalen, in Åndalsnes in Rauma, in Tranås in Sweden or in Tennfjord in Sunnmøre. The only thing that one could be fairly certain about was that it was someone with the surname of Stokke who owned the company that was the focus of everyone's attention.
Vågå Bruk was established in 1966. At that time Georg Stokke was back at work full-time following his absence due to illness. Georg was eager that Stokke should expand its range of models to include pine furniture.
In August 1965, after it became clear that Stokke would be developing a pine furniture factory in Vågå, the employees of Stokke Fabrikker were offered a trip to Vågå to see the new factory being constructed. This photo shows employees travelling down to Vågå by coach.
Vågå Møbler – newcomer in pine When Georg returned after his illness, initially as a discussion partner and brainstormer, he started to pursue an idea that he had been mulling over about Stokke including traditional pine furniture in its collection. Kåre was not immediately enthusiastic about this idea, but like his father he saw that pine furniture was becoming increasingly popular in both the domestic and foreign markets, and Stokke had recently gained access to the latter through Westnofa Ltd. When Kåre attended an export exhibition in Stavanger in 1964, modern pine furniture had been one of the hottest products on display. During the following year, Rastad & Relling (a firm of
a rchitects), launched its Futurum range which c ombined traditional materials and functions with a modern look. One of the reasons why Stokke was able to start thinking about business expansion was that its operations were starting to be profitable after many lean years. Kåre Stokke says, “In 1965 we started to gain control over our finances, and as soon as we earned one krone we would spend two. Father insisted that we should try this project with pine furniture. I was initially rather reluctant, but eventually gave in on the condition that we should have a special pine factory.”
Industry involvement Apart from managing a furniture factory which was on the brink of developing into a group with several different areas of a ctivity, Kåre Stokke also found time to become involved in the industrial federations representing the furniture industry. For several years he was active in the Møre branch of the National Association of Furniture Producers (MPL). The Møre branch was definitely the largest and most active of all the Association's national branches. At its annual general meeting in Røros in 1972, Kåre Stokke accepted an appointment as Chairman of the National Association of F urniture Producers. Prior to this he had served as Deputy Chairman of the Association. During Kåre's chairmanship the MPL had been heavily involved in exhibition activities. At that time it was unclear where
the best marketing and sales results could be achieved. The Cologne Exhibition was in the process of becoming the most important meeting place for the furniture industry in Northern Europe. In 1974, the MPL's exhibition committee voted to drop the Sjølyst exhibi tion at home and focus instead on strong Norwegian participation at the Cologne Exhibition.36 Some of those involved favoured exhibiting at the London Furniture Exhibition. Copenhagen had already proved to be a success, while the furniture exhibition in Stockholm was a less popular choice. Kåre only served for one period as the Chairman of the MPL. His work as the Director of Stokke was regarded as demanding enough.
Vågå Bruk started off well. During the first year there were five people employed in the Production Division and one in the Administration Department. The following year there were 28 employees on the payroll. Manager Erik Holø is seen here showing off the company's chairs.
The second construction phase at Vågåmo, July 1967.
over by Stokke. The construction manager responsible for the project was Chief Municipal Engineer Erik Holø. Once construction had been completed, Holø was offered and accepted the position of G eneral Manager of Vågå Bruk. The Production Manager, Trygve Auale, was handpicked from the carpentry workshop at Aker Mekaniske Verksted in Oslo. With these two managers in charge, Kåre and Georg Stokke felt that their new subsidiary was in the best possible hands.
Both father and son decided that they should contact some of the municipalities in northern Gudbrandsdalen to see if any of them were interested in collaborating on the establishment of a new pine furniture factory. One of the reasons why they considered northern Gudbrandsdalen to be the best location for such a factory, was that this area had both the pine materials required and the knowledge needed to treat such materials. Another advantage was the fact that this part of eastern Norway possessed a unilateral commercial infrastructure based on primary industry. In 1960 the political authorities established the Regional Development Fund (DU) in order to promote new industrial developments in areas with vulnerable and unilateral trade and industry. The state provided loans with favourable terms and establishment support for municipalities and companies wishing to establish new industrial activities in areas such as northern Gudbrandsdalen. Out of all the municipalities approached by Stokke, the only reply they received was from the municipality of Vågå and its dynamic mayor, Sigurd Granrud, who said that he would be very interested in meeting the people from Sunnmøre. He travelled to Ålesund and a working relationship was established. The management of Stokke had great faith in the fact that Norwegian pine furniture would be suitable for export. Initially they considered exporting just to the Scandinavian countries. In order to facilitate sales in Denmark, they established links with the Danish woodworking factory Farstrup Savværk & Stolefabrik in Odense. The municipality of Vågå proved to be highly cooperative and embarked on the construction of a 1,000 square meter municipal industrial building. After this building was completed it was taken
Absence during the hunting season Production at Vågå commenced in early 1966. The production equipment was obtained partly from Stokke's factory in Spjelkavik and partly from Farstrup in Denmark, while some of it was pur chased new. Staffing was carefully planned right from the start, with three employees on the payroll. Very soon this number grew to 10, some of whom were women. This was one of the reasons why Stokke was so welcomed to Vågå. Speaking to Sunnmørs posten in 1972, Mayor Granrud said that before Stokke arrived, industrial employers in the municipality of Vågå had m ainly been interested in only hiring male employees. A company offering employment to women as well might help to prevent girls from leaving their home municipality.37 It took a little time before Vågå Bruk achieved a production flow that could be called industrial. This was the first furniture industry company in the area. None of the people employed at the
Managing Director Erik Holø at Vågå Bruk standing next to a stack of pine chairs that are ready for assembly. (Sunnmørsposten 21.1.1976.)
Vågå Bruk AS following extension in 1975/76. The company had over 5,000 m 2 of production premises at its disposal on one floor. The production and storage halls were in the building on the left, while the drier was located on the right. (Sunnmørsposten 21.1.1976.)
company during the first few years had any experience with industrial furniture production. The model carpenter who was employed was well-qualified on the professional front. He had previously been a woodcarver and a clockmaker, and devoted a lot of thought and care to the treatment of his materials. There were probably also some cultural problems when the people from Sunnmøre demanded a rapid transport of materials from craftsmen who were used to assessing each piece of wood carefully to see how it could best be used. Another special aspect of working life in Ottadalen was the seasonal absence of workers to go hunting. Stokke's Office Manager in 1958, Paul Gerh. Røsvik, says that Georg Stokke got a surprise when he first visited Vågå Bruk during the hunting season. Many male employees had taken time off to join in the reindeer hunt which had traditionally been very important for the economy of the area. Gradually the furniture industry probably contributed more both to the public and private economies, but the custom of going hunting when the heather started to turn red in the autumn, always took precedence.
Wide variety The furniture manufactured by Vågå Bruk had many customers both at home and abroad. The company's furniture was sold via Farstrup in Denmark and also through retailers in both in Sweden and the US. From 1969 onwards it was sold in Sweden via Stokke AB which was established in Tranås. Previously Westnofa Ltd. had been responsible for the sale and marketing of Stokke's pine collection abroad, but Stokke was not satisfied with the results. This was one
Vågå dining room suite, launched in 1969. Vågå Møbler reached a wide public with its simple, robust pine furniture.
of the reasons why Stokke was established in Sweden. Here the company developed a division which stood on its own feet and which was regarded in Sweden as being Swedish, a perception which undoubtedly facilitated sales. Exports contributed towards boosting production at Vågå Bruk and it soon became clear that more space was needed. Stokke had taken over the 1,000 squere meter premises built by the municipality, and with assistance from the municipality and the DU, Stokke built three new production facilities prior to 1976.38 Gradually the company became a major industrial employer in the municipality. By 1967 there were already 30 jobs at Vågå Bruk.39 Five years later this number had increased to 35, and then to 45 in 1982.40 Vågå Bruk was not the only manufacturer of pine furniture in Norway. The most well-established and well-known pine furniture manufacturer was Krogenæs Møbler. Vågå Bruk did not want to challenge Krogenæs' position as a market leader in the production of traditional Norwegian rustic furniture. Kåre Stokke says that they had a good relationship with the owner of Krogenæs, Ragnvald Krogenæs, p recisely because they did not regard Vågå Bruk as a competitor. The Stokke-owned company had a more m odern, industrial line. Vågå Bruk focused on making niche products for living rooms with open fireplace in ordinary homes, rather than products for the holiday cottage market. Vågå Bruk's product range was gradually extended. It started with sofas, chairs and coffee tables. As early as 1967 its range was expanded to also include butterfly tables, corner cabinets, dining tables, dining chairs and dressers.41 Even though Vågå Bruk had built up an efficient production plant, it proved to be difficult to achieve profitability for the company.
Vågå Bruk focused on both furniture for the holiday cottage and ordinary home, especially furniture for recreation rooms. Here is a classical bed settee solution manufactured by Vågå Bruk.
One problem was that the company had a large number of models which requires considerable reorganisation of machinery and caused low production output. Another challenge was the growing number of competitors in the pine furniture market. However, Kåre Stokke believes that high expenses was one of the most important reasons why Vågå failed to achieve good financial results. During the course of just a few years, Vågå Bruk had become the owner of a large production plant and the cost of this investment proved to be a permanent burden for the company. Paul Gerhard Røsvik started a second period of employment with Stokke in 1972. After he left Stokke in 1963, he was employed as a corporate consultant by the National Institute of Technology (STI) and had also worked for Westnofa Industrier in Åndalsnes, which underwent a demanding period of reorganisation during the early 1970s. He therefore returned to Stokke in 1972 with the necessary expertise for his particular responsibilities of following up Stokke's subsidiaries. He says that at first he often used to visit the pine furniture company at Vågå. He usually travelled with Kåre Stokke so that they could jointly review key problem a reas with local managers at the factory. During his time at the STI, Røsvik had participated in the systematic revision of companies that were experiencing difficulties. Key factors were identified which could provide important information about a company's development. These were important tools for helping to bring developments back on track. As far as Vågå was concerned, Røsvik remembers that some of the key indicators were liquidity, profitability and the
personnel situation. During their monthly visits to Vågå Bruk, Røsvik and Kåre Stokke received reports on key indicators and the parties involved, and then discussed what n eeded to be done to improve the situation. However, decisions do not always make for industrial success. In spite of good intentions and increasingly good financial management tools, Vågå Bruk produced few satisfactory annual reports. The Stokke family nevertheless proved to be patient o wners and did not let the municipality and the employees down at the first sign of trouble. The pine market remained lucrative for a long time, but as is so often the case, demand always generates an increase in suppliers. And they did not come from Norway alone. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the Danish manufacturers who were most successful in this sector of the Norwegian market. From the Norwegian point of view, the Danes worked their way into the market by compromising on quality. This, combined with more standardised and longer production ranges, provided them with a price advantage. Even though Vågå Bruk had good products, they failed to achieve adequate sales, which resulted in low profit ability. Operations nevertheless continued and the company remained a positive joint venture partner for the municipality of Vågå for many years to come. Another municipality, Rauma, also benefited favourably from the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by the first two generations of the Stokke furniture company.
Westnofa Industrier – from shell chairs to mattresses Future-oriented plastic The member companies of the Westnofa export organisation kept a watchful eye on what was happening in the international furniture industry, including technological developments. Around 1950, foam rubber mats started to take over from coil springs, curled horsehair and alfalfa in furniture upholstery. In 1953 L auritz Sunde in Spjelkavik launched the world's first chair with foam plastic upholstery. In 1959 the trade magazine Plastnytt recommended that furniture manufacturers should replace wooden frames with plastic ones. It was pointed out that plastic was just one third of the weight of ordinary woodwork and five times as strong. 42 Towards the end of the 1960s, Italian producers were the first to start experimenting by moulding foam plastic onto frames so that manufacturers could avoid having to undertake assembly and make
costly adjustments to foam plastic. Several parties in the furniture industry expected that hard and soft plastic furniture m aterials would take over from wood in the future, both because they could be rationally produced and because they were popular on the fashion front during in the 1960s. Plastic moulding technology also enabled labour-saving and cost-effective p roduction, which meant that it was welcomed by everyone who supported reorganisation and further industrialisation of the furniture industry at the end of the 1950s. Stokke was also willing to experiment. In 1968 the company presented the first reclining chair in transparent acrylic glass with Dacron cushions. This model was designed by Asbjørn Synnes, a newly-qualified designer from the College of Arts and Crafts in Bergen.43
Westnofa Industrier was established in Åndalsnes in 1969. The main reason for its establishment was that the joint venture partners in the Westnofa Ltd. sales organisation were calling for affordable and reliable deliveries of foam plastic products. Here is the new factory building at Øran Øst in 1971. Photo: Sødahl.
The Polarstar chair was a shell chair in polyurethane hard foam manufactured by Westnofa Industrier. Around 1970 many people thought that plastic would replace wood as the main material in the furniture industry, but plastic shell chairs failed to become popular with the public.
Production of foam plastic blocks at Westnofa Indu strier. Foam plastic was used in both mattress and furniture production.
Helpful municipality The Westnofa partners also wanted to be included in this, and they did not hesitate to ask when Georg and Kåre Stokke mentioned establishing a foam plastics factory in Åndalsnes. The plan was that the company would not only supply member companies with the foam plastic components that they needed, but would also manufacture its own products which could benefit from the market for furniture made from hard foam plastic and other plastic materials. The company presented its plans in a press release in early 1968: “Westnofa Industrier is planning to produce plastics – both as semi-finished products for the furniture and construction industries, and as shell components and finished products for plastic furniture concepts.”44 Westnofa Industrier AS was established as a company in the autumn of 1967, originally with six owners. After Blindheim Møbelfabrikk joined Westnofa Ltd. at the end of 1968, the number of share holders was increased to seven. One explanation about why the foam plastics factory was established in Åndalsnes is almost anecdotal in nature: Georg and Kåre Stokke used to make frequent trips to Vågå to visit Vågå Bruk. On one of these trips between Ålesund and Vågå they talked about how practical it would be if they had a factory in Åndalsnes so that they could drop in for a break and have a cup of coffee on their trips.45 This amusing explanation probably does not tell the whole truth. One important reason why Åndalsnes was chosen as a location for this plant was its function as a communications hub. Åndalsnes was the final stop for the Rauma railway and the only town in Møre and Romsdal connected to the country's railway network. In addition, the municipality, as in Vågå, was very helpful with preparations, both with regard to industrial sites and in connection with construction of the production plant. The municipality of Rauma became a shareholder in Rauma Industribygg along with the member companies of Westnofa Ltd., which also b elonged to Westnofa Industrier AS. The municipality was very interested in contributing to the establishment of stable and future-oriented jobs. This because many jobs had been lost there over the last few years following the demise of its ready-made clothing industry. The municipality had great faith that this measure would be permanent, provided that the owners were willing to invest heavily in plant and production machinery. And last, but not least, the choice of location was influenced by the fact that the m unicipality of Åndalsnes and Rauma, despite its strategic location, was an area where the government agency, the Regional D evelopment Fund, was offering fair funding schemes. Kåre Stokke remembers that the municipal executives were very pleased when they head about his plans: “We would be the municipal executive's golden boys if we
set up operations in Rauma. He was a little shocked when he heard that we would need an 8-acre plot, but certainly not knocked over.”46
Equal shareholders The Board of the new company wanted the export organisation and foam plastics factory to have joint top management. The Managing Director of Westnofa Ltd., Paul Brautaset, therefore also became the Managing Director of Westnofa Industrier AS. However, he continued to have his base in the administration and sales office in Ørsta. Right from the start all Westnofa Industrier's sales were managed from Ørsta. The company had previously only been involved in export work, but the Board of Westnofa Industrier AS also wanted Westnofa Ltd. to build up a sales apparatus for the domestic market. It soon became apparent that there was a certain amount of disagreement regarding this choice. In a letter to the Board, Kåre Stokke recommended that Westnofa Ltd. should stick to what the organisation did best, i.e. export work, and that the company in Åndalsnes should build up its own sales organisation. Stokke was of the opinion that this arrangement would be the most logical one and offer the best overview.47 Stokke's evaluation was probably also strengthened by the belief that new impulses gained through direct market contact provide inspiration to the work of product development. At first, Kåre Stokke did not receive the support of the Board for his views.48 Knut Dønsett was employed to take responsibility for the daily management of the factory in Åndalsnes. He was a qualified and experienced machine engineer. His first task was to visit other companies in Europe which had already started producing foam plastics. He also supervised the construction of the plant at Øran Øst, a factory which was to have a floor area of 5,200 square meters, including cloakrooms and an administration building.49 Before construction was able to commence, the area – a swamp containing brackish water near the mouth of the Rauma river – had to be drained and dried out. Construction was scheduled for completion by the summer of 1968, but the project was far more complicated and extensive than originally thought.50 Much of the production technology was new and other companies working on similar projects had had varying experiences, so it was far more difficult to make final choices about purchasing machinery and adapting production processes than the owners had anticipated.51 Because of this, the first expenditure calculations were exceeded. The Regional Development Fund, which was to issue loans to cover building and operations costs,
called for an increase in share capital, causing the owners to react. Several were of the opinion that they had already incurred heavy costs for a project which carried a considerable element of risk.52 One of the problems connected to the share capital expansion was that the owners had wanted equality among the shareholders, something which was thought to be the best way to achieve cooperation on the project. Some of the shareholders proved to be less able and willing to pay than others. Nevertheless, in the autumn of 1969 an equal capital increase was successfully accomplished.53 This share capital increase, however, caused difficulties since it became necessary to request further share capital increases in 1971 due to tight liquidity and difficulties in making payments. While production planning was in progress, work was also being done on the production of chair models which Westnofa Industrier could present to the market. In March 1968 the shareholders were asked to submit suggestions for models in hard polyurethane plastic.54 In spite of good intentions about participating in the testing of new materials for furniture production, there was a lack of practical follow-up. The only suggestion, submitted by Møre Lenestolfabrikk, was for a shell chair. This chair, “Inter”, designed by Liv Tjønneland, was never a success on the market.
Moulding foam plastic Production commenced in the company's large, spacious factory at the end of 1969/beginning of 1970. It had 30 employees up until October in the first year of operations. This was fewer than the number contained in the plans, which had called for 70 employees by the summer of 1970. Most of the products manufactured d uring the first year of operations related to subcontracted foam items for the furniture industry. The company had also just started producing foam mattresses, an area that looked promising.55 A key person in the future development of Westnofa was Terje Klauseth. He was a qualified plastics engineer from Germany and had started working for the company during the summer of 1970. He says that it took a while before the company began to stand on its own two feet in the areas of production processes and e xpertise: “In order to get going they initially obtained foam plastic from Austria. This foam plastic was cut in local ready-made clothing factories. Just before I came to the company in 1970 they had made their first foam block. Tor Tøsse was responsible for the first mouldings. He had experience with similar production abroad and was a foam plastics pioneer in Norway.”56
Right from the time Westnofa Industrier was established, Stokke was determined to take advantage of which foam plastics and moulding technology offered by developing a cutting-edge technical facility. In 1971 Stokke launched three models which were all based on moulded foam plastics produced by Westnofa: the Polar Star and Rio Star reclining chairs, and the Orient sofa. The Rio Star group was described as follows: “Rio Star is moulded in polyurethane, which guarantees quality and durability. The back and seat cushions are moulded in the best Weflex q uality.” Polar Star was moulded in hard foam.57 About the Orient sofa group it was said, “The suite consists of a chair and a 2-seater sofa and is upholstered with hypermodern, cold-hardened polyurethane foam produced by Westnofa Industrier. Cold- hardened polyurethane foam is moulded. It has excellent usage possibilities and also provides accurate and precise upholstering.”58 Westnofa was one of the first companies in Norway to successfully mould foam plastic, not least thanks to Stokke which was prepared to fund the development work and give the company products which it could gain experience with.
End of management by Ørsta It soon became clear that the owner companies disagreed about how the company in Åndalsnes should be organised. The Director of Westnofa Ltd., Paul Brautaset, had the support of the Board right from the start about the Åndalsnes establishment serving as a link in the work of developing Westnofa into a group. Brautaset elaborated on this ambition in a memorandum written in 1971: “Such spin-offs are also completely in line both with what our group's individual shareholder companies have carried out, and with inter-company tendencies towards specialisation and integration which have recently proved necessary, to allow them to make their mark and grow in the face of increasing c ompetition.”59 Westnofa Industrier certainly obtained the help that it needed from Westnofa Ltd. during its establishment phase. Funds from the export organisation enabled foam plastics production to survive a period of major investment and low income.60 Brautaset had a vision that Westnofa Ltd. would draw up a joint marketing plan for the Norwegian market for Westnofa's member companies. He justified this with his wish to fully exploit the exhibition and office premises at the Sunnmøre centre that Westnofa had bought into in 1968. He also thought that it would strengthen the marketing of Westnofa Industrier's products on the Norwegian market. This clashed with the wishes of several of the big players at Westnofa. The Stokke management was particularly sceptical. Stokke did not believe that the export o rganisation at Ørsta was the right body to take over sales of the company's
Welun 007 (1971) was the first mattress to be made by Westnofa Industrier. It was designed to give optimum air flow. This prevented a common problem experienced with foam mattresses: clamminess.
The Orient lounge suite was one of the first Stokke models produced using foam plastic from Westnofa Industrier. This suite was developed in cooperation with Peter Opsvik, who was to become Stokke's most important external designer during the forthcoming years.
roducts on the domestic market. Stokke Fabrikker, together with p P.I. Langlo at Stranda, was the one company that most closely supervised developments in Åndalsnes. It gradually e merged that some members of the local management were d issatisfied about how remote control from Ørsta worked and they asked for all administration and sales functions to be transferred to the factory at Åndalsnes. This was also the result of the Board's discussion on the matter at a meeting at Sykkylven on 5 October 1971.
Stokke takes control Westnofa Industrier had an uphill struggle for the first couple of years. The number of orders was unsatisfactory. One of the reasons for this was that not all the co-owners obtained deliveries of foam products from their own companies, as had been assumed. Instead they remained with their former suppliers.61 Odd Slettaøyen was one of the first employees at Westnofa. He was only just 20 when he started working as Office Manager on 1 December 1969. In retrospect he realises that one of the most important prerequisites for establishment, namely that the owners should purchase foam plastic parts from the company, failed to materialise. And if they made purchases they demanded such cheap deliveries that production ran at a loss. The reasoning s eemed to be that if there was to be any point in owning and using a subcontractor, then the latter's deliveries should be cheaper than the alternatives.62 High establishment costs, expensive raw materials and low turnover led to poor profitability and once again there was a need to e xpand the company's share capital. In 1971 it was still hoped that the parties in the co-ownership could be equal in the operational company, but not everybody was interested in continuing to be involved in foam plastic production. Therefore, Stokke Fabrikker offered to be solely responsible for the whole share increase. Kåre Stokke says that he, his father and the rest of the Stokke management had frequent conversations about what could and should happen as regards Westnofa. They were afraid that one of their competitors would take over the foam plastics manufacturer if they were not successful in achieving the necessary capital increase. Sandella, Porolon and Askim Gummivarefabrikk were all potential acquirers. Georg Stokke was eager for Stokke to become more deeply involved in Westnofa. He had had previously experiences with joint ownership and over the years he had become more c ertain that industrial companies of this size were better equipped for growth with just one owner. In 1971 the Stokke management persuaded the Regional Development Fund to agree with this view. At the beginning of 1972 Stokke Fabrikker had a share capital amounting to NOK 510,000 in Westnofa Industrier, while the other companies had NOK 50,000 each.63 Georg Stokke took over the position as Chairman of the Board of the company.
From the minutes of a Board meeting in January 1972 it appears that it was Georg Stokke who was the new prime mover and strategist. At a meeting that month he announced that he was working on setting up a new sales network with agents who were paid on a commission basis. Georg was also working on finding a Commercial Manager who would also act as the company's Sales Manager. It was also decided the production of finished shell chairs should be discontinued. Thereafter, production would be fully focused on sub-supplies of soft foam plastics.64 In March 1972 Georg Stokke informed the newspaper Sunnmørsposten that the company had become a proactive company which was just as much a test and research centre as a production plant. He mentioned that the company had a mechanical workshop where most of the company's machinery was developed. 65 The key person involved in Westnofa's research and development activities was Terje Klauseth. He says that for the first ten years there was continuous product development. He praises the new owner, Stokke, who gave Westnofa the time and resources to establish a product base which had the potential of becoming profitable in the long term. “Unlike many industrial owners, Georg did not have the same s hort-term focus on earnings. He was not keen on piling up money, but was more intent on creating new activities. And he had faith in this activity. He also had a well-developed competitive instinct. It was probably a goal for him to show that he could do as well as his neighbour in Ålesund: Porolon and the Sunde family.”66 In 1972, Paul Røsvik returned to Stokke after having worked for the National Institute of Technology (STI) as a company adviser for some years. His final assignment at the STI involved carrying out reorganisation work at Westnofa, and that was to be his first assignment for Stokke when he returned to the company. Røsvik was given the title of Finance Director in the Stokke group with special responsibility for following up the group's subsidiaries. Georg Stokke and Paul Røsvik took many trips to Åndalsnes where they conscientiously mapped the company's strengths and weaknesses, and took action when they saw clear potential for improvement. The development of a better sales network was prioritised. Paul Røsvik was also asked if he would be interested in taking over as Managing Director in Åndalsnes, but he turned the offer down.67 Westnofa was a European pioneer in moulding high-elasticity cold foam blocks. Terje Klauseth reports that the first mould was made in 1973. Westnofa's main customers were still the furniture and chassis industries.68
Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk – subcontractor The latter part of the 1960s was the most expansive period for the Stokke family. Up until 1969, Georg and Kåre Stokke had been involved in pine furniture manufacturing plastics production, an assembly and sales division in Sweden, and a woodworking producer in Tennfjorden. The acquisition of Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk can hardly be said to be part of a long-term development strategy for the Stokke furniture company. It was the young bank director, Olav Balsnes, at Privatbanken AS, who in 1969 contacted Kåre Stokke to hear if he was interested in a joint venture or possible take-over of the company. Tennfjord's management strengths were in the field of production technology. The owner, Ole Bolle, was widely known for his technical interests and insight. Amongst other things, he had been awarded a prize at an inventors' exhibition in Vienna for an assembly fitting for upholstered furniture which he had developed. The bank was of the opinion that a connection between Tennfjord and Stokke could be favourable. At the time Stokke was experiencing problems with limited capacity at its carpentry workshop. Meetings with Ole Bolle were held in Tennfjord and Stokke agreed to purchase majority shares in the company. Stokke took over 70 % of the shares, while Bolle retained 30 %. Stokke thus gained control over a company which since 1940 had specialised in subcontracting woodwork to the furniture industry. Prior to the purchase, Tennfjord had been one of Stokke Fabrikker's main subcontractors and had also had its own collection of exclusive dining chairs.69
In 1969 Kåre Stokke announced that Stokke had no plans to change the operational concept of Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk, but it did not take long before subcontractor production started to dominate. In an article in Sunnmørsposten in February 1972, carpenter Karl Fagerlid was photographed next to a large stack of frames for the Kubus contract chair, one of Stokke's most important products at the beginning of the 1970s. The Managing Director, Ole Bolle, gave the newspaper the impression that he was satisfied with being a subcontractor. “We have enough work as it is. If we were to start production on our own, it would require a lot of extra work in many areas, and it is not certain that the gain would be proportionate to the effort.”70 Basically Tennfjord was also able to deliver its services to other furniture companies, but it did not take long before Stokke needed most of the company's production capacity. This also happened after Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk reorganised its production operations, switching over from producing solid wood components to becoming a laminate specialist. This took place after 1974. Stokke's laminate supplier, Hove Møbler in Stordal, had a fire in 1972. In order to also gain control over these sub- deliveries, Stokke purchased laminating equipment from a company in A ustefjorden. In the autumn of 1973, construction started on a 400 square meter building to make space for a complete laminating department.71 It was the start of a development whereby the Tennfjord factory became a national leader in the field of laminating in the course of just a few years.
Stokke Fabrikker took over Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk in the municipality of Haram in 1969. The company was initially a woodwork subcontractor for Stokke Fabrikker.
An additional building was constructed at Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk in 1977.
From 1974 Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk quickly developed to become one of the country's leading producers of laminated woodwork. Here plywood sheets are being fed through the bonding roll before being placed together and put in the press in the background. Photo from 1975.
The Inka series added a new design dimension to Stokke's range of r eclining chairs. Peter Opsvik designed the Inka chair and the other units in this series, which were well received on the international market when they were first launched in 1967 under the name of Oase.
With Minimax (1970), Stokke addressed a growing health problem among children and young people: postural faults and back problems. Designer Peter Opsvik was interested in ergonomics and wanted furniture which took into account the fact that children are different and are undergoing dynamic development. With Stokke's Minimax and Blindheim's Ergolett sectional furniture, designed by Jon Texmon, the market gained furniture which could grow with children.
Stokke Fabrikker takes a leap Tripp Trapp – a chair to grow in Around 1970, Stokke Fabrikker and Blindheim Møbelfabrikk were almost total suppliers of furniture through the Blisto group. Blindheim was responsible for board furniture such as shelves, wall sections, desks and tables, while Stokke specialised in upholstered furniture such as a variety of lounge suites and chairs. Møbelavisa, a joint magazine issued by Blindheim and Stokke in order to present the companies and their collections to the retailer network, described three new Stokke products/product groups in its second edition in 1971, another member in the Star series, the Rio Star, the Orient lounge suite and the INKA furniture range consisting of five units, which included a high-backed chair, a stool, a low chair, a square table with a glass top and a side table with a glass top. In addition to these pieces of furniture, Stokke's collection at that time consisted of several reclining chair models in the Star series, lounge suites, armchairs and other chairs for the contract market, including the Kubus and Kro chairs. The most interesting thing about the new creations in the INKA series and the Orient lounge suit (1971) was not their design or the
fact that Stokke had staked out a new course which could make the company's product profile clearer, but the fact that its products were developed in cooperation with the recently qualified designer Peter Opsvik from Stranda. The INKA series, marketed under the name of Oase on the export market, was launched for the first time by Stokke in 1967. It was a successful attempt at combining good design, top product quality and functionality in a reclining chair. The design of the Orient lounge suite was less flexible, but interesting because of the user manual that accompanied it. This stated that the design of the seat cushions provided excellent support for the thighs, and that the divided back was designed to comfortably support both the lumbar region and side of the body.72 This heralded an approach to product design which had not previously been much emphasised in Norwegian furniture production and in the marketing of products: the ergonomic effects and the effects of sitting on the human body. Up until then product developments in the domestic furniture industry had focused mainly on production and style. Stokke's tilting chairs were some of the relatively few exceptions, since they had both the movement
Tripp Trapp was a gift to all the children in the world. Previously, children from the age of 2 to 10 had been relegated to sitting at an adults' table with their legs dangling in the air and their chin just reaching up to the edge of the table. Now they had a chair that they could grow with and which ensured that their feet, bottom and back acquired the support necessary for participating in activities at the table on an equal footing.
Kåre Stokke was one of the few people at Stokke Fabrikker who quickly saw the potential of the Tripp Trapp chair. Peter Opsvik had already made many good contributions to the company, including Minimax, but it was quickly proved that Tripp Trapp exceeded everything else that Stokke had produced.
function and a good ergonomic design. According to Peter Opsvik, this focus on production and style not only d ominated the furniture industry, but also design education.73 Ever since his student days he had been interested in the functional content of a product and he had gained greater insight into the ergonomics of furniture design during a study trip to Essen in G ermany in 1970. While there he was introduced to the theories of Ulrich Burandt who was one of the founders of the school of ergonomic design. Like Henrik Seyffarth and A.C. Mandal, Burandt had studied people sitting in different positions and discovered that the pressure exerted on the lumbar region was reduced when the front of the seat was tilted slightly downwards. A few years p assed before Opsvik applied this principle to his own designs, but after his study trip to Essen he had a new and stronger awareness about ergonomics which affected his daily work as a designer. Without doubt this contributed to the process that resulted in the Tripp Trapp chair for children.
was possible to adjust the functional measurements of the seat height to accommodate children from the age of 6 or 7 until they were adults. In contrast to Tripp Trapp, the child sat with his/her feet placed on the floor. This chair therefore had to be accom panied by a height-adjustable table. MiniMax took the product collaboration between Stokke and Blindheim one step further: a few years earlier the Ola desk and the Kro chair had been launched as furniture for the younger generation. By focusing on the value of ergonomic furniture adjusted to suit the body, Stokke's MiniMax and Blindheim's Ergolett sectional furniture provided a far more dynamic combination. Ergolett sectional furniture had a writing board which could be adjusted to the same proportions as the seat and back on MiniMax.74 Ergolett was described as being a piece of furniture which grew with the child.75
Peter Opsvik's oldest child was two years old in 1972, and had grown out of using a high chair. Opsvik discovered that there were no products on the market which allowed a child to sit comfortably at table height. This became a challenge which he was determined to meet. He started experimenting with a model which was adjustable and which could enable children of different sizes to sit at the right height in relation to the top of the table. He had worked on the same problem previously. On the 1970 MiniMax model it
The new thing about Tripp Trapp compared to MiniMax was that children of varying ages could be lifted up to the height of an adults' table with the aid of adjustable seats and footrests. This was based on the designer's observation that the height of the elbow and the part of the back needing support were the same. The back support could then be fixed at elbow/table height before adjusting the level of the seat and feet. The footrest allowed the child control of his or her movements and far greater freedom for development than it had had before. This became the chair that grew with the child and which allowed the child to participate on an equal footing with the adults when engaging in activities around the table.
In 1973 Tripp Trapp was nominated as the furniture item of the year by the interior magazine Nye Bonytt. Many of Stokke's people, including agents and retailers, were sceptical when they were introduced to this children's chair, which was different to anything else that had been produced up to that point. But gradually, as positive feedback flooded in from users and experts, they realised that this could also be a commercially interesting product for both the company and its retailers.
“When a child sits comfortably and can pull itself up in a chair, he's willing to stay at the table longer,” observed Peter Opsvik, who was a father of small children.
Tripp Trapp on television When Opsvik was seeking a manufacturer for the chair, it was n atural for him to turn to Stokke Fabrikker, with whom he had been collaborating since 1967. Stokke had already made its mark as a manufacturer that was open to new ideas and to designers with talent and motivation, such as Peter Opsvik. In Møbelavisa No. 2 1971, the Editor had included an aphorism which illustrated this point: “He who walks in the footsteps of others never gets ahead.” And Stokke certainly had ambitions of getting ahead. When the concept was first presented to him in 1972, Kåre Stokke could not know that Tripp Trapp would become the product which would help to put the company in such a position. But he quickly saw the potential of the chair. He had four children himself and liked the idea of bringing the children up to the height of adults to strengthen the feeling of companionship around the table. Others in the company were far more sceptical, including the company founder himself, Georg Stokke. This was not how he envisioned furniture to be. He doubted whether the market would be receptive to a product which deviated so much from the norm. Stokke's agent for Sørlandet and Stavanger, Kjell Stokka remembers that the sales personnel were also lukewarm. Even though he was initially negative about the product, he thought that if the company wanted its agents to present it to the retailers then he could always try.76 Malvin Vegsund thought the same way. He was appointed as the Sales Manager at Stokke in 1971 after Audun Bondevik took over as the Managing Director of Blindheim Møbelfabrikk. He was p resent at the meeting when Opsvik presented the children's chair to Stokke for the first time. His own scepticism did not affect Kåre Stokke: “I was as sceptical about Tripp Trapp as most people, but Kåre Stokke was positive. He has always been open to new ideas. He had a broad horizon and was not afraid to try new ways.” Tripp Trapp was presented for the first time to the general public at the Sjølyst Exhibition in the autumn of 1972. Stokke's representa tives on the stand were very anxious about the response. Stokke had equipped the stand with some Tripp Trapp chairs to show that the company had faith in the product and that it was something special that no one else had. The public's interest was extensive and journalists reported on the new creation, but sales were moderate. Per Natvig, Stokke's sales agent in eastern Norway from 1971, remembers that three chairs were sold during the whole of the exhibition; two to A-Møbler in
Oslo and one to Husfliden, who thought that the use of the woodwork in the chair was exemplary. One of the journalists who displayed interest in Tripp Trapp was Lasse Thorset, who for a number of years had worked as a programme creator for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) with consumer materials as his speciality. Around 1971 he suffered from a series of strain injuries caused by his sitting and working positions. When Tripp Trapp was launched, Thorset realised that there could be a connection. He contacted Kåre Stokke and Peter Opsvik who were keen for the chair to be featured on television. At that time, NRK television had a monopoly and showing the chair in a TV programme would be an excellent advertisement. Lasse Thorset says: “No one knew the chair at that time. To show what it was like to be a child in a normal chair, we made a huge chair and table. An adult was seated in the chair with his legs dangling in the air in order to illustrate what it is like for a child and how difficult it is to sit in a normal chair [...] The feature was not long, but I believe that it gave a much needed injection (to Stokke) at an early stage. There was a huge response and NRK's switchboard was inundated with calls.”77 Sales Manager Malvin Vegsund remembers the decisive effect the television programme had in spreading the news about the Tripp Trapp chair. He himself had seen the TV feature in a hotel room, and when he visited the shops the next day, he realised that people had suddenly understood the concept behind the chair: “The mood was about to turn. Faith in the product was b eginning to dawn. [...] Tripp Trapp had media charm and was marketed as aggressively as funds allowed. The media praised it, and Kåre Stokke was good at exploiting these opportunities.” In 1973, Tripp Trapp was nominated as the Chair of the Year by the readers of the interior magazine Nye Bonytt. This nomination resulted in the first a rticle about Tripp Trapp to appear in Stokke/ Blindheim's own information newspaper in the autumn of 1973. It helped to boost in-house belief that external furniture experts valued it highly.
“Striking a blow for Norwegian backs” When the product benefits of the Tripp Trapp chair were first communicated to the market, it turned out there was a huge requirement for such a children's chair. Children's chairs had been produced before, including a high chair which could be made into a trolley when not in use at the table. This chair, however, had its limitations. Children grew out of it relatively quickly, and it was not as steady as the Tripp Trapp chair. Stokke was helped by the media
Stokke and Blindheim Møbelfabrikk built up a strong team in their product development division where new product ideas were tested out and adapted to the company's production lines. Here is the team gathered round one of Stokke's reclining chairs. From the left: John R amstad, Hans Veibust, Jarl Heggem, Arnt Lande, Odd Tenold and Terje Holmøy.
Turid and Kåre Stokke and two of their children were leading figures in a marketing campaign for Tripp Trapp in 1974. The message in the campaign was that Stokke strikes a blow for Norwegian backs. Tripp Trapp was initially launched as a children's chair, but Turid and Kåre showed that the chair could well be used by adults as well.
and health experts in spreading knowledge about the benefits of Tripp Trapp. Doktor Henrik Seyffarth was an authority in Norway concerning matters of ergonomics and bodily afflictions caused by a modern, sedentary lifestyle. In 1973 he took part in a television programme on this subject where both the Tripp Trapp chair and MiniMax were shown as ergonomically correct items of children's furniture. Seyffarth said repeatedly that it was more important for public health to have proper chairs for children at the dining table and at school than it was to build even more gymnastics halls.78 During the winter of 1974 Møbelavisa reported that the demand for Tripp Trapp had increased so rapidly that it was difficult for the production apparatus to keep up: “The factory has continuous series production of both MiniMax and Tripp Trapp. The demand is far greater than the factory can meet, especially as regards the l atter. This is due not least to the fact that the chairs are also selling on the international market where there is very little competition.”79 The first Tripp Trapp series was produced in Norway, but gradually as volumes increased, the management realised that it would be more financially viable to undertake production abroad. In 1973, Kåre Stokke visited furniture exhibitions in Eastern Europe, and there he was introduced to the producer Slovenjales, which was a state company in Yugoslavia. It stood out as having high quality in its deliveries even though the technological level of the company was primitive at the time. Stokke embarked on a joint venture with the company, and in the 1990s it managed to separate and privatise a production division under the name of Stolik, which it supplied with equipment and special machines that were
transported from Norway to Yugoslavia. From very moderate sales in 1972 and 1973, the turnover d erived from Tripp Trapp chairs rocketed, with over 10,000 chairs being sold in 1974. By 1976 this figure had increased to 25,000. Tripp Trapp was about to acquire the status of the no. 1 profit maker for Stokke. Numerous feature articles appearing in the trade press and interior design magazines removed all doubts in the Blisto group and at Stokke, although the Tripp Trapp chair was a product for the future. In 1974 Blisto carried out one of its largest marketing campaigns thus far. In its no. 2 edition in 1974 Møbelavisa reported that it was the Managing Director of A-Møbler in Oslo, Bjørn Riegel, who took the initiative for the campaign. Large advertisements in the national press featuring Kåre Stokke's family marketed the Tripp Trapp chair as an ergonomically correct item of furniture for the whole family under the slogan: “We're striking a blow for Norwegian backs”. The results of the campaign were excellent and it was repeated once more during the same year.
Continued extensive product range Stokke now had two product groups that were going well: children's chairs and reclining chairs. One natural consequence of
this might have been for the company to opt for specialisation of the product groups mentioned and to cultivate a chair profile with the supporting values of ergonomics and welfare as identity markers. Paul Gerhard Røsvik leaned in this direction in an article about how to improve results, which he published in Møbelavisa. Røsvik thought that one main way of increasing income would be to find out which areas were profitable and which were not. His second point was to further develop the company's most interesting products and prioritise them.80 However, in 1974 it was too early to stop producing other model groups in favour of concentrating fully on Tripp Trapp and possibly MiniMax. It was still difficult to know how permanent the interest in these two types of furniture would be. Was the interest in ergonomic children's products just a passing fashion? Would this interest wane when the media no longer found the products to be newsworthy? Would the market gradually become saturated? Many people perceived Tripp Trapp as a relatively expensive product, and it was uncertain how much of the market the chair would capture. There were also other factors which determined that speciali sation at that time was not the real alternative that it was to become ten years later. In 1974–75 Stokke participated in sales c ollaboration with another company, Blindheim Møbelfabrikk, and this collaboration also governed the choice of models for the two factories. It was still an ambition for the Blisto companies to have as complete a furniture range as possible. Blindheim had its tables, shelf systems and sections. Stokke made suites which complemented the
sections, and this is how the companies were still p resented in advertisements and brochures which were sent round the country. One example of a model series which incorporated both shelf sections and lounge suites was the Limbo series. The first item in this series was the Limbo wall section, which was then complemented by other items from Blisto's product development group so that together the various components gave an unified and balanced impression, as described by the joint venture group's own presentation.81 The Classic series, which came three years l ater, bore the same characteristics. The marketing information stated that this furniture was so complete that it was impossible to make any furnishing mistakes.82 The factory was otherwise developed and adapted to accommo date versatile production in relationship to technical d evices, buildings and employees. Making production changes on the basis of the income trends of a limited period was no real alternative in the middle of the 1970s. Peter Opsvik, the company's ergonomic-minded designer, also adapted to these realities. He had participated in the development of a couple of lounge suite models.83 Compared to the Star series, he had previously made an exciting and somewhat different contribution to the reclining chair collection with INKA/Oase. In 1973 he presented Stokke with a new reclining chair, the Gazelle. Stokke's reclining chair was challenged by strong competition from Ekornes's adjustable recliner, Stressless, which was launched in
Gazelle reclining chair with footrest, 1973. From the end of the 1960s, Peter Opsvik contributed several new models to Stokke's collection. His interest in ergonomics was a motivating factor in everything he did as a furniture designer at that time.
Stokke Fabrikker had a competent and stable workforce. In 1971, nine of the company's employees received Norges Vel's medal for long and faithful service: (number of years of service with the company in brackets). From the left: Knut Myren (32), Jetmund Sjåstad (35), Bjarne Rødseth (34), Daniel Myren (38), Arthur Møller (34), Ole Svendsli (30), Elisabeth Westad (35), Sverre Lande (30) and Tora Stokke (31) (Georg's sister).
Certain expectations were aroused about the Aristokrat armchair when it was launched in 1976. Møbelavia asked if this could this be a new major product from Stokke. At this time Stokke Fabrikker's collection was relatively differentiated, with the children's Tripp Trapp chair and Aristokrat at the outer extremes.
1971. Ekornes had met considerable scepticism about its first reclining chair, similar to that experienced by Stokke for its Tripp Trapp chair. It was compared to a dentist's chair and was initially met with lukewarm interest from consumers. But once again the media helped to market the chair, and in 1974 Stressless was accepted as a central reclining chair on the Norwegian market. With reclining chairs such as Gazelle, Panter and Bolero, Stokke responded to Ekornes' challenge by introducing more design- oriented values, although this was not entirely successful. Ekornes' reclining chair with variable adjustment continued to capture a steadily increasing share of the market share. Jens Petter Ekornes, the Marketing Manager of Ekornes at that time, was surprised that Stokke was so quickly forced on the defensive in the r eclining chair segment: “Stokke had approximately 75 % of the market for reclining chairs when Stressless came in 1971. Stokke's problem, as I see it, was that their reclining chairs did not allow for adjustment of the angle between the seat and the back. Stressless had this function and the public soon noticed it.”84 The Panter, which was launched in 1974, the Bolero (1978) and a new version of the Swing Star (1977) also had variable adjustment. However, Ekornes, which was the first company to introduce this
product improvement, received the best response from the m arket. Kåre Stokke explains the situation which arose in the r eclining chair segment as follows: “Around 1970 we had spread ourselves across many areas of high-level activity. Had we known then what we now know about strategy development, we would have focused far more purpossefully on the reclining chair niche and strengthened our Product Development Division with this aim in mind. We could then have exploited our head start. Instead, it was Ekornes that led developments in reclining chairs.” Arnt Lande, who was employed as a designer at Stokke in 1954, was still setting the tone towards the end of the 1970s in Blisto/ Stokke's product development group, which in 1975–76 consisted of six employees: John Ramstad, Hans Veibust, Jarl Heggem, Arnt Lande, Odd Arnstein Tenold and Terje Holmøy. Lande's designs were recognisable in several of the products which were launched in the 1970s, including the Aristokrat Høy armchair which the company had great expectations about when it was introduced in 1976. Møbelavisa predicted that this would become one of Stokke's main products in 1977. The chair was a conventional armchair/recliner with a high back aimed at customers with a high disposable income. The contrast to the small and functional children's Tripp Trapp chair was remarkable.
On the same page of Møbelavisa where Aristokrat was intro duced, a new employee was welcomed to Stokke. Roar HaugeNilsen (27) had just been appointed as the company's Chief Accountant. The following year, two other new employees were introduced in the same newspaper: the Chief of Finance, Kjell Storeide, and the Plant Manager, Steinar Loe. Aristokraten and these three new young employees could be said to represent symbols of the old and new times at Stokke, which led to a c ompletely new product profile during the 1980s and the c utting of old ties.
Expansion at Moa The new Plant Manager, Steinar Loe, and the Chief of Finance, Paul Gerhard Røsvik, had both previously worked as advisers at the National Institute of Technology (STI). The fact that the STI was used as a recruitment channel for Stokke in the 1970s may have been coincidental and linked to individual people, but it was probably also one factor in a strategy which was intended to strengthen certain aspects which had initially been missing from the company. Steinar Loe's most important task from 1976 was supervision of the planning and building of a new plant at Moa. Loe was a civil engineer and had a good eye for functional factory layouts and technical solutions. Stokke Fabrikker planned a very large extension in the middle of the 1970s at Spjelkavik. The new building was to have 7,500 square meters of new floor space. This step was motivated by the desire to bring as much production as possible under one roof, thus incorporating the p roduction operations of Stokke's subsidiaries: Vågå Bruk, Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk and Westnofa Industrier.85 Some of the p roduction at these plants was specialist production which would continue to be decentralised. But there were nevertheless some components that could effectively be produced in one place. In addition, Stokke's ordinary collection was to be c ontinued, and in some a reas there was high demand and hopes of volume growth in the years to come. Steinar Loe possessed no extensive experience of equivalent projects when he started on this task, but he was well supported by Production Manager Arne Seljeflot and Paul Gerhard Røsvik. Some of the planning had to be based on forecasts. How would the various markets and production areas develop in future years? This was no exact science, but it was important for their gut
feelings to be comparatively good during the early stages of the project. Due to some uncertain aspects of the planning work it was d ifficult to prepare exact calculations for the building project. It also emerged that the cost estimates had been exceeded when the final bill was presented. The new plant had been calculated to cost NOK 12 million. The actual cost was NOK 15 million. However, on the other hand, Stokke had acquired one of the country's largest and most modern furniture factories. Project Engineer Loe and his colleagues, who had been through an intense 2-year building period, received considerable praise when the management showed the press and other invited guests around the new plant in April 1978. The new building was organised into five large production halls, thus achieving the objective of having most of the company's production operations on one floor. Stokke was one of the first Norwegian furniture producers to implement building- related adjustment in order to maximise production flow. When the building was completed, Stokke Fabrikker probably had one of the most modern production plants in the country, like they had, when their first factory building was constructed on the same site in 1948. In 1977, all parts of the production process were organised to accommodate flexible adaptation and rapid flow. In the lacquering division, there were conveyor belts in the ceiling which carried components through the different stages of surface treatment. The journalist from Sunnmørsposten was particularly impressed by the environmentally friendly measures in the new building: “One of most impressive things is the excellent working environment in all departments. This is due to the advanced extraction system which removes absolutely all dust and emissions from the room. The air then passes through a filter and is re-used in an air conditioning system which ensures a temperature of 18–20 degrees celsius and an ideal humidity ratio.”86 The plant built by Stokke placed it right at the forefront of technological developments in the Norwegian industrial context. The Norwegian furniture industry also led the field in an international context, and this helps to explain why this industry survived the demanding period of readjustment during the 1960s when several Norwegian industries were forced to leave Norway because they were unable to keep production costs down. However, even though the production logistics were good, there were areas where there was room for improvement for Norwegian furniture companies in general, and for Stokke in particular.
Stokke Fabrikker after the extension in 1977. Georg had the foresight to carry out the first building phase on this site at Langelandgården. He could not predict the huge expansion which was to follow during the next few decades, but he probably suspected that extra space would come in handy.
Balans Variable, Design: Peter Opsvik, Concept: H.C. Mengshoel
Movement 1977–1989 Tighter group management A clean-up job Kjell Storeide studied economics at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen. Before joining Stokke in 1977 he worked for a short period as a consultant for a finance company. Storeide had good prior knowledge about the furniture industry from his childhood years in Stranda and because his father had worked for a furniture company. He joined a furniture group that had been strongly influenced by the enterpreneurial spirit that marked the furniture companies from Sunnmøre during the interwar years. Georg Stokke and his son, Kåre, along with fellow founders, were keen on creating jobs and had an expansive attitude. Considerable expansion of the Stokke system occurred towards the end of the 1970s, with b uilding activities taking place at Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk, Vågå Bruk, Westnofa Industrier and in Spjelkavik. During the last few years, Stokke had developed to become a furniture group of significance, but growth had taken place in individual steps, without any coordinated plans. The Stokke group was not unusual in this respect. Several Norwegian industrial groups had been created by energetic founders who had become
involved in fields in which they had strong personal concerns or where they saw a market that was not covered. But after a period of growth, which in retrospect could appear illogical and unstruc tured, it became necessary to carry out clean-up jobs and find a structure which would make the company more flexible. Such was the situation for Stokke towards the end of the 1970s. As a group, Stokke had several challenges to meet. One challenge concerned the management structure. In 1977, the Stokke group's management consisted of the owner Kåre Stokke, who carried the title of Managing Director, Audun Bondevik, who was the Marketing Manager of the Blisto Group and therefore also responsible for marketing at Stokke Fabrikker, Paul Gerhard Røsvik who after a period was given the title of Assistant Director, together with Manager Finn Norrud. Norrud had been the Chief of Finance during the years that Paul Røsvik had been employed at the National Institute of Technology. When Røsvik returned he was given overall financial responsibility and also line responsibility for Stokke's subsidiaries. Norrud was given responsibility for daily operations at Stokke Fabrikker's plant at Spjelkavik.87 Founder Georg Stokke found himself somewhat on the peripheries of this formal structure.
Arne Seljeflot had been the Production Manager at Stokke Fabrikker since 1960. He worked closely with Kåre Stokke, who was his cousin.
Kjell Storeide was presented in this article when he started at Stokke Fabrikker as Chief of Finance in 1977.
The Divisional Manager of the Marketing Division at Stokke Fabrikker, Roar Hauge- Nilsen, joined the new management team which was established at the factory around 1980.
He had transferred ownership responsibility to his son, Kåre, and had no formal position in the company. Nevertheless, Georg p layed an active role, and showed a particular interest in his favorites, Vågå Bruk and Westnofa Industrier.
The lines of management were not very visible to outsiders or to anyone caught up in the middle of them. Diverging areas of responsibility meant that cooperation at management level was not optimal, and this in turn meant that the overall management of the group was not as tight as it should have been. Weak group direction was a natural consequence of the lack of structure.
It did not take long for Kjell Storeide and the others in the “ cleanup gang” to notice that there were some differences between Stokke's ambitions and plans on the one hand, and the company's profits on the other. They uncovered a budgetary discrepancy relating to the new building at Spjelkavik of NOK 3 million. This could not have come at a more inconvenient point in time. In 1978–79 the authorities decided that it was necessary to tighten up financial p olicy. Growth in Norwegian wages and prices had been strong throughout much of the 1970s. Norwegian industrialists were experiencing that domestic costs were out of step with the costs of most of their important foreign competitors. In order to introduce counter-measures, the Government imposed a freeze on wages and prices. The price freeze meant that companies could not adjust the prices of their products in line with actual cost developments. The wages freeze resulted in a flattening out of growth in the retail trade up to 1979. 88 It is reasonable to assume that the demand for capital goods such as furniture would be hit extra hard by these stagnation tendencies. This came in addition to the general r ecession brought on by a new oil crisis. On top of all this, interest rates started to rise. The impact of all this was felt by the company, which had based its capacity expansion on borrowed capital.
Better cost control
Stokke had no buffer in the form of available financial resources to meet these challenges. The group's capital was tied up in buildings and stock. For the second time in twenty years, Stokke had to live with close scrutiny from the credit institutions.
One of the least well clarified aspects of the managerial model prior to 1977 was the relationship between the group as a finan- cial and organisational unit and its different sub-activities. The company's top executives, as previously mentioned, were responsible both for coordination of the group and for Stokke Fabrikker. Finn Norrud was the Manager of Stokke Fabrikker and he was also responsible for supervising production. Arne Seljeflot was the Production Manager of Stokke Fabrikker and he and his cousin, Kåre Stokke, maintained a close dialogue about production logistics.
Kåre Stokke realised that something would have to be done. He turned to Stokke's new Chief of Finance, Kjell Storeide. Together with the other two new members of Stokke's management team, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, who with effect from April 1978 took over as the Manager of the Marketing Division at Stokke Fabrikker, and Steinar Loe, he was given free rein in 1978 to undertake a thorough and critical examination of Stokke's long-term and short-term strengths and weaknesses.
Kjell Storeide remembers the autumn months in 1978 as being especially intense: “In this situation we had to sit down together, owners and plant managers, and establish a common perception of reality.” The working group's evaluations were combined into a memo randum, the Grey Book. The main conclusion was that Stokke was
Furniture on conveyor belts at Stokke Fabrikker. The new factory premises were designed for the optimum production flow of materials entering at one end and leaving as finished furniture at the other.
Stokke established a subsidiary, Stokke AB, in Tranås in Sweden in 1969. Initially, this company was intended to be an assembly and sales company for furniture from Vågå Bruk, but it soon developed into a sales company for Stokke's entire collection.
aiming too high, and that its delivery capacity was too low. This led to a degree of risk which could, in a worst case scenario, break the company. The group prescribed the following medicine to bring the concern back on track:
extended to include finances and production at the Moa plant. He was appointed Plant Manager in 1979. The young Plant Manager took his responsibilities seriously and made daily rounds of the production plant to ensure that everything was working properly and to follow up the management's objectives for transparency. During this decisive period of reorganisation, the old management group was replaced by a new one. Finn Norrud found other tasks for himself in 1978 and Paul Gerhard Røsvik resigned in 1979. In 1980 Stokke's management group consisted of Director Kåre S tokke, Chief of Finance Kjell Storeide, Technical Manager Steinar Loe, and Marketing Manager Roar Hauge-Nilsen.
Set realistic objectives which the company had the capability and resources to attain. S olve the company's financial problems by freeing up capital. This took place through the sale of residences owned by the company, the sale of units in limited partnerships and the reduction of stocks. T ake out new loans – something which proved to be a long-term and demanding process. B etter profitability by cutting fixed costs, better cost a ccounting with a focus on product profitability. Introduce electronic data processing to allow more rapid reporting and closer s crutiny of any discrepencies. N ew organisation and partly new management to work in accordance with clear objectives and plans, with an e mphasis on clarity and transparency.
The Grey Book placed emphasis on short-term organisational and financial measures designed to ensure the survival of the c ompany and to restore faith. Little focus was placed on product and marketing strategies, but these were thoroughly addressed during the following decade.
A new platform Kjell Storeide's systematic and analytical approach to the c hallenges facing the company won him the confidence of both the company's employees and its owner. This resulted in Storeide's duties being
This group was also tasked with working on the more long-term challenges facing Stokke. Clarification of the company's organisa tional model was a key element in this respect. Over the years, the Stokke group had branched out without its organisational structure having managed to keep up with developments. From a historical point of view Stokke Fabrikker was the starting point, and although in reality Stokke Fabrikker's structure was similar to that of other companies with a group model up until 1980, in practice the company was the prime mover providing the overriding structure in the group. This could be seen from the managerial model which was operational up until 1977, with the same executives involved in the management of both the group and Stokke Fabrikker. The logical solution was to form an executive group company with the overall objective of steering the group in the right direction. Such an arrangement would result in a clearer division of responsibilities and allow for a better overview of developments in the various parts of the group. The subsidiaries might therefore also be motivated to make greater efforts when their tasks became clearer and they had the same opportunities for development as other, equal parts of the group.
The new organisational model became effective with effect from January 1983, with the formation of a parent company called Stokke Industri AS. With the advent of a new organisation, other and stricter requirements were also imposed on written documenta tion and the publication of operating results and accounts. Consequently after the 1983 accounting year, Stokke prepared its first written annual report. This shows that Stokke Industri AS had the following subsidiaries: Stokke Fabrikker AS, Tennfjord M øbelfabrikk AS, Stokke Fabriker AB, Tranås and Westnofa Industrier AS with their subsidiaries of Rauma Industribygg AS and Westnofa Engineering AS. The Stokke family also had substantial ownership interests in Vågå Bruk, but because the pine furniture producer was not wholly owned by the Stokke group, it was not included in the consoli dated accounts.89 One decisive motivation for re-structuring the furniture group in this way, was a desire to improve financial management and strengthen cost control. The new model was thus included in the arrangements made to tidy up the model side of operations, which were to have an impact on Stokke from around 1980 o nwards. With a better overview and cost control, a responsible body, the Board of the group, would be able to focus its efforts on areas which were very promising and ripe for development. In the same way, it would be possible to steer away from problem areas and tidy up anything slowing development. These were precisely the sort of effects that the company believed were revealed in Stokke's first annual report. Not because the organisational adjustments in themselves led to great results overnight, but because the adjustments in the organisation were an expression of changes in company attitudes and practices which had been operating since the end of the 1970s. Amongst other things, they had helped to bring about the implementation of necessary measures in Stokke's choice of model. In its 1983 annual report, the company's improved operating profit was explained as follows: “This increase is due to increased sales v olume, the phasing out of unprofitable products, efficiency measures and cost control.”90 The foundation had thus been laid for boosting development of the company's brand name which had been initiated by much of the Stokke group in the 1980s, and which took Stokke forwards to become one of the most innovative furniture companies in Norway.
Innovation at Stokke Fabrikker AS During the 1980s, Stokke developed a product profile which separated the company from all other Norwegian producers on the domestic market and placed it in a unique position both at home
and abroad. A whole new ideology was built up around the company's new products which would offer consumers completely different experiences and levels of satisfaction when compared to traditional furniture. With the launch of the Tripp Trapp chair in 1972, Stokke had proved itself to be a company that was willing to try new methods. The good dialogue that existed between the owner, Kåre Stokke, and the most prominent representative of ergonomic innovation in respect of Norwegian furniture design, Peter Opsvik, proved to be fruitful. But it was the launch of the Balans Variable in 1979 that heralded the final transformation process that led to Stokke becoming the most ideologically-oriented Norwegian furniture company in the 1980s. Once again, doctors and other health professionals served as good ambassadors for Stokke's products. And once again, one had the feeling that the company had a product which could separate it from its competitors in a positive way. An article about the Balans published in the company's information newspaper in 1980 contains the following description: “There is much to indicate that this new creation, which strongly prioritises correct sitting posture, could be just as great a success as the Tripp Trapp chair.”91
A hint of something new ... “The most important thing is to be able to look forward.” These were Georg Stokke's words when Stokke Fabrikker celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1982 with a working lunch in the canteen at the 16,000 square meter factory plant in Spjelkavik. This statement, which Sunnmørsposten used as the headlines in a report about the jubilee party, was possibly intended to serve as a vital injection for the employees of a company which by 1982 had been through some demanding years. The normal thing at jubilee celebrations is to focus on what has already occurred. For Georg Stokke, and probably for the rest of the factory management as well, the future was the most important thing, even at a jubilee event. This was not because the past could not cheer people up. Both the owners and employees at all levels were undoubtedly proud of much of what had been accomplished during the company's first fifty years. The actual size of the plant bore witness to the fact that they had successfully accomplished much and that there had been above average profits. But, as already m entioned, there were other more problematical aspects relating to the building which Kåre Stokke mentioned in his speech to the gathering. The additional 7,500 square meter 1-storey building was mainly financed by loans, and the substantial increase in interest rates which occurred after the building had been completed represented a sorry entry in the accounts. However, Stokke junior was also quick to look ahead:
The Balans concept was presented for the first time to the public at the Scandinavian Furniture Fair in Copenhagen in 1979. Balans was the exhibition's greatest innovation and the concept was also admired and acknowledged as being an alternative to furniture which provided a static sitting position. This concept was developed as a result of the productive teamwork which existed between the concept holder Hans Christian Mengshoel and the designers Oddvin Rykken, Svein Gusrud and Peter Opsvik. Depicted here is the Balans Variable model, designed by Peter Opsvik. It is one of 25 models incorporating the same concept.
Stokke has never rested on its laurels. “The most important thing is to be able to look forward”, said company founder, Georg Stokke, in his speech to the employees who attended an informal lunch to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary celebrations in 1982. (Sunnmørsposten 16.10.1982.)
The Gavott armchair belonged to Stokke's classical furniture line. The Gavott and Menuett became reliable sales items for Stokke right up until the end of the 1980s. Together with furniture such as Tema, Senior and the King Star reclining chair, these models were gradually included in Stokke's Comfort series.
The Balans chair encourages all-round movement.
“However, developments are now on track, and if we continue with our efforts, we have relatively bright future prospects.”92 At this point in time the company's plans for the road ahead were not completely clear, even though good foundations were being laid as a result of the organisational adjustments the company was about to make. The company's bright future prospects were based on the hope that good results would be achieved through steady work on product development, phasing out unprofitable products, having more efficient production and focusing on marketing and sales both at home and abroad. This hope was strengthened by the fact that the company's business cycles were displaying an upward trend. However, this was all based on a hunch that Stokke's products had the potential to become some thing more. The journalist who covered the anniversary for Sunnmørsposten also had this feeling. The article ended thus: “Stokke Fabrikker also has some examples of 'interesting' furniture to refer to. A few years ago they started production of the distinctive Tripp Trapp chair which can be adjusted to suit all ages and which has been successful both at home and abroad. Over the past few years they have produced another new successful item, the Balans, which has been designed with several different versions. Just this year alone they will be producing approximately 20,000 items of this rather strange-looking kneeling chair!”93 Just a few years later it was these “strange-looking chairs” that were to become core aspects of Stokke's new identity.
Back to nature It has been said that Norway's most important contribution to international furniture design has been products that are ergono mically designed. It is probably true to say that Norwegian designers, at least those who qualified at the end of the 1960s and 1970s, have displayed great interest in products that have values beyond the aesthetic. Perhaps this can be explained by Norwegian industrial traditions and social circumstances. Until the early 1900s, Norway had only a moderate degree of urbanisation and industrialisation. Norway was largely a producer of raw materials and most Norwegians worked in agriculture and other primary industries. At the same time there were relatively few class differences in Norwegian society, in contrast to the situation further south in Europe. There the upper classes used craftsmen and artists for making products that were not only valued for their practical uses, but also for the increased status they could confer upon t hose upper classes. Norwegian urbanisation and the country's international leanings could be seen in the designs of the early 1900s, but after World War II, tried and tested utilitarianism and practical designs came strongly to the fore again. At that time all the country's resources and brainpower were directed towards rebuilding the country
a fter the ravages caused by the war. There are many examples of the Norwegian down-to-earth outlook in the simple and functional armchairs that were produced by furniture companies of all sizes from the 1940s onwards. Alf Sture and Adolf Relling were two of the newly qualified designers who succeeded in expressing Norwegian functionalism and Stokke Fabrikker's products from the post-war years fit well into this pattern. Many of the young Norwegian designers who started to make their mark at the end of the 1960s came from this type of background and were not particularly attracted by pure aesthetic experimentation. For many of these young designers, furniture with the clean, classical lines of Scandinavian design had a natural right to exist even though it was not attractive. It was static, stiff and did not encourage diversity or active use. At the end of the 1960s, students and other young people started rebelling against some of the trends in modern society. The design revolution turned its back on the stiff and conformist furniture which had characterised Norwegian interior design during the 1950s. Young people let their hair grow, pondered on the times and criticised the adult generation's superficiality and materialism – they sat demonstra tively in circles on the grass without using chairs. The anti-authoritarian, red-green youth revolution was followed by the universal physical movement, the jogging wave. Designer Svein Gusrud, who was a young, ergonomic-minded designer in the 1960s, describes the mood thus: “Suddenly everyone was going out into the countryside and climbing trees, etc. City folk were rediscovering nature, interpreting nature in present-day terms and putting it into furniture. We succeeded in doing this visibly with the Balans. I do not think we would have had a chance with Balans if it had come 10–15 years earlier. This chair arrived at the same time as Grete Waitz (the famous Norwegian marathon runner) and the jogging wave.”94
A balanced product The Balans concept matured over a relatively long period of time. Several medical practitioners and physiotherapists had tried to experiment with chairs and sitting positions that were supposed to be good for the body. This acquired its own momentum, because one of the consequences of the western, industrial lifestyle is s itting still. Industrial production is actually based on disciplined periods of sitting still that are governed by the clock, or the adoption of fixed positions at machines and repetitive movements. Such positions also cause physical ailments because the body develops and adjusts as a result of versatile movement patterns. The Norwegian doctor Henrik Seyffarth developed a so-called health chair in the 1930s. The Danish doctor, A.C. Mandal, also worked on the problem and wrote a book entitled “The sitting person –
The Balans Tripos was launched during the furniture exhibition in Copenhagen in 1982. From an active work chair to a reclining chair in three simple stages.
Stokke had reached crossroads in 1983 when the company had many different types of furniture in its collection and was attempting to satisfy different customer groups. The Assistant Director at that time, Kjell Storeide, is shown here with a Menuett, which for many years was a good seller and a model in the Femini Balans series. Photo: Ståle Wattø. (Sunnmørsposten 11.1.1983.)
homo sedens”. He showed how people could be injured by sitting in the wrong position, and he also contributed to the development of chairs which would be more beneficial for the body. One of the main points made by Mandal was that chair seats should tilt forwards and that the seat height should be elevated so that the angle between the thigh and the torso was more open, thus resulting in a better body position. One of the Norwegian designers who followed up A.C. Mandal's ideas, and who also found inspiration in the ergonomics guru Ulrich Burandt, was Peter Opsvik. He responded to the challenge formulated by Mandal in a 1976 article published in a trade magazine, Ergonomics, where Mandal pointed out that not enough attention is paid to the effects that chairs can have on our health, despite the fact that they play a central role in s ociety. Chairs had been left to random design trends. Opsvik met Mandal in 1977 when he was in Norway to give a lecture at the invitation of Torgeir Mjør Grimsrud from HÅG, and he was inspired to try out Mandal's ideas about having a more open angle between the thigh and the torso in practical chair designs.95 These ideas agreed with the ideas he had picked up during his study visit to Essen in 1970. While Opsvik was experimenting with chair models which would provide the body with a more active and suitable sitting position, he was contacted by Hans Christian Mengshoel. M engshoel came from a different professional background than Opsvik, but they thought along the same lines. Mengshoel thought that a good, balanced sitting position could be achieved by distributing the body weight between the knees and the buttocks. He referred to children who, before they were “educated” and still moved in a natural, spontaneous way, did not sit on their bottoms, but knelt
down. Opsvik immediately realised that the kneeling chair solved the problems associated with sloping seats. One could sit with a more forward slope without slipping off the seat. With Mengshoel's leg support, one acquired both a good and open sitting angle and a sitting position that provided the necessary stability. During his previous period with Stokke, Peter Opsvik had worked on a movable chair with runners, a chair which was subsequently incorporated into Stokke's Balans series, the Pendulum. After his meeting with Mengshoel, Opsvik adapted the Pendulum chair, retaining the runners, removing the back and adding two knee supports. One of the results was the Balans Variable. Mengshoel and Opsvik came up with the name Balans (balance) when they were trying to achieve the correct seat angle on the chair. They took turns trying, and the question was always: is your body well balanced now? So the name came of its own accord. With this product and this name they had also succeeded in matching the description provided several years previously by their source of inspiration, Mandal, about having a body-friendly chair: “By sitting on a seat which tilts forwards, the spine will rest in a natural, balanced position which does not require use of the muscles. In such a balanced position, it is not necessary to have back support.”96 The Balans concept was designed by three different designers: Peter Opsvik, Svein Gusrud and Oddvin Rykken. The first time these products were presented to a wider public was at the furniture exhibition in Copenhagen in 1979. Alf Midtbust was serving his final year as the Director of the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers. During his 30 years as Director of the Association, Midtbust had shown great interest in furniture design. He had taken a stand against product copying, he had encouraged commercial
In this article which appeared in Sunnmørsposten in 1981 it was made clear that Stokke and Blindheim had developed in different directions. The close marketing collaboration which had existed between the two companies since 1964 was coming to an end.
Huge success for Balans was the heading above this photo which a ppeared in Sunnmørsposten in March 1983. Marketing Manager Roar Hauge-Nilsen says that Stokke experienced an explosion in demand from the American market. 20,000 Balans chairs were sold in 1982. A cautious estimate in March 1983 indicated that 40,000 chairs would be sold that year.
product development by initiating design competitions for export furniture, he had introduced practical stipends for p romising, young designers and he had written a range of articles where he had repeatedly called for a commitment to independent and creative design. When the National Association of Norwegian Interior Designers (NIL) wanted Stokke's Balans products to be exhibited on a separate stand at the Copenhagen Furniture Exhibition, they turned to Alf Midtbust. At that time Svein Gusrud was the Deputy Chairman of the Board at the NIL and he says that Alf Midtbust was immediately positive about these products which were viewed by most people as being novelties.97 Midtbust saw opportunities where others saw almost nothing but complete darkness.
schools and production of the Tripp Trapp chair. He also knew that in 1979 Stokke was struggling to achieve profitable production. Midtbust thought that the Balans products were just what Stokke needed, given the company's situation at the time. He phoned his good friend, Kåre Stokke, to express his views. Kåre was also aware of the tremendous potential offered by Balans, and since Opsvik had already laid one golden egg, there was a good chance that he could lay another.98 Other aspects of the Balans c oncept were further developed by other c ompanies, but none of them were as successful as Stokke. HÅG produced Svein Gusrud's version, Balans Activ, for some time, w hile Sandella included O ddvin Rykken's Skulptur and Rybo in Ø ystese produced Opsvik's G chair.
Alf Midtbust later said that the Balans stand, which was exhibiting Balans products for both private and public spheres, was a huge Scandinavian success at the Copenhagen exhibition. The J apanese had trouble leaving the stand! The media was full of praise for the Norwegian designers, pointing out that these products had enormous potential. However, Midtbust recalls that the response of other Norwegian manufacturers was less enthusiastic. Midtbust was better acquainted with Norwegian furniture manufacturers than most people, and he knew that the management of Stokke Fabrikker was open-minded and responsive to new trends relating to furniture design. This was manifested in the company's productive c ollaboration with Peter Opsvik, which involved the testing of a range of ergonomic products intended for use in
Splitting Up Stokke had a somewhat hesitant entry into the 1980s. As already mentioned, the company had been through a financial shakeup and had left activities that were not directly related to furniture production. However, the company still had an extensive product range. Stokke wanted several legs to stand on, but these legs were so far apart from each other, that the company was in danger of collapsing. Over the years, Stokke had generally m anaged to avoid lay offs. During the early days the company's management had probably improvised more than was advisable, given its financial constraints in order to r etain its employees. This had been possible
The Gavott in light beech was first introduced in 1981. Here is the model shown in the 1988 catalogue issued by Stokke Fabrikker AS.
because for a while p roducts were manufactured for s torage purposes in the belief that they would sell at some stage in the future. With new managers, and stronger focus on cost control, such improvisations were less common after 1980. For this reason, and because export revenues were s omewhat lower than a nticipated, the company's employees were laid off for five days at the end of May/ beginning of June 1981.99 As previously mentioned, Stokke entered into a joint marketing venture with Blindheim Møbelfabrikk in 1964. They cooperated closely in both the 1960s and 1970s, and these two companies in the Blisto group had a joint product development department. Most of Stokke's sofas and reclining chairs were initially intended to complement Blindheim's wall sections. However, despite working jointly on product development, it became clear around 1980 that the two companies were heading in separate directions. As far as Stokke was concerned, this was mainly due to the company's collaboration with Peter Opsvik. The company's Tripp Trapp chair for children and its furniture designed to promote movement and variation staked out a new course for this familyowned manufacturer of upholstered furniture. The split was not unexpected. What was more remarkable was the fact that Blindheim and Stokke continued trading jointly under the Blisto Møbler brand right up until 1982. The odd aspects of their collaboration were clearly illustrated in an article which appeared in Sunnmørsposten in 1981 when the Blisto companies were
resented under the joint heading: “Blisto group to focus on new p furniture products”. This heading was largely the only thing that bound the companies together. The article was accompanied by a photo of Stokke Fabrikker with Director Kåre Stokke and M arketing Manager Roar Hauge-Nilsen each riding a Balans Variable, while on the right side of the article there was a photo of Director Einar Blindheim and Managing Director Audun Bondevik sitting on sturdy 4-legged chairs next to a polished table top with a large, darkstained wall section in the background. It was already clear then that Blindheim and Stokke would have to go their separate ways, as shown in the following explanation released in 1982: “The reason for this change is that over the years the two companies have developed in different directions, focussing on different customer groups. It is natural that they will each address their respective markets more directly in the future.” At the same time it was said that they would continue to retain some joint agents and that their joint sales and office premises in the Sunnmørssenteret in Oslo would continue to operate until further notice.100
The novelties take off One of the fields where the two companies had different lines of development was export. Stokke had been a member of the Westnofa export organisation ever since it was founded in 1955. Blindheim joined in 1968, but did not gain the same access to
export markets as Stokke. Stokke experienced an upswing in exports, particularly from 1970 onwards when sales of the Tripp Trapp chair took off. When the companies were presented together, but nevertheless separately, in 1981, it emerged that Blindheim's share of exports amounted to between 5 and 10 % of the company's total income, while Stokke Fabrikker accounted for 35 %. Half of these exports were channelled through Westnofa Ltd. Stokke's export collaboration with Westnofa was severely tested when Stokke wanted to gain access to the US market with Balans. The American market had displayed an interest in Opsvik's pioneering chair at an early stage. It was something new, an item of furniture that had never been seen before. The media gave it favourable write-ups, it won prizes at exhibitions, and it received praise from weekly and trade magazines which said it was unique and revolutionary. Roar Hauge-Nilsen was the Marketing Manager with effect from 1981. He had a good relationship with the designer Peter Opsvik and soon became enthusiastic about the fundamental ideas behind the Balans concept. Like Opsvik he realised that Westerners were starting to suffer from poor sitting positions and that this product offered alternative ways of relating to the sitting process. There were no equivalent products. For Hauge-Nilsen this was not just about bringing a chair to the market which offered correct sitting positions. It went beyond the chair's physical properties. It was a chair that allowed movement and creativity in the widest sense of the words. A chair on the same team as the players in modern workplaces where human capital and creativity were key contributory factors. A chair for the future. Fuelled by missionary zeal, Roar Hauge-Nilsen travelled to the USA, accompanied by employees of Westnofa Ltd., in order to win the US over to the Balans concept. This product was also presented in Japan and in other major markets. These market campaigns succeeded beyond all expectations. Balans sales took off in early 1982. In April 1982, production of the Balans Variable had reached over 1,200 chairs a month, and by the end of the year a total of 20,000 items had been manufactured – and sold. The company was starting to benefit from the c onviction of its ideas and had found a product which could be big. Kjell Storeide, who since 1981 had held the title of Assistant Director, was featured in Sunnmørsposten in 1983, speaking about “the novelties” that had become golden eggs for Stokke. Storeide maintained that this was the result of deliberate strategy on the part of the company. Stokke wanted to pursue the development of furniture with specialist designs and to market on the export market in particular.101 However, it still took some time before the company's management opted to concentrate fully on this new product and to discontinue all the others. A considerable amount of new products was issued during the early 1980s that had no direct connection with the company's furniture line which allowed for movement and variation. In 1981 the design office, which still enjoyed the
entorship of Arnt Lande, issued a flood of more conventional m product news: a new, lighter design of the Polo chair; modernisation of the Nevada suite by using more solid woodwork and higher back cushions; a leather and light beech version of the Gavott; a white-lacquered version of the Menuett armchair; two new v ersions of the Trend sofa group (Trend Tema and Trend Club); and the Klang wing chair which was described as being a comfortable, cosy chair where you could stretch your legs out on the footrest. There were a couple of new models in 1981 with a traditional design, but which also had features associated with the theme of variation. One of these was the Sekvens lounge suite, designed by Asbjørn Synnes and consisting of five components that could be adapted to suit individual requirements. The height of the complementary Dublett chair could be adjusted and was intended for older people seeking good back support.102 Stokke Fabrikker was moving along, but it did not allow itself to turn around overnight!
“Thank you, IKEA!” At the same time as Balans sales started to take off, income from the Tripp Trapp chair also started to achieve new heights. Tripp Trapp did not have an equivalent growth curve to Balans. Production of the chair increased slowly but surely, year by year, as shown by a synopsis prepared by the Slovenian factory which manufactured components for the chair. When the number of items manufactured during the first year (1974) was totalled up, it turned out that 13,180 chairs had been sold. During the following year production amounted to 18,318 items and by 1978 this figure had crept up to 30,536 chairs per year. In 1979, the same year that the Balans Variable was launched, production leapt up to 46,643 items. A further jump took place between 1983 and 1984, when production volumes increased from 55,222 to 70,445.103 It is likely that sales of the Tripp Trapp chair were aided by the marketing campaign that took place in the wake of the Balans launch, but, as can be seen from the statistics, sales of the Tripp Trapp chair were already high before Balans appeared on the market, so its impact was not really affected by the appearance of the Balans. The adjustable children's chair was in the process of becoming a decisive pillar in the Stokke system. Stokke Fabriker AB in Tranås in Sweden made an important contribution to these developments. Ingemar Almgren started working for this company 1975 and gradually took over responsi bility for running the company and following up the Swedish market. He was an enthusiastic employee, with strong personal motivation and an assertive approach to marketing.104 He says that he was quick to realise the great development potential of the Tripp Trapp chair. However, it was on the peripheries of familiar ideas about what furniture should look like. He encountered considerable resistance from the retailers when he was marketing
The Director of Stokke Fabriker AB in Sweden, Ingemar Almgren, was quick to realise Tripp Trapp's market potential. He became enthusiastically involved in the launch of this children's chair that he thought met the rights of children to sit in a chair that could be adjusted to suit their size. Here Marketing Manager Roar Hauge-Nilsen is seen trying out a child's traditional sitting position in a 1984 marketing campaign.
Balans created a good impression internationally. The principle of balanced sitting with the aid of a tilting seat and leg supports brought something genuinely new into the global chair market. In a Japanese warehouse, Balans was presented by a gigantic placard stretching up six storeys.
In the 1980s, the joint venture partners in Westnofa and HÅG allowed young Norwegian designers to engage in design experimentation at furniture exhibitions, initially the Copenhagen exhibition. It was in such a context that Peter Opsvik's sitting experiments, the Femini and Maskuli, were displayed in 1983. Here is a Femini chair.
the children's chair: “The retailers were not interested in it. There was no money to be earned from the chair. They could sell six Gavott chairs in the blink of an eye, but had to stand and talk for a whole week in order to sell a Tripp Trapp. The chair was angular and strange, and it was far from beautiful. No-one wanted it.” In order to prepare the ground for increased demand in 1977–78, Almgren made direct approaches to one of the main target groups for the chair, children's institutions: kindergartens and pre-schools. He travelled around much of Sweden and presented the chair and its properties on pre-arranged visits. He presented documentation and statements issued by health practitioners showing that poor sitting positions in children caused back and other physical complaints later on in life, and that the Tripp Trapp chair enabled correct sitting posture, thus preventing the o ccurrence of such complaints. Once he had presented the chair to potential customers, he left them with samples so that they could familiarise themselves with the chair's properties. The various retailers around the country were given the task of following up the institutions, and this national campaign resulted in a range of new Tripp Trapp customers. The tour was followed up by a massive advertising campaign in the main Swedish national newspapers to introduce the product to Swedish parents. Six full-page advertisements were placed in the Expressen and Aftonbladet newspapers every week for eight weeks.105
The Marketing Manager of Stokke at that time, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, remembers one particular advertisement that attracted attention. The headline of this advertisement read: “Thank you, IKEA!” The text of the advertisement showed that Stokke was not thanking IKEA for the furniture giant's products, but for the fact that the company had not developed any children's chairs that could compete with Tripp Trapp! The advertisement was a success for Stokke. It evoked a positive response to this unique children's chair which took children seriously by lifting them up to a position from which they could interact with adults. This move hit home, first with Swedish kindergarten managers, and then gradually with Swedish parents. The employees at Stokke Fabriker AB soon started to find that retailers were approaching them for permission to sell Tripp Trapp. Some of these retailers were the same ones who had recently dismissed the chair as a novelty. Now customers were approaching them and asking for the chair.106 The experiences which were gained from marketing work in Sweden were to a large extent transferred to other markets later on, e.g. adopting a strategy whereby approaches were made to professionals and top officials in fields such as ergonomics and preventive health, and encouraging them to make statements about the chair in trade magazines and other media.
In 1985/86, sales of Balans chairs almost dried up in the US. One of the main reasons for this was the many Balans copies that flooded onto the market. Esso in Canada was one company that made a Balans copy. (Sunnmørsposten 29.4.1986.)
Pendulum was a chair for long periods of sitting down at the table. All sitting movements start with the feet, and movement is also good for the mind.
Standstill in the US
The most enthusiastic customers at the exhibition were the Americans.108 The US was definitely the best market for Stokke's Balans products during the first phase. One of the reasons for this was because it had been launched through mail order catalogues which were distributed to most households on the vast US continent. Gradually specialist stores like Back stores started to spring up, selling various items of furniture designed to promote beneficial effects on health. The Balans models served as a starting point for several of these enterprises.
There was a large amount of positive coverage about Balans in the newspapers. “Huge success for Balans” were the headlines in an article which appeared in Sunnmørsposten in March 1983. During the same month this newspaper reported that Balans provided jobs for 32 people, which was the entire workforce, at the laminate factory, Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk. By March production had in creased to 1,100–1,200 Balans chairs per week. Director Ole Bolle reports that their aim was to increase this figure to 1,500.107 Balans Variable was the first model of what was to become a whole family of furniture designed to promote movement and variation during the next few years. During the Copenhagen exhibition in May 1982, three designers were given free rein to apply their imagination to the subject of future furniture on Westnofa's stand: Svein Gusrud, Torstein Nilsen and Peter Opsvik. The Balans concept applied to several of the exhibited products. Not all v isitors had commercial interests, but the exhibition helped to create publicity for the new ergonomic direction in Norwegian furniture design and to raise expectations about what might emerge from that direction in the future. The top selling new creation at the Copenhagen exhibition was Balans Tripos. This chair could be used in three positions, i.e. like a Balans chair with knee supports in the forward position, as an ordinary chair in the middle position, and as a reclining chair in the rear position.
Even though only a small percentage of Americans purchased Balans chairs, this gave a tremendous boost to the Stokke group's sales figures. In 1983, 60,000 models from the Balans range were sold in the US. Stokke Fabrikker's income leapt from NOK 47.8 million in 1982 to NOK 61.7 million in 1983. The company's entire growth in income could be traced back to increased sales in its export markets. The total value of exports amounted to NOK 33 million in 1983 compared to NOK 18.1 million the year before. This growth in exports also resulted in a welcome improvement in earnings. Stokke Fabrikker's deficit of NOK 600,000 in 1982 was turned into a surplus of NOK 483,000 in 1983, and even though the Tripp Trapp chair was largely responsible for these positive figures, it was the success of the Balans that attracted most attention, even in the company's annual report. The company pinned their greatest hopes for the future on Balans: “Our prospects for 1984 are promising both with regard to sales and results. We have
articularly high expectations for to the Balans collection.”109 And p these optimistic forecasts came true. In 1984 sales of the B alans models more than doubled to 130,000 chairs. Demand was so great that Stokke's production plant was unable to cope with production on its own. During the summer of 1984 a contract was signed with Sandvik in Ørsta for the production of components for Balans.110 These were fantastic developments. But then difficulties started to arise. Roar Hauge-Nilsen received warnings about what was going on while he was visiting various retailers in 1984. He discovered that their storerooms were full of Balans cartons. The retailers had also been enthusiastic, and had accepted delivery of large consignments of goods in the belief that the initial interest displayed in the product at exhibitions and in the media would last and might also increase. Stokke was also presented with another great challenge in the American market due to copying. In 1985 the company started to receive an increasing number of reports about Balans copies being found in American stores, magazines and mail order catalogues. Even the large, reputable company, Esso, fell for the temptation and launched a Balans copy through its network of stores and petrol stations. 111 It was a great disappointment for Stokke and Westnofa when they discovered that several of their retailers who had previously been selling Stokke's Balans chairs were starting to sell copies. It is likely that they made greater profits from selling copies. These copies were usually made in countries with cheaper labour and lower production costs than Norway, so they could be sold at lower prices than the originals, even when the retailer's commission was taken into account. The growth in Balans exports stopped in 1985, and the only explanation that Marketing Manager Roar Hauge-Nilsen was able to find was that the numerous copies had caused great confusion. Stokke investigated the extent of pirate production and concluded that there were as many as nineteen companies marketing their own versions of Balans in 1985. Most of these were produced in Taiwan, but some were made in North America.112 After a period of intense pressure on the group's various production plants, things quietened down to such an extent that in 1985 that Stokke Fabrikker was once again forced to lay off employees. These lay-off periods occurred in connection with the summer holidays. Marketing Manager Hauge-Nilsen regarded the lay-offs as being related to the fact that sales in the US had not increased as anticipated.113 There are probably several reasons for the drop in demand for Balans chairs on the American market. As previously mentioned, a high percentage of sales to the US came from sales made to stores. These sales thus did not necessarily indicate any sort of broad acceptance for the product by American consumers. The Balans
products were challenging to sell. Stokke's and Westnofa's representatives obviously did a good, convincing job in marketing them to buyers in the US, but the decisive challenge lay in the meeting between local store personnel and American consumers. Did store personnel possess the knowledge and enthusiasm required for selling a product that relied more on its inherent properties and long-term effects, than on its immediate aesthetic appeal? Perhaps this was the weak link? And perhaps Stokke had not found the right sales network in Westnofa's American connections? They traded from fashionable high street addresses and targeted a public with high disposable income, but who were relatively bound by tradition. Later on, Stokke learned from its experiences in the US, and aimed its distribution network at a more clearly defined target group, especially people interested in the environment, ecology and a healthy lifestyle. The market that addressed alternative lifestyles barely existed in the US stores where Stokke's products were being sold during the 1980s.
Towards an explanation Just when Stokke was experiencing a turbulent period in the US, there was a change in management at Stokke Fabrikker. Bjørn Gjerde, who had served as Managing Director since 1983, left the company in 1985 to work as a self-employed consultant for a consultancy company. In 1983, former Assistant Director Kjell Storeide, left Stokke to become the Bank Manager of Sunnmørsbanken. This left the coast clear so that Roar Hauge-Nilsen could then take over as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker. The choice of a new Director was linked to Stokke's adoption of a new strategy. For several years Roar Hauge-Nilsen had thought that if Stokke was to enjoy a promising future as a furniture company, it needed to find itself and cultivate its strong qualities. Referring to the company's moderate sales figures, he convinced Stokke's owner Kåre Stokke and the Board that Stokke's future lay in the functional furniture segment and in its main products, Tripp Trapp and Balans. But later on in 1984, Hauge-Nilsen also included the Gavott and Fagott reclining chairs under functional furniture due to the fact that the high sitting position they offered also enabled older people to stand up more easily. He also included the newly launched r eclining chair with variable adjustment, the King Star, which enabled full relaxation of all joints and muscles. A couple of years later, HaugeNilsen was less generous in his definition of functional furniture. During 1985 when he took over as Managing Director, the company's latest major innovation was Move, a height-adjustable chair with a rotating base plate, designed by Per Øie from Stranda.114 The Move chair fitted in perfectly with the company's new movement philosophy, which was launched internationally under the Movement concept. This was a line and company philosophy
The aim of Peter Opsvik's Balans products was to achieve variation between several sitting positions, including a kneeling position. Gradually, most of Stokke's ergonomic collection consisted of products without leg support. Move, designed by Per Øie in 1985, was one such example. Others were Garden, Pendulum, Actulum, Flysit and Motion. Here we can see the painter Ørnulf Opdahl in full swing with his brush, sitting on a Move chair in his studio.
that had matured over several years. Kjell Storeide, as previously mentioned , said in a 1983 interview with Sunnmørsposten, that Stokke had deliberately focussed on furniture with special designs. By this he was primarily referring to products such as the Tripp Trapp and Balans models. Storeide also indicated that a future commitment to exports was essential for a company with ambitions of continued growth and development. This was c ompletely in line with the guidance being provided by the a uthorities and industrial organisations at that time. Rational production, innovative design and export was the mantra that was chanted repeatedly to furniture producers and other industrial producers who wanted to survive in a high cost country like N orway. De-industrialisation continued in Norway throughout the 1980s after the number of industrial workers decreased steadily from its peak in 1974. The belief that Peter Opsvik's much talked about “novelties” could form the basis of Stokke's development during the forthcoming years was considerably strengthened. And with Roar Hauge-Nilsen as the company's newly-employed manager, this process could be completed.
Stokke. They visited Ålesund shortly afterwards and entered into a joint venture. Vahlne and Nordstrøm expressed in words and models some thing that the Stokke management had been thinking about and had to a certain extent acted on during the early 1990s. The business philosophy of the two Swedes was simple: each company should cultivate what it was good at and find its own special perspective so that it could be visible and recognisable on the market. It was just as important to be able to say “no” and to remove elements that were not suitable. “Management by saying no” was one of the mottos of the two Swedes. Stokke had previously too often said “yes” to accepting new models because it lacked a general b usiness strategy that went beyond the efficient production of modern furniture. The result was that the company was present “every where” with a low degree of recognition and market strength. Vahlne and Nordstrøm's recipe for success was that Stokke should sell unique products to special segments in the market. They had to choose their target groups and stick to the requirements of such groups. Similar ideas were expressed by the American professor
Simple and straightforward Right up until the time when Stokke Fabrikker took over Vatne Lenestolfabrikk in 1989, the factory had a varied collection, including the somewhat slender Menuett chair which had a pure style. Occasionally chairs were returned because of flaws or defects. This was the situation during the early 1980s. Leif Nakken in the carpentry division was one of those responsible for fixing problem chairs. Nakken was a big, strong, efficient man. On one
Two Swedish professors One person who was decisive for Stokke's transformation during the 1980s was one of the company's Board members, Nils HøeghKrohn. Høegh-Krohn was a business economist and at that time he was teaching at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen. In 1985 he attended a marketing conference in Barcelona in connection with his job at the School. During a break in the conference he ended up sitting at the same table as two Swedish participants: Professors Jan Erik Vahlne and Kjell Nordstrøm. They started talking about Stokke and the new products that the company was about to introduce onto the European market. The Swedes became interested when HøeghKrohn enthusiastically told them about Stokke's unique contribution to the world's furniture users, and they expressed a wish to talk to the Stokke management in order to try out some of their ideas with
occasion a dissatisfied customer had asked for his chair to be repaired and returned as quickly as possible. Bortne in the Administration Department asked Nakken how they could solve this problem. The experienced carpenter took hold of the chair and threw it on the ground, smashing it to smithereens. A clear message that the easiest way was simply to send a new chair to the customer.
Michael Porter, whom Nils Høegh-Krohn introduced to Norway. According to Porter it was important for the company to c oncentrate on just one suitable competitive strategy. The company needed to position itself in relation to the five competitive forces: c ompetitors, customers, suppliers, intruders and substitute products, in other words different ways of meeting needs.115 Jan Erik Vahlne realised that Stokke's management had a catching enthusiasm for the products in the company's functional collection, Tripp Trapp and its Movement furniture, but that this enthusiasm overshadowed their ability to consider the needs of their customers. “The company's furniture was simply fantastic, and customers were told 'take it or leave it'. I tried to impress upon them that they had to think of the customer's situation.”116 It took a while before consideration for customers permeated all of Stokke's operations, although it had been latent for many
The Balans Wing was nominated as the 1983 Furniture Item of the Year by a jury appointed by the National Association of Furniture Retailers. Amongst other things it was intended to be an alternative to traditional office chairs.
Gravity was a development based on the Balans Tripos, with four more adjustable main positions, enabling the user to move from an active working position to a resting position, resulting in a feeling of floating and weightlessness.
The Garden furniture sculpture was the first in a range of wooden sculptures created by Stokke and Peter Opsvik. The designer had previously focused on ergonomic theory and practice. Gradually he allowed himself to play with furniture styles, designing furniture which invited users to have fun.
y ears. Kåre Stokke stated in 1968 that it had always been Stokke's policy to make modern furniture. Of the eight criteria used to define a modern piece of furniture, the first contained an element of taking the customer's needs into consideration: “A thoughtful design to please the consumer.”117 And it was undoubtedly consideration for the needs of customers and the market that led Stokke to launch one reclining chair after the other in the 1960s and 1970s. Customer consideration was also advocated by Assistant Director Kjell Storeide in 1983. Speaking to Sunnmørsposten in January 1983 about the strong growth in Balans sales on the American market, Storeide explained that Norwegian furniture companies needed to be far more market oriented than they had been previously. Storeide believed that this, combined with c learer distinguishing features for individual companies, was the key to progress. Storeide's views were completely in line with the e xternal views expounded by Vahlne and Nordstrøm in 1985/86. At that time Storeide had been working for a while in the banking industry as the Deputy Managing Director of Sunnmørsbanken AS. Vahlne's and Nordstrøm's input contributed towards the cultivation of Stokke's profile, which was to be based on Peter Opsvik's functional furniture. Nevertheless, when seen in retrospect, the connection between customer consideration and Opsvik's functional furniture, appears to be less simple than it was at the beginning of the 1980s. At that time Stokke was primarily a product-oriented company that based itself on self-defined customer requirements, without targeting any particular customer groups. It was therefore difficult to achieve a distribution relevant to the company's entire collection. As we will see later on, Stokke's solution was to seek to create its own distribution outlets through retailers who believed in the concepts of movement and variation.
Stokke's management did not necessarily expect it to grow as high as the heavens. Peter Opsvik allowed himself to digress from time to time from designing practical furniture to creating more playful designs, like he did when he presented the Cylindra collection at the end of the 1980s. In 1986 Opsvik's design office made a playful contribution, the Garden furniture tree. When this product was presented in Stokke's information newspaper, the designer explained that Garden was a combination of sculpture and sitting tool, with the emphasis on the sculptural aspects. Garden was also produced in smaller versions, where the sitting function was the primary feature. The motivation for creating such a distinctive and unconventional product was a desire to make waiting in public rooms less boring than usual. Sitting in Garden created contact, emphasised Opsvik: “If people who do not know each other meet in a reception room that is furnished with Garden, they will have no difficulty in talking with each other. They will have something to talk about”.118 With this type of playful design, Opsvik had introduced a new form of movement, movement with a social dimension, people's movement towards each other. It was therefore not surprising that Garden also provided an incentive for the development of a sofa: Globe. This was presented with a variety of different chairs, tables and combination solutions. Stokke had not previously been completely successful with its sofa collection, and its latest collection was no exception. However, it was fun as long as it lasted, and much fun was had, particularly at the Stockholm exhibition 1986 when the Garden series was shown for the first time. Møbelavis reported that a real Garden party developed on Stokke's stand. Thousands of visitors turned up to climb Opsvik's chair tree, and although the collection did not sell in great numbers, it served as a first-class attraction and buzz topic.
Many forms of movement
Back to Europe
Starting in 1986, a gradual process began whereby products that were not suitable for the “new” Stokke were to be phased out. This cleaning up process was ongoing until 1989 when the Gavott and Menuett chairs were transferred to Vatne Lenestolfabrikk which Stokke had purchased during the same year. Although items were phased out, there was no substantial reduction in Stokke's collection, but thematically the company gradually started to become more concentrated. It was encouraged by global interest in its new furniture concept. One growth area in the Balans family after 1983 was the Balans Wing. It was equipped with castors and was marketed as an alternative to traditional office chairs. Its height could be adjusted, and it could swivel. Balans Wing was nominated as the Furniture Item of the Year by the N ational Association of Furniture Retailers in 1983. The company launched a furniture tree in 1986, although
One of the results of the new strategy of focusing on functional furniture was that Stokke withdrew from its joint venture with Westnofa at the end of 1986, a step that had also been urged by Vahlne and Nordstrøm. When investigating a number of Swedish companies, Vahlne had discovered that it was difficult to co- ordinate exports. One problem involved difficulties in deciding a fair distribution of income and expenses. This often resulted in internal strife. Otherwise, the distribution of power within Westnofa Ltd. had changed considerably from the period of the first years of the organisation through the 1980s when Stokke emerged as an inno vative furniture producer with its strongest growth in exports. Some of the other member companies were on the defensive and failed to keep up with Stokke's ability for renewal. Both Aaslid Møbel
Peter Opsvik is a versatile artist. Not only is he acknowledged as being Norway's most creative furniture designer, but he has also performed as a jazz musician. Here he can be seen playing with the C hristiania Jazz Band during a presentation of the Stokke group and V estlandske Møbelfabrikk's products at the Storo shopping centre in Oslo in 1985.
Wolfgang Krüssmann started as a Westnofa representative in Germany. From the end of the 1980s he was pivotal in building up Stokke's new sales apparatus in Europe. Here he can be seen during a visit to an exhibition in Oslo in 1985. In the middle is a customer and to the right Kåre Stokke. The King Star reclining chair can be seen on a plinth in the background.
fabrikk in Volda and P.I. Langlo in Stranda were folding, and P.I. Langlo was taken over by J.E. Ekornes in Sykkylven in 1979. After leaving Westnofa, and after the collapse of its American market, Stokke was left without a distribution system outside Norway and Sweden. In Norway, Stokke had its own agency network and its subsidiary in Sweden, Tranås, was the base for its Swedish network. During this phase it was essential for the c ompany to get its own marketing and sales network up and running in Europe. Stokke's contact with the German, Wolfgang Krüssmann, was a stroke of luck. Krüssmann was a professor of marketing at the Kiel College, which had granted him a period of leave in order to act as an adviser on behalf of Westnofa Ltd. in Germany. He was therefore familiar with Stokke's products and the c hallenges faced by the company on the German market. His background was probably decisive for his success in building up Stokke GmbH as quickly as he did. As far as Stokke was concerned, the quick establishment of a German sales network was absolutely fundamental. Roar Hauge-Nilsen, who followed the establishment closely, describes the dramatic situation thus: “If this had not happened as quickly as it did, the cow would have died while the grass was growing.”119
ful in building up a well-motivated and enthusiastic retailer network, initially in Germany, and then in several other European countries in quick succession. When choosing retailers, he focused on companies run by married couples who were particularly enthusiastic about ergonomics and the environment. In Germany the “green wave” was stronger than in any other country, with the possible exception of the Netherlands. He also focused on a not unusual combination for Stokke outlets, marketing Balans products and the Tripp Trapp chair together with health products. With motivated retailers, sales work aimed directly at customers produced far better results than those achieved by marketing products in the “wrong” stores in the US. Furthermore, customers visiting Stokke stores were more favourably disposed towards Stokke's products. They knew what they wanted and where to find it, and they were able to relate to Stokke's philosophy. This was precisely the sort of market position that Director Roar Hauge-Nilsen had wanted to achieve. “The point for us was not to sell individual products to customers. We wanted to develop our philosophy and get our customers (our stores) to serve as our extended arm in the market under our identity – “STOKKE – makes life worth sitting”. We wanted our customers to come to us of their own accord because they had realised that our products were the right ones for them. If we could convince customers that our concept was the right one for them, then we would have tremendous potential.”120 In Germany, Stokke generally adhered to the concentration on target group p rescribed by Vahlne and Nordstrøm. Here was a large segment of well-educated and resourceful people, typically living in urban environments, who by their lifestyle w ished to indicate that they took the world's environmental p roblems seriously. Their external environmental interests were o ften
An inspired sales corps The objective of both Hauge-Nilsen and Krüssmann was to build up a network of retailers who were informed and enthusiastic about Stokke's unique contribution to furniture customers throughout the world. They wanted their retailers to be so happy with Stokke that they would not sell any copies. Krüssmann was largely success-
Wolfgang Krüssmann (right) and the Director of Stokke's sales office in Austria, Josef Mössenböck, together at an exhibition. Krüssmann had a penchant for products designed for children.
From the end of the 1980s, Stokke built up an efficient sales network of motivated staff throughout Europe. Here we can see the staff at Stokke's sales office in Italy in 1999: Giambattista, Angelo, Barbara, Silvia, Marcello, Paola and Stefano.
accompanied by an interest in their own health and products providing a beneficial physical effect. Wolfgang Krüssmann e xplains that these were the sort of people he sought when he was building up his network of retailers in German towns: “We had to find new retailers and develop things from the ground up. We had to find someone who could be enthusiastic about these p roducts in particular and then we had to train them. If you fall in love with some thing, you find someone who shares the same feelings. We had some people like that – people you dream about – people who cared about environmental issues and about humane products.”121 Stokke's functional furniture did not sell of its own accord. The Balans furniture and Tripp Trapp were also initially perceived as being over-the-top and peculiar in Germany. It was not the sort of furniture that could be sold in large quantities by advertising or distributing brochures. Direct contact with customers was the recipe created by Wolfgang Krüssmann and his wife Elsa, who also took part in building up Stokke's sales network in Germany. Their retailers would ideally "live and breathe" Stokke's products, although little persuasion was required to encourage them to do that. As already mentioned, they were people with an interest in healthy lifestyles and the environment. Stokke products were eminently suitable for their home furnishings and their lifestyles, and they were therefore able to influence both their personal and business contacts. Krüssmann also introduced a system whereby interested customers could borrow furniture to take home and try for a while. These measures enabled Stokke's message to spread like ripples in the water. Krüssmann himself calls it the onion principle; first you obtain support for an idea, and then it continues to spread from one layer to another. Krüssmann says that one of the reasons why he became so heavily involved with Stokke was the freedom permitted by the
company's owners to form his own organisation. “Kåre Stokke allowed us considerable freedom. We wanted to do things voluntarily, not according to rules and directives. I would never have joined Stokke if it had been an company with too many rules and a rigid o rganisational structure. We saw that the company's products promoted movement and variation and realised that there had to be movement in the organisation as well.” The export companies that were built up during this period were largely entrepreneurial knowledge-based companies. Stokke's products were the type of products that could not be sold without extensive knowledge and heavy commitment, and this entailed various challenges. Knowledge needed to be shared and the organisation needed to be held together and adhere to certain general guidelines. In Germany, information was spread largely on a local basis, with Wolfgang Krüssmann acting as a committed entrepreneur. He held meetings for retailers in his own home, providing them with product information and more g eneral details about the environment and ergonomics, i.e. fields in which Stokke wished to differentiate itself from its competitors. Boat trips and barbeques were also organised. The challenge of keeping the organisation together was a demanding one. At least, this was the experience of the company's head office in Ålesund, and gradually also in Skodje. The wellmotivated retailers in Germany and in other Western European countries were self-assured individuals who had put a consider able amount of effort and imagination into introductory sales, thus acquiring an ownership relationship to the project. They worked well as long as they felt they had the freedom to do so and were met with confidence. Wynand Mens, who was Stokke's key man in the Netherlands during much of the 1990s, was enthusiastically involved in Stokke's ergonomic approach to sitting processes, and
Over the years Stokke has devoted considerable resources to marketing, and the company has been involved in long-term cooperation with Hatlehols in Brattvåg, which has maintained a high degree of quality in graphics and printing technology. As early as 1993, Hatlehols stepped into the digital world and Stokke was a key joint venture partner in the reorganisation which the printing works underwent at that time. These photos were taken for Stokke's catalogue in 1994 by Dag Lausund and processed using modern technology. Dag Lausund, who was employed by Stokke at the time, was pivotal in Stokke's venture with Hatlehols and was always ahead of developments.
his involvement produced an contagious self-confidence. “Our power of attraction is strong enough to make us feel certain that a target group of 'opinion leaders' alone will ensure that the word is spread in like-minded circles.”122
The group is gradually emerging as a sound group of companies, with clearly defined business areas, good earnings and improved liquidity, capital structure and capital adequacy.”124 Stokke's new sales company in Lübeck in Germany, Stokke GmbH, is also described in the report. The following year, Stokke bought shares in Scan Sit, a London-based sales company.125
There were internal discussions about whether or not the members of the organi sation agreed on the principles relating to the development of its sales network. Vahlne and Nordstrøm's manage ment philosophy, “Management by saying no”, specifically meant that Stokke had to say “no” to retailers wishing to sell the company's products. Some of these retailers had been good contacts for Stokke earlier on and some of them were still selling products from companies in the Stokke group, such as Wonderland mattresses. Roar Hauge-Nilsen remembers that Stokke's owner, Kåre Stokke, wanted to open the door to former supporters and friends of Stokke: “Our selection was criticised after a while, notably by Kåre Stokke who had been approached by former retailers who were disappointed that they were rejected. [...] Some of those we said “no” to, created difficulties by threatening to stop selling Wonderland mattresses if they were not allowed to sell Stokke's other products.”126 The selection of retailers also caused some legal problems. Companies who tried to adopt this type of strategy were faced by legislation that was designed to prevent unequal competitive conditions for players in the market. The Ekornes furniture group also adopted a similar selection process, and it had to go to court on several occasions before it was able to implement its strategy. Like Ekornes, Stokke's Managing Director supported selection in order to develop a network of retailers that was thoroughly acquainted with the company's philosophy and would devote full attention to its products.
Stokke's products received considerable attention in the media and in literature devoted to furniture and innovative design. This was true not only in Germany, but in the whole world. In his book, which was published some time later, the American professor of architecture, Galen Crantz, called Opsvik's Balans chair the most radical chair design of the twentieth century. 123 The positive attention attracted by this ergonomically designed and environmentally friendly furniture from Norway resulted in a steady in crease in the number of retailers who wanted to jump on the bandwagon. Roar Hauge-Nilsen remembers they had a long queue of interested retailers and that Stokke consciously maintained its sales philosophy. There was never any talk about giving discount on Stokke products. Stokke benefited not from low prices, but from unique products which took the human body's need for movement and variation seriously. Stokke's management team strongly supported the company's new course, as can be seen from the Directors' 1986 Report where consolidation and the change of focus were described thus: “In 1986, the company's new structure underwent further development and consolidation, giving it ■ a more purposeful structure, and ■ a division developed around clearly defined product/market areas with individual responsibility for their results ...
Being a Stokke retailer was a demanding business in the retailer network set up by Krüssmann. Such commitment could not be expected from everyone, and one important prerequisite for inspiring a sense of commitment among those selected, was that they were among the – few – selected. A selection process was started, but it took a long time before the goal was reached and a retailer network was established that was regarded as being the right one for Stokke. Stokke's 1986 accounts bore witness to the fact that the establishment of new marketing and sales points in Europe was a costly business. The 1987 consolidated accounts showed a small deficit, but the strong growth in exports of Stokke Fabrikker's core
with Tripp Trapp and Stokke Function – and the Balans products at the top of the list. When Vatne Lenestolfabrikk was purchased in 1989, the remainder of the Comfort collection was transferred to this company and the directors of Stokke could thus state in their report that the clean-up process was complete: “... Stokke F abrikker AS will be known for one single business concept – Stokke's furniture for movement and variation.”128
Common platform Viewed from outside in 1986/87, Stokke appeared to be a bold,
Stokke maintained regular contact with the Japanese market. Here are some key Stokke personnel at Stokke's stand at the International Furniture Exhibition in Tokyo in November 1987. The Norwegian representatives are, from left to right: Peter Opsvik, Kåre Stokke and Roar Hauge-Nilsen.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Stokke was starting to find its profile as a producer of furniture for movement and variation. “Stokke makes life worth sitting” was its ambitious motto. Here from the Sjølyst exhibition in 1987.
collection in the same year meant that the Board was not particularly worried about developments. Over the course of the year from 1986 to 1987, Stokke Fabrikker's export share increased from 52.3 % to 60.6 %. The following year this figure rose to almost 70 %, and then to 80.4 % in 1989. These increases in export percentages continued during the following years until they reached more than 90 % in 1993.127
even somewhat daring, company staking out a new course with products that for many were unfamiliar and appeared to be relatively experimental. In order to explain this seemingly bold choice, it is necessary to mention Peter Opsvik and his enduring efforts on behalf of the company. Opsvik had been designing furniture for Stokke even since the end of the 1960s and his Tripp Trapp chair had helped the Stokke group to present itself as a sound company with good liquidity. Opsvik inspired considerable confidence, and the Stokke family, headed by the owner Kåre Stokke, was willing to follow a narrow path in the hope that a clear product profile would lead to international progress. Stokke's i nitial success did indeed come from the European markets.
During the middle of the 1980s, the reorganisation of Stokke Fabrikker's product areas resulted in the company's collection being divided into three groups: Stokke Comfort – with reclining chairs and the Gavott and Menuett armchairs, Stokke Children –
In 1989, Kristine Landmark was appointed as Stokke's Marketing Manager. She was to be responsible for assisting the Managing Director in building up a well-distributed and coordinated sales network in Europe. Landmark learnt that Stokke's sales offices in Europe were largely leading their own lives. This was partly due to the historical structure of Stokke's sales offices which had know ledgeable retailers with strong opinions about how Stokke's marketing and sales campaigns should be conducted. Birgit Jevnaker, a social scientist who has written a dissertation on Stokke's commitment to its new product profile, points out that Stokke thus acquired a decentralised management model for its export m arkets. This was partly the result of a conscious choice and partly due to limited internal resources. During its development phase, Stokke's
cultural platform. We prepared folders explaining Stokke's philosophy in order to develop this platform. These folders were completed in 1992.”130 Peter Opsvik was sometimes used as a resource for the retailer network and he prepared material explaining the concepts behind the company's movement and variation collection. His arguments were based on his own reflections and observations, as well as on the results of medical research showing the health benefits of Stokke's chairs. This material was translated into a number of European languages and distributed to all of Stokke's stores. Those retailers and store assistants who took the time to read and digest this material, had a good starting point for dealing with interested customers. Stokke had learned that cooperating with enthusiasts was not a risk-free path to success.
Good Stokke ambassadors resting after a hectic day at the exhibition in Cologne. From the left: Kristine Landmark and Wolfgang Krüssmann, the Manager of Stokke's sales office in Germany. In the middle with blonde hair is Krüssmann's wife, Elsa. On the right: Anton Molnes who was pivotal in Stokke's marketing apparatus and the principal of the Stokke School when it was active. Molnes was a qualified educationalist and possessed the unique ability of presenting ergonomic theory in a manner that most people could understand. To the left of Molnes is Solfrid Viseth.
Peter Opsvik often visited retailers to talk about the concepts behind the company's movement and variation furniture. When customers asked questions, it was obviously an advantage if the company's store assistants had the answers at their fingertips. Here is Opsvik on a visit to Bohuset Veierød in Brandbu in January 1987, a year when Veierød was among the top s elling retailers of Balans Tripos models.
head office did not have sufficient funding to engage in close supervision of its various sales divisions. Therefore, the company's local marketing managers were generally responsible for marketing activities in the company's export markets. They were also used to assist in the establishment of sales links in new and adjacent markets. In 1990/91, Stokke allowed its subsidiaries in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany to handle the development of company representation in France, Italy and the Netherlands respectively.129 One disadvantage of this decentralised model was that there was little internal interaction and a limited overview. Kristine Landmark says that they wanted to change this starting in 1991: “We started on this and worked on creating a common organisational and
Henning Berg, who had studied the structure of Stokke's sales and distribution network on the Continent, pointed out the dangers of having enthusiasts who start projects but do not systematically follow them op. He was referring in particular to Stokke's experi ences with its former joint venture partners in France.131 The establishment of a sales company in Spain, Stokke Mobiliario S.L., independently occurred in 1992. Pedro Goenaga, who had originally been selling copied chairs, became the new Spanish company's manager and co-owner, with a 10 % ownership stake. He is still there after 18 years. In 1993 Stokke established a wholly-owned sales office in Austria, through the acquisition of the
agency business of Josef Mössenböck who had been selling Stokke furniture through his connections with Westnofa Ltd. since 1980. In Italy, Stokke set up a joint venture with Angelo and Gian Mario Mandrini, who were also originally Westnofa agents. Angelo Mandrini still has a 10 % ownership stake in Stokke Srl. and manages the company from Dormeletto near Milan with great success. Over the course of just a few years, Stokke Fabrikker AS had developed into a predominantly export-oriented company. The
company's figures showed that the German office in particular was helping to boost profits around 1990. In 1989 the German division posted a profit of NOK 1.7 million, equal to Stokke Fabrikker's total profits the previous year.132 However, despite positive individual trends, the company was facing great challenges relating to coordination of its entire sales and export system and to its group management. Such was also the case with other parts of the Stokke system which, over the years, had taken on several areas of subsidiary activities that were mostly allowed to lead their own lives.
Westnofa Industrier finds its own way Spring mattresses Westnofa Industrier in Åndalsnes was originally started to provide the owner companies of the export organisation Westnofa Ltd. with an affordable and reliable supply of foam plastic products. It became relatively quickly apparent that most of the co-owners were only moderately interested in developing this company. Stokke was left as the principal owner and driving force as early as 1973, and it did not take long before the prime mover, Georg Stokke, was able to revive his old dream of making beds and mattresses for the Norwegian people. He had previously been involved in mattress production when some mattress machines had been purchased for the factory at Moa in the early 1950s. Stokke launched its mattresses under the brand name of Sleepi, but was forced to stop mattress production when Johan Riise took over as the company's agent in eastern Norway in 1958, because Risse also acted as an agent for Ekornes who already had a well-established mattress collection. It was not until the end of the 1970s that mattresses became important to Stokke, then the principal owner of Westnofa. The first mattress, which was developed around 1970, was a pure foam mattress with two foam p lates laid facing one another. A new model with an eggshell-shaped core followed. In 1977, Westnofa produced its first spring mattress, and after a while this proved to be a lucrative product in this part of the company's operations. At that time Kjell Storeide had just started working for Stokke as Chief of Finance and he kept a close eye on these operations, which were still not completely utilising the potential of the investments made by the company in technology and material development. Storeide indicates that Georg Stokke was responsible for Westnofa's entry into the spring mattress market. This proved to be a constructive period. Ekornes was manufacturing its Svane mattresses, but Storeide realised that
E kornes' product development in this area had been neglected and Westnofa was able to take advantage of this. Alongside the mattress producer Jensen in Svelvik, Westnofa gave Ekornes tough competition on the mattress front over the next few years. More than anyone else it is Odd Slettaøyen who should receive the honour for Stokke's mattress success. As already mentioned, Slettaøyen came to Westnofa as an administrative member of staff, but he quickly became involved in product development and marketing. Kjell Storeide believes that Slettaøyen possessed a unique blend of creativity, market orientation and customer understanding which resulted in him repeatedly hitting the bull's-eye with new mattress models. Odd Slettaøyen remembers that he had to fight to include steel springs in Westnofa mattresses. The company's strengths were based on using foam plastic and people seemed to be searching for good reasons to ensure that this continued to apply to mattresses: “The arguments which were launched in favour of foam plastic mattresses were that they were easy to produce and that they were hygienic. In addition, traditional spring mattresses were heavy, they had buttons that could rip holes in sheets and they were also unpleasant to touch.” The turning point came in 1977 when Terje Klauseth experi mented with an alternative type of mattress where the springs were moulded into the foam plastic mats by using liquid foam. This method ensured good mattress stability and firm edges. Westnofa was granted a European patent for this design principle which combined the best properties of springs and foam. According to Terje Klauseth the inspiration for this new design principle was obtained from the car industry, following his recent study trip to Saab's factory in Sweden. The first spring model was called the Welun 008, after an earlier 1971 foam mattress model called the 007.133
Westnofa in Åndalsnes has had a relatively high percentage of female employees. This photo shows two women packing mattresses in 1978.
Westnofa Industrier was very sceptical about using springs in mattresses. Many people thought that the company should stick to pure foam plastic m attresses because foam plastic was a company speciality. However, the company's first spring mattress, the Welun 008, was launched in 1972. Its successor, the Welun 0010, became a bestseller for Westnofa.
Westnofa Industrier in Åndalsnes. The municipality was an important supporter for Stokke in the building up of this company.
I'll show them! Odd Slettaøyen acted like a midwife in the birth of the new spring mattress which Westnofa developed in 1977, the 008. He quickly realised that they had brought out a product with great possi bilities. Brimming with enthusiasm, he and Factory Manager Tore Østerberg Johnsen presented the product at a sales meeting of the Stokke group. The response was definitely not what they had expected. They were met with grins. The sellers were sceptical, wanting to stick to the familiar ground of foam plastic mattresses. In retrospect, Odd thought that he possibly had approached the presentation from the wrong angle, being too c oncerned with the technical details. Nevertheless, in spite of the reaction, he continued. The fact that he felt that he had been made to look ridiculous, made him adopt a more reckless attitude. He would show them. The new product was put into production, but sales did not take off at once. Maybe the sellers were not enthusiastic enough when presenting it? The thing that got the product moving was a new spring system.
In Denmark, Odd Slettaøyen had found a new hand-plaited spring system that had three times as many spirals as the traditional Bonell spring system. This allowed for a completely different adjustment of the body and experience of comfort. Initially there was some noise in the spring system, but this problem was solved thanks to an attachment process invented by Terje Klauseth. “It was a brilliant product,” chuckles Odd Slettaøyen. In addition to this product improvement, it was suggested that a topper mattress could be introduced in order to provide extra comfort. The bed was expensive, but it was something new and people were interested. Westnofa had succeeded in convincing others to develop a product which was more expensive that those of its competitors. In addition, it came from a relatively unknown producer. And the reason for this success? “This was not a one-man job”, confirms Odd Slettaøyen, “but I was involved in fronting it. I had a burning interest in this product and nothing sells better than enthusiasm. I was stupid enough to just be myself and I was involved in building up important relationships for the company.”
labour-intensive and best paid deliveries. An informal division of work developed between Westnofa and Sandella, with the latter company acquiring the least demanding technical tasks and long production runs. “It was no problem for Westnofa if we delivered fewer tonnes of foam, provided that our earnings increased,” says Steinar Loe.
The company's intensive product development work during the 1970s also produced results on the industrial foam front. In 1977/78, Terje Klauseth & Co. managed to bring out a very hard polyurethane foam which was used as so-called integral foam by the ski industry. This material formed the core of a range of Madshus' ski models, and this specialist production for the ski industry is still going strong in 2007. 100,000 such reinforcements were made in 2006. Terje Klauseth concludes that the plastics company's p ioneering years came to an end in 1981. It was then time to start industrial operations and begin earning some money. After Managing D irector Tore Østerberg Johnsen resigned in 1981, Steinar Loe was given the challenging task of reining in management, disciplining the creative forces at Westnofa and focusing on profitable i ndustrial p roduction. Initially he was prepared to stay with the company for two years, but he ended up staying for 18 years.134 One of the first things he did was to divide the company into two production areas, mattresses and industrial foam. The idea was to highlight creation of assets in these two main areas. Industrial foam had long been a prioritised area and one to which most development resources had initially been devoted. But it was mattress production that had shown the strongest growth over the past few years, particularly after spring mattresses were accepted. Odd Slettaøyen was relieved of his duties as Office Manager and put in charge of product development and sales in the mattress section, while Terje Klauseth was given similar responsibility for industrial foam. In this area, Westnofa started to focus on the most
Around this time a brand name, Wonderland, materialised for the company's mattresses. Terje Klauseth says that this was like striking gold. He recalls that it all started some time around 1980 when he and Odd Slettaøyen were on a sales trip to England. During their visit they were introduced to the mattress and bed producer, Slumberland. Terje is a passionate hobby fisherman. After his return from England he was fishing in the Rauma river when his gaze fell on the name of the reel on the fishing rod – Wonderwood – and he suddenly realised Westnofa's mattresses would have to be called Wonderland, and this has been the official name for Westnofa's mattresses ever since 1 May 1980.135
Mattresses create earnings growth Westnofa was unable to report profits every year. One of the reasons for this was the substantial costs involved in the development of foam plastics production. Westnofa was not opposed to paying the price needed to develop new production processes and new
Ballett was a combination chair which was moulded in polystyrene by Vartdal Plastindustri. This chair sold in large numbers.
In 1984 Westnofa Industrier launched its Wonderland 2000 in Norway, and this has subsequently become known as the framework mattress. Westnofa emphasised that it was not the bed, but the mattress which was crucial to having a comfortable horizontal position. So, why not go straight to the point by removing the bed's superfluous end pieces and concentrate instead on developing a top-rate comfortable mattress. The result was Wonderland 2000.
products which they thought the market would be interested in. It was a great advantage for the development of such a high-tech company to have a long-term owner who was willing to make the investments necessary to help Westnofa meet its goals. As regards industrial foam, the Sandella factory in Sykkylven competed on a par with Westnofa. This factory had the same ownership structure as Westnofa, with m embers of the Mehren family as patient entrepreneurs. In 1982 the company's figures were in the red due to a development project which had been entered as part of operations in the company's accounts. However, by the following year this deficit had been turned round to show a profit.136 During 1983 and 1984 turnover increased by 60 %. This was because Westnofa was s tarting to benefit from growth of companies taking delivery of foam p lastic products produced in Åndalsnes.137 Another redeeming factor was the fact that the company's mattress collection was in the process of acquiring a solid foothold in the market. The company's creative development work was starting to bear fruit. An important step forward for Westnofa was the development of the Wonderland 2000 framework mattress in 1984. Its design was based on the fact that it is the mattress and not the bed that is the crucial factor for a comfortable horizontal position. Wonderland 2000 was assembled on a solid wooden frame, with a double set of hand-plaited Recreo springs. Anyone wanting to use the mattress as a bed would be supplied with laminated foot guards which were attached directly onto the wooden frame.138 Westnofa's improved turnover was achieved partly by making operations more efficient, but also by expanding capacity and
Sales Manager Odd Slettaøyen at Westnofa Industrier enthusiastically showing guests from Det Norske Møbelsenter at Vestby around the company's mattress facility in June 1988.
t aking on more employees. Growth was not particularly high in the middle of the 1980s. In 1983 Westnofa had 52 full-time employees and 13 part-time employees. At the end of 1985 these figures had increased to 79 and 19 respectively. The industrial foam section of Westnofa Industrier AS was very sensitive to market changes in the furniture industry. When several home furniture producers experienced a levelling off in growth in response to a tightening up of the credit market in the middle of the 1980s, this subcontractor was also affected. Nevertheless, the company was in control of developments because it had a balanced distribution of products and customers and was thus relatively unaffected by the fate of individual companies. Attempts were made to cushion the company from the effects of the general slump in the furniture market by the continuous introduction of measures designed to improve efficiency in the company's production system. The company's 1988 annual report contains a matter-of-fact description of what has subsequently been described as a dramatic period in the history of modern Norwegian furniture industry: “A high percentage of customers are furniture retailers and manufacturers who mainly serve the home market. In spite of a significant slump in this market in 1988, as well as an unusually large number of voluntary arrangements with c reditors and bankruptcies in industry, Westnofa Industrier AS strengthened its position and maintained profitability in line with the company's objectives.”139 In order to undertake further rationalisation of operations, the company introduced an investment programme prior to 1990 with a cost limit of NOK 13 million.140
The group hold is consolidated, 1990–1997 Storeide returns The Stokke group was formed from a number of spin-off companies and around 1990 it consisted of a conglomerate of companies with a low degree of horizontal integration. The group's subsidiaries were generally allowed to manage themselves. As previously mentioned, this was due to limited capacity in the group's administration department, but it was also the company's expressed policy that subsidiaries should be allowed to enjoy a large degree of autonomy. There are many witnesses to the fact that the management and employees in the company's various subsidiaries appreciated the confidence and freedom they were given. Some also attribute the good results they achieved to this very same freedom. “Everyone was given the freedom to do what they did best,” the employees at the Swiss sales office told Stokke in 1997. They maintained that the company's confidence in its employees was the main reason why no one had left their office since it was established in 1988.141 Wolfgang Krüssmann at Stokke GmbH in Germany, Ingemar Almgren at Tranås in Sweden, and Odd S lettaøyen and Terje Klauseth at Westnofa all shared the same views. As far as the latter two were concerned, their freedom of action could be justified both from a professional and a rational viewpoint. It was
the team in Åndalsnes that possessed the expertise required for both foam plastics and mattress production. To a limited extent, neither the owners of the group nor a group of commercial m anagers could have developed this production on a professional basis. Such a ttitudes were well anchored at all levels of the Stokke group up until the 1990s. This serves to illustrate a corporate culture which to a large extent was based on products and production. It also corresponds with a traditional founder culture and the drive to develop companies which would gradually manage to stand firmly on their own feet. If the company's focus had been directed more towards markets and customers, it could have paved the way for closer integration of companies. This perspective would gradually start to penetrate more deeply at a general group level, but a lready in 1990 measures were being taken that would give the group management the tools that had so far been lacking. Stokke Industri AS had been established as an overall group company in 1983. Stokke Industri was wholly owned by Kåre Stokke who was the only person in the group administration. Even though the legal group structure was in place in 1983, it did not result in operational consequences for the group's subsidiaries. When Kjell Storeide returned from his position at Sunnmørsbanken in 1989, the parent company was strengthened. Storeide took over new duties as
In August 1988, Stokke moved the bulk of its production and administration operations to Håhjem. It was then clear that the plant at Spjelkavik could be more profitable if it were adapted for commercial purposes.
E xecutive Chairman of the Board of Stokke Industri AS and the Board of Stokke Fabrikker AS. Kåre Stokke continued as the Managing Director of Stokke Industri until further notice. In 1990 they switched roles at the initiative of Kåre Stokke. At the same time, Kjell Storeide was offered a 9 % stake in the group. At that point in time he was 37 years old and faced another 10–15 years of employment with Stokke. His prospects for finding another top job in industry after the age of 50 were limited. The confidence invested in him by the Stokke family on his return led to his decision to continue with the company. He could now start to transform the Stokke group into a collaborative organisation in which those involved would work on the basis of jointly defined objectives. The tasks which the new Director and co-owner of the group chose to prioritise were as f ollows: ■ Improve financial management. ■ Put Vågå Møbler on the right track. ■ I mprove earnings for Vatne Lenestolfabrikk, which had been acquired in 1989. ■ S ort out the rental situation relating to the company's former factory facilities at Moa. ■ Clean up financial operations. Consolidate loans. ■ Systematise management developments. For an economist like Kjell Storeide it was natural to be interested in the underlying cash flow of the group. The question which had
to be asked was: what did the group earn money on and w here was that money going? Despite the fact that around the year 1990 the group had several promising business concepts and companies which were making a sound profit, its finances were still strained. The accounts of the parent company showed a deficit in both 1988 and 1989. Although there were no longer any negative numbers on the bottom line in 1990, the group's management and Board thought that the company's profits before year-end adjustments amounting to 5.6 % still represented a return on capital that was too low. In the D irectors' Report for 1990 the Board stated, “In the opinion of the Board there is room for considerable profit improvements in several areas of activity which could be achieved by further cultivating the company's marketing concepts”.142 Strengthening the group's administrative personnel by d oubling the number of employees, would help to achieve an integrated structure for the family-owned company. But the group was still organised in accordance with a holding company model, which meant that the management rights of the group's subsidiaries remained largely unaltered. Extracting profits from these companies in order to meet common needs was still a problem. It was only when the group was reorganised in accordance with a d ivisional model, with Kjell Storeide being appointed as Operational Manager in 2000, that the group became a cohesive unit and it became easier to implement general strategic management.
Stokke Fabrikker – a creative organisation A question of loyalty Inside the group it was probably Stokke Fabrikker which was the apple of the owner family's eye. This company was the origin and centre around which the group had revolved for many years. Therefore, it was natural that Stokke Fabrikker would be one of the first areas to receive the attention of the new group duo. Stokke Fabrikker had a number of different product areas, and in 1990 as in previous years, there were no doubts in anyone's minds that the Tripp Trapp chair made the greatest contribution to the company's profits. Kjell Storeide wanted to address these different product areas, but this was a foreign concept for Managing Director Roar Hauge- Nilsen, who referred to the situation experienced by the Danish electronics producer, Bang-Olufsen. Like Stokke, this company did not earn the same income from each of its different product areas, but it emphasised that it had an integrated
collection and that each part served to support the company's unique and distinctive character. In Hauge-Nilsen's opinion, one product area could contribute most during one period, while at other times other areas might bring in most. He also pointed out that it takes time to incorporate a new chair concept, but once things have been set in motion they can take on their own momentum! Hauge-Nilsen also pointed out that at the end of the 1980s the Tripp Trapp chair was helped considerably in the European markets by all the attention that had been devoted to the company's variation furniture.143 In 1995 researcher Birgit Jevnaker formulated the situation as follows: “From a financial point of view, none of the Balans and other movement models have ever been as profitable as Tripp Trapp. On the other hand, the unique products launched in the 1980s prompted dynamic growth and the development of relationships in new markets.”144 However, as the debate progressed , it was Roar Hauge-Nilsen and his supporters in
Kjell Storeide was involved in the company for two periods and set his mark on the development of the Stokke group. His strength was his analytical personality which was combined with down-to-earth business realism. He had a close relationship with the owner, Kåre Stokke, and together they had the unique ability to put the right people in the right place.
Peter Opsvik has meant more to the development of the present day Stokke than anyone else. He has had a fantastic ability to deliver original products which have appealed to the latent needs of furniture users all over the world.
In February 1991, Tripp Trapp sales exceeded the 1 million mark. In order to celebrate this event, a party was organised for all the employees of Stokke Fabrikker, Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk and Vatne Lenestolfabrikk. At this party, Tripp Trapp designer Peter Opsvik was presented with a gold-plated Tripp Trapp chair in miniature. He is depicted here with his wife, Kari (left), and Turid and Kåre Stokke. (Sunnmørsposten 4.2.1991.)
Ingemar Almgren at Stokke AB in Sweden organised an annual retailer's event in Tranås. The programme contained a number of diverse professional events and a boat trip on the Boxholm. Almgren was a jazz enthusiast and he usually gathered his jazz friends to entertain the guests.
the European markets who were put on the defensive. The disagreement outlined here helped to bring out both professional differences and differences relating to personal chemistry. For Roar Hauge-Nilsen the furniture of the Movement collection was some thing far more than mere physical products which could provide the group with good financial results. In his opinion Stokke's furniture for movement and variation had provided homo sedens with the help which our bodies required. In the company of Peter Opsvik he had travelled the world championing this message. And it had struck the right chords among the company's enthusiastic sales corps and in the large markets on the Continent. Roar Hauge-Nilsen travelled constantly, visiting the company's export offices where he met people who thought like him. Personal bonds were forged. Roar Hauge-Nilsen enjoyed his role as the front figure of the Stokke movement. Kåre Stokke was the generous owner who had confidence in those who proved themselves worthy of his confidence. He was always a welcome guest on his travels. They were joined by the economist, Kjell Storeide, who s howed just as much interest in the figures as the products. S toreide had set himself the task of improving the group's financial management, and this work included obtaining an overview of the product development costs relating to individual products and product groups, marketing costs and sales results. For a family-owned company like Stokke, short-term earnings and profitability were important. Operating for several years at a loss is not a good recipe when one is dependent on self-generated and continuous profitability in order to ensure adequate operating and investment funds and a return on capital. Storeide felt that alliances were b eing built between Stokke Fabrikker's administrators and the company's external sales network in order to ensure that its Movement products would continue to receive strong focus in the future. On the other hand, it looked as though even Stokke's d istinctive character as a furniture producer was in danger of being overshadowed by shortterm focus on profitability. A gap between the perceptions of the managers at various levels was developing, and this had conse quences for the execution of operational strategy. This was not good for Stokke Fabrikker and the group. It was important for the
group management and the Board to maintain the company's policy of loyalty to decisions made by superiors. This developed into a power struggle between two factions within the group, and Kåre Stokke was relatively quick to give his support to Kjell Storeide. Kåre Stokke had experienced his responsibilities as a heavy burden on his shoulders during the years when he, in his capacity as owner, had been the only member of the group management, even though he had had the backing of a Board that was very s upportive. When Kjell Storeide returned it was a relief for Kåre. He finally had someone with whom he could share some of his executive responsibilities. Furthermore, the way in which Kjell Storeide tackled Stokke's challenges once again boosted confidence. Kåre Stokke and Kjell Storeide complemented one another in a manner that was to prove beneficial for the Stokke group. They created a basis for the exercise of owner control which had been difficult to practise before 1990. Even Wahr-Hansen, a lawyer with the BAHR firm of lawyers who had been Stokke's legal advisors since 1980 and who had also developed a close friendship with Kåre Stokke, regarded the re-engagement of Kjell Storeide as a very favourable move at this time: “Kjell Storeide proved to be a fabulous asset and he tidied up things when required. He was absolutely the right man at the right time. He saw clearly that it was necessary to gain an overview of profitability in the individual parts of the production process and the company's other income-generating assets, e.g. its property portfolio. Kjell aided considerably in making Stokke more professional – Stokke had originally been a founder company with just one or two people holding the reins while the company's middle management did not understand, or had no insight into, the overall picture.”145 The outcome of this power struggle between Hauge-Nilsen and Storeide became a foregone conclusion when the owner made a clear choice about which side he was on. During the autumn of 1993, Roar Hauge-Nilsen was forced to hand over his position to Tor Norbye who came in as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker from a sales and marketing background. During a transition period Roar Hauge-Nilsen was appointed as Chairman of the Board of
Tor Norbye took over as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker when Roar Hauge-Nilsen left in 1993. Hauge-Nilsen was then appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Stokke Fabrikker AS. Norbye, who came from a marketing background, was the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker until 1998.
S tokke Fabrikker, but it soon became clear that this was a position with no real management opportunities, even though he was also given responsibilities relating to product development at the company. In 1995 Roar Hauge-Nilsen left the Stokke group after nearly 20 y ears of consecutive service. Harald Brathaug, the Chief of Finance, was deputised as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker until Tor Norbye was able to take up his post. Brathaug was well liked by the employees and he was a unifying force during this turbulent p eriod. After this interlude, Brathaug returned to his duties as Chief of F inance, which he continued to perform in a sound and loyal manner until 1996.
Still variation These changes in the top management of Stokke Fabrikker were not motivated by financial and business-related developments at the company. Stokke Fabrikker's 1992/1993 profits were markedly better than they had been for many years. The company's operating i ncome had increased from NOK 159 million the previous year to NOK 189 million, and pre-tax profits were up from NOK 17.7 million to NOK 19.5 million. Stokke Fabrikker was seen as being an export company with over 90 % of its sales going to export markets. Its 1993 annual report emphasised the fact that the Tripp Trapp chair had made the greatest contribution to these good results. T hese latter two pieces of information contain the key to the change of Managing Director. As already mentioned, the owner and group management were keen to define clear result criteria all the way down to product line. They thought this was a necessary prerequisite for being able to interpret market developments and to best manage the company's resources. In order to achieve this, a good, open dialogue between the group management and the company's marketing and sales network at home and abroad was needed. Tor Norbye's main task was to create calm renewed motivation within the organisation. His specialist skills in personnel relations proved to be very useful after the change in the Managing Director,
In 1988 Stokke moved some of its production processes to the industrial area at Håhjem in the municipality of Skodje. Woodworking operations were carried out elsewhere. Assembly, stitching and packaging were carried out at Håhjem. After an expansion in 1997 the company switched over from line production to cell production. Depicted from the left are Torgeir Emaus, Jan-Roger Mauren and Jogeir Vadset in full swing with cell production.
something which came as a surprise to many of those who worked for or were connected with Stokke Fabrikker. One of those who had enjoyed a very close relationship with Roar Hauge-Nilsen was Peter Opsvik, who in 1993 was responsible for approximately 90 % of Stokke Fabrikker's production portfolio. As far as Opsvik was concerned, Hauge-Nilsen had been his guarantor for ensuring that the company would continue to invest in its Balans products and the other furniture for movement and variation. The change in director created a certain amount of insecurity, but initially there was little reason for this. In 1993/94 no questions were being asked about the company's commitment to its Movement range, and the 1993 annual report reported that d evelopments in the functional 146 furniture segment were good. In the 1994 annual report the Board defined Stokke Fabrikker as “a highly profiled international supplier of furniture for movement and variation.”147 Product development work continued at a high tempo, and during this period several new versions of the Balans were launched. In 1994 a new children's chair model, the Sitti, was launched, although it never became the sales success hoped for. At the time of Hauge-Nilsen's resignation, there were no signs to indicate that a change of direction in models was imminent, but the process served to increase awareness of how dependent the company was on one designer. In 1995 the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker, Tor Norbye, stated that Peter Opsvik thus far had served as a sort of court purveyor for the company. “What we are now trying to do is to present ourselves as a slightly broader group to a slightly wider market.”148
The stabiliser Within the Stokke group it was Stokke Fabrikker and the mattress section of Westnofa Industrier which were the prime movers and which made the greatest contributions. In 1995 the group's turnover amounted to NOK 497 million and its consolidated profits amounted to NOK 30 million. The turnover of Stokke Fabrikker amounted to NOK 267 million and it made a profit of NOK 22.7 million. Although
no direct entries appeared in the a ccounts, it was no longer a secret that Stokke Fabrikker's high profits were primarily due to the production and sale of the Trip Trapp chair. Tripp Trapp was also awarded the prestigious Klassikerprisen (Classics Prize) by the Norwegian Design Council during the annual Design Day in the autumn of 1995. Most of the production of Tripp Trapp took place in Slovenia, but growth in both this and other product areas at Stokke Fabrikker, meant that the company's production plants in Tennfjord and Håhjem had become too small. In 1995 the company started planning to expand production capacity. One alternative had been to move all production from Håhjem to Tennfjord, but the final result involved expansion at both places. The expansion at Håhjem was necessitated both by general production increases and the switch from so-called line management to cell management. Cell management entailed production being divided into cells whereby employees were given increased responsibility for ensuring that production targets were achieved. Cell management was also used for meeting the requirements which resulted from constant increases in order-managed production. It was suitably flexible. Otherwise, emphasis was placed on the fact that it provided employees with more interesting and more varied working days, with a greater degree of job rotation than had previously been the case. The employees looked favourably on, and contributed towards, the change-over to cell production. For many years, Stokke Fabrikker had placed emphasis on involving and engaging the company's employees in shaping the working e nvironment and the organisation of their working lives. Stokke Fabrikker was cited as role model by the national labour organisations.149 The company's reorganisation of its distribution system for furniture exports to Europe was also responsible for its decision to extend its building-related capacity at Håhjem. Up until 1997, S tokke had warehouses located in several places in Europe. After the expansion, its central warehouse for Europe would be located at
Håhjem and orders would be dispatched from there as they were received.150 The new building at Håhjem was inaugurated in October 1997. Tor Norbye was brought in as the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker in an attempt to stabilise the organisation's personnel, and he was largely successful in this respect. Norbye came from a sales and marketing background and spent much of his time travelling around Europe in order to develop the company's marketing and sales apparatus there. The outer structure of the company's European sales network was more or less in place when Norbye was appointed, but the move from being a sales company to having a position on the market still required a lot of work. People with the right backgrounds needed to be recruited, new procedures were required and specific marketing work needed to become operational. Last, but not least, these threads needed to be connected to the group administration office at Håhjem. When Norbye was appointed as Managing Director in the autumn of 1993 it was basically assumed that once he had settled in he would move to Ålesund so that he could develop a more stable relationship with the company's surrounding environment. However, this was not what happened. Norbye continued to live in the Oslo area where he was established with his wife and two small children. Frequent business trips and long-distance c ommuting resulted in Norbye being slightly on the peripheries of the Stokke e nvironment at Håhjem and in Ålesund. This probably meant that Norbye was both a breath of fresh air and a transitional figure in the Stokke group. There were several in-house employment alternatives available for Stokke Fabrikker when Norbye was employed in 1993, and one of these involved appointing the group's Managing D irector, Kjell Storeide, as the Managing Director of the subsidiary as well. However, since there had been conflict between Storeide and the former Managing D irector, Hauge-Nilsen, this was not considered to be a good solution. In retrospect Kjell Storeide has expressed the following view: “We needed someone who had not been involved in the conflict, someone with good motivational skills and someone with good marketing experience in order to boost turnover.”152
Life-cycle analysis of the Stokke chair Stokke was an industrial pioneer in the county of Møre and Romsdal according to life-cycle analyses of products. Since the middle of the 1980s Stokke had had customers who were particularly conscious about the environment, and in response to calls from retailers in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, Stokke e ntered into a joint venture with Møreforskning (Møre Research) in 1996 so that a life-cycle furniture analysis could be performed. This analysis mapped how the materials and production processes used affected the internal and external environment. The Balans product
Thatsit was used as a guinea pig in the project. This product's subcontractors were asked all sorts of questions about production conditions, questions that they had never been asked before. Speaking about the project to Sunnmørsposten, product developer Merete Hagen said that Stokke would make a ctive use of this lifecycle furniture analysis in its marketing. Stokke's customers wanted guarantees that environmentally friendly production was behind the furniture they bought.151
Stokke on the Internet Stokke was not the first furniture company to present itself on a website. Once it decided to take this step in 1996 the website it set up was carefully planned and professional. Just a short time after Stokke's website was launched, it was nominated as the best website of the day by “Regia of the Day” in New York. Stokke's Roar Nord Jensen was responsible for creating the company's website. He had been working for Stokke for many years, starting in the Production Department in the 1970s. He returned to Stokke after acquiring graphics design qualifications.
goods on the Internet, this entry referred customers to the company's nearest sales outlet. One challenge of online marketing is that it is difficult to channel information in order to ensure that it has maximum impact. The Internet is wide open to anyone with access to it, and Stokke received several enquiries from customers in the USA asking for more details about the company's products. This was considered to be distracting because Stokke was not focusing on making sales in the USA at that time.
During its first year Stokke's website contained 107,000 entries and had more than 15,000 hits. In 1997 Stokke's Information M anager, Dag Lausund, reported that one of the most popular entries was the one entitled “How to make a purchase.” Since Stokke did not sell
Stokke's website was nevertheless regarded as being useful and cost-effective. Online marketing was far less expensive than advertising in the printed media, and its reach was wider. Of course, sometimes it was a bit too wide!.
Wynand Mens was a creative director for the Stokke Movement range from 1997. During his time as Director, Movement's head office was moved to the Netherlands, where Mens lived. After he resigned from his position the following year, the head office was moved back to Håhjem.
The Stokke School was set up in 1995 to provide marketing employees and retailers with the best possible insight into Stokke's product philosophy. Herleif Ulstein, who was involved in this initiative, says that the company had sales employees in Denmark and Norway who were recruited to the school. Under a two-year plan, they were unified and motivated to renew their efforts on behalf of the company which was providing people all over the world with unique chairs. Depicted here are students from the School during a visit to Peter Opsvik (on the left). Rune's wife is third from the right at the front, with a jumper over her shoulders.
The Japanese market showed an interest in Stokke's innovative furniture collection. In 1989 Stokke set up a joint venture with the Japanese Matsuya warehouse. Matsuya owned 90 % of the sales company Scandex, while Stokke had a 10 % stake. In November 1995, Kåre and Turid visited Japan in order to meet their important Japanese contacts. This photo was taken at the reception. In front from the left: Mr. Katsuhiko Furuya, President of Matsuya, Turid and Kåre Stokke, Mrs. Keikko Furuya. Behind, from the left: Wolfgang Krüssmann, Kathrine Norbye, Tor Norbye, Elsa Krüssmann and Mr. Shioga, Director of M atsuya.
Japanese sitting customs are different to West European customs. This challenge was met in different ways by the members of the Stokke delegation who visited the furniture exhibition in Tokyo in the autumn of 1995. From the left: Wolfgang and Elsa Krüssmann, Kåre and Turid Stokke.
When the President of Matsuya, Mr. Katsuhiko Furuya, visited Ålesund, he and his wife, Mrs. Keikko Furuya, were invited to Kåre and Turid's home. The Japanese returned their hospitality when they visited Japan during the autumn of 1995. The fact that the President of Matsuya opened up his home in this manner received some attention, because this is extremely unusual in Japan. However, it looks as though the guests and hosts got along well. From the left: Ellen Bjørneby, wife of the Ambassador, Jon Bjørneby, Turid and Kåre Stokke, Elsa Krüssmann and Mr. Furuya.
New change in management Tor Norbye achieved good results in what he had defined as his areas of commitment. As regards Stokke Fabrikker's product philosophy he supported a continuation of the foundations which had been laid in 1986/87 with the focus on Peter Opsvik's furniture for movement and variation. In 1995 he made the following statement about what he perceived to be the company's strongest feature: “Our main and strongest feature is everyone's under standing of and belief in the importance of making a product that encourages the body to engage in movement and variation. This is something to which we are all deeply committed.”153 Another unique feature of Stokke which Norbye wanted to continue developing was the company's international relationships and the network which connected it to motivated retailers in many European towns.154 When he resigned in 1998, Stokke Fabrikker had a welldeveloped retailer network with 2000 sales outlets spread across Europe's most populated areas. Stokke had also gained a good foothold in Japan, but was still waiting to see what happened in the American market following the company's negative experiences there approximately ten years earlier. In 1997 Stokke Fabrikker's business areas were split into two following a new strategy review which had been co-ordinated by the Swedish professor of economics, Jan Erik Vahlne. The company was divided into two divisions, furniture for children and furniture for movement and variation. We will come back to the motives which prompted this division in a subsequent chapter on group development. Here we will only describe one effect of the reorganisation which was carried out and resulted in the marketing activities of Division Movement being moved from Håhjem to Tilburg in the Netherlands. One of the main reasons for the move was that the Dutchman, Wynand Mens, was appointed as the Manager for the new Movement Division. He had previously been the Manager of Stokke's office in the Netherlands, and lived in the vicinity of Tilburg. Another important reason for moving the Movement base was that the sale of Movement products took p lace mainly in the company's export markets, with the Benelux countries and Germany as the core areas. Having the head office in the proximity of the company's most important customer groups was regarded as being future-oriented. During the following year the Movement administration in Tilburg implemented a number of measures relating to the retailer network which were not advantageous. Many stable and dedicated retailers were cut out, and this resulted in a sharp decline in sales. Ambitious marketing projects were also started which proved to lack cost control. The group management saw that the Managing Director for Stokke Fabrikker had failed to take adequate steps regarding this situation. This resulted in the group's Managing Director, Kjell Storeide, and the Board of Stokke Fabrikker AS having to step in. Their first move was to dismiss Wynand Mens, and then
at a Board meeting on 26 August 1998 a few other important moves were made: the resignation of Tor Norbye was accepted and Steinar Loe was brought in from his position as the Director of Westnofa in Åndalsnes and appointed as the new Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker AS. In addition, the Board recommended to the company's management that the divisional office for Movement should be moved back from Tilburg to Håhjem. Finally, the Board requested that the re-profiling work started by Wynand Mens should be reconsidered.155
Manager development Seen from the outside, the turnover of managers at Stokke F abrikker might appear to be abnormally high. The Director of Stokke AB in Sweden was among those who reacted: “Our c ustomers were wondering what on earth was going on. When new people arrived they asked: “How long are you going to stay?”156 Nevertheless, the personnel policy of the Stokke group was not affected by these rapid replacements, even on the management side. On the contrary, there was a large degree of stability in the highest positions. The trio consisting of Kjell Storeide, Steinar Loe and Roar Hauge-Nilsen came to the group in around 1977, and right up to the middle of the 1990s they were all still in leading positions. As we have mentioned on several occasions, Kåre Stokke stood for a management philosophy which was characterised by the transfer of responsibility. He was a competent headhunter and had a unique ability to find employees who fitted in with what at all times was Stokke's prevailing strategy. On the product side this could vary, but there was always stability in the fact that the company had the will to focus on innovative and creative solutions and leading products that encapsulated new trends. Those who wished to work with such products were usually knowledgeable and strong individualists, cf. our description of the company's retailer corps in Germany. Their work benefited from their willpower which was a strength and a recipe for success when their course matched that of the group, but it could be destructive when there was a difference in direction. For a few decades Stokke had been undergoing a relatively continuous reorganisation process which had demanded a high degree of adaptability on the part of employees and managers at different levels. Therefore, development of the organisation and its managers was a priority throughout the 1990s. As far as Kjell Storeide was concerned, management change in volved new thinking, freedom of action and the ability to face the consequences of poor decisions: “One of the things that has made Stokke distinctive is its ability to change all the time. To go new ways, try new things. This involves a fairly high level of risk, with a fair number of mistakes being made at all levels. The p roblem is not making mistakes, but dealing with and correcting them and finding
solutions that allow you to move on. If this doesn't happen then management loses the confidence of both the owners and employees lower down in the organisation and changes consequently have to be made.”157 Stokke Fabrikker's former Managing Director, Tor Norbye, thought that the company's ability to find different types of people was one of its characteristic strengths: “If you take a look at the company's employees, you will find a colourful mixture, r anging from business intellectuals to creative 'madcaps'. So it is a strong unit that sometimes pulls in many directions, but it is generally organised in such a way that everyone is keen to promote our main concept.”158 The company's personnel policy was largely connected to its distinctive products, paving the way for new conceptual leaps rather than conventional solutions. It is not easy to say which came first: the hunt for creative, individual employees or the company's distinctive products? Perhaps the owner family's keen eye for original products with a commercial advantage was behind this. However, original products and creative people are not enough to create a successful company unless the right conditions exist for good teamwork. It was recognition of this fact that was behind the systematic work on managerial and organisational development that was implemented by Stokke during the 1990s. Kjell Storeide justifies this work as follows: “We realised that it was not enough to employ young, clever people. They also needed to be provided
with common leadership values and a conceptual system for communication, decision-making and management behaviour. Our first supporter was Knut Åsebø from Nordvest Forum. Through him I came into contact with Ingeborg Baustad and later on Åge Sørsveen. From around 1995, and to an increasing degree during the following years, they became advisors and supporters with respect to managerial and organisational development in the same way as that adopted by Jan Erik Vahlne, Kjell A. Nordstrøm and Nils Høegh-Krohn with respect to strategy, Peter Opsvik with respect to product development and SINTEF's Jan Ola Strandhagen with respect to production and logistics.” Stokke's most important input factor was human capital, and the company thus placed top priority on personnel d evelopment and team-building. Talented people working together in a dynamic organisation can achieve great things. In an interview with Stokke's Internal Life magazine in 1997, Jan Erik Vahlne said: “There is a lot to be gained from freeing up human energy and creativity.”159 Another challenge faced by Stokke was encouraging people from different geographical areas and cultures to pull in the same direction. One of Baustad's and Sørsveen's most important contributions was to provide key Stokke employees with a common language and a common perception of the situations facing the c ompany. This work made it easier for Stokke to overcome the demanding challenges presented to the company after the turn of the millennium.
Exit Vågå Bruk Turnaround operation
advocated extremes in respect of definition of the company's image. However, he also realised that Vågå Bruk had became too Vågå Bruk joined the Stokke clan in 1965 as a result of expansive peripheral in relation to Stokke's core values, despite constant founder activity. Georg Stokke, who had transferred owner efforts being made to vitalise and modernise the company's responsibility to his son, Kåre, when he became ill in 1964, returned products by p romoting simpler lines. For example, the Furumo and when he had fully recovered from his illness and was given the Troll series (1979 and 1981), both designed by Arnt Lande, added opportunity to follow up some of his industrial entrepreneurship a new d imension to the Vågå collection due to their light, modern dreams. One of these dreams involved building a factory which lines. The Troll-Ess reclining chair (1984) was clearly evocative of could make traditional Norwegian furniture and which would be Stokke's other collections. This was probably the first rotating based in a municipality where there was good access to raw recliner to appear on the market with a pine chassis and side materials and which was hungry for new jobs. Vågå Bruk was the members. However, reclining chairs were no longer Stokke's main result. area of focus, so neither good sales results for Troll-Ess nor other features in the Troll series were able to strengthen the Stokke Gradually, as the Stokke group intensified its search for its own management's belief in the future of Vågå Bruk. image, its distinctiveness, Vågå Bruk became even more Bjørn Gjerde understood the owners' reasons for initially marginalised than before. Bjørn Gjerde, who had served as the becoming involved in the production of pine furniture, i.e. their company's Assistant Director since 1983, was not someone who desire to have as much complementary production as possible in
Vågå Bruk only manufactured pine furniture, and its emphasis was on advancing traditional Norwegian crafts. However, this company was not afraid to try out new designs either, something which was illustrated by its Sekstett range of cupboards. Design: Fritz Johnsen.
This was probably the market's first rotating recliner with a pine c hassis and side members. Troll-Ess was designed by Fritz Johnsen and was one item in the Troll range which also consisted of wall units, bureaux, plank beds and tables.
order to ensure a strong relationship with the retailer network and to make maximum use of the company's marketing and distribution network. But the price for acquiring such a position on the market was too high and Gjerde believed that this was the situation that applied to Vågå Bruk.160 Vågå Bruk's days under Stokke ownership were numbered in 1989 when Kjell Storeide returned to Stokke after his period with Sunnmørsbanken. Storeide undertook a full review of the group's various commitments and activities and it became clear that the time was ripe to deal resolutely with Vågå Bruk. The first step was for the owner of Stokke, Kåre Stokke, to acquire control of Vågå Bruk. Up until 1990 the Stokke group owned just 40 % of Vågå Bruk, and this company was not included in the accounts of the Stokke group.161 The remaining shares were owned by the municipality of
Vågå and Georg Stokke. In 1990, Stokke Industri AS subscribed to NOK 800,000 in new shares in Vågå Bruk, thus increasing its ownership stake to 66.7 %.162 The following year, Stokke Industri increased its ownership stake to 100 % by buying out the other shareholders. In 1993 the plant section was floated off as a separate property company, to which the operating company paid rent. In August 1991 Stokke employed Tor Lillebostad as the new Managing Director of Vågå Bruk. He came from an equivalent position at Vatne Lenestolfabrikk, a company which had also been forced to implement tough reorganisation measures in order to turn around a negative trend. In his capacity as a trouble-shooter, Lillebostad dealt assertively with the situation at Vågå Bruk, and accompanied by his new Marketing Manager, Bertil Olaissen, he helped to inject new life into the company.
Employees at Det Norske Møbelsenter in Vestby on a visit to Vågå Bruk in June 1990. Depicted on the right is the Managing Director of Vågå, Åge Dalheim.
Vågå Bruk had undergone a series of expansions ever since it was first established in 1966.
With its Furumo dining room suite, Vågå Bruk was back on its original track, with solid pine furniture with a modern design.
Sale to Talgø In order to strengthen attempts to create a solid basis for c ontinued pine furniture operations, plans were drawn up for the acquisition of the pine furniture producer Krogenæs. Georg Stokke was behind this initiative. Initially, both Kjell Storeide and Kåre Stokke were willing to listen to Stokke senior's arguments in favour of large-scale operations in the pine furniture segment. It was hoped that a m erger with Krogenæs, which had a strong, positive brand name in respect of traditional pine furniture, would place Vågå Bruk in a firm position in Norway's leading pine furniture constellation. The third generation member of the Stokke family, Rune, had completely different views about this approach. He had limited confidence in the future prospects of the pine furniture market and thought that Stokke should in future limit its focus in this respect rather than become more deeply involved in a field which was on the peripheries of Stokke's core competence. Father and son had a discussion about this matter, and the son made it quite clear what the consequences for him would be if Stokke were to purchase Krogenæs. His message was understood and Stokke abandoned its move towards Krogenæs.
In 1993 Vågå Bruk's annual accounts showed an independent profit of NOK 700,000, the first time that the company had posted a profit for a long time.163 It was during this phase that the company made contact with Finn Talgø, the owner of the pine furniture producer Talgø in Todalen in Nordmøre. Talgø realised that his company could benefit by strengthening its position in what was to become its specialist field, and a contract was signed between Stokke and Talgø for the sale of Vågå Bruk with effect from 1 January 1994. Finn Talgø succeeded in fulfilling Georg Stokke's vision, and Vågå Bruk became part of the largest pine furniture group in Norway. This resulted in a substantial increase in activities at the plant during the following years. During the period up until 1998, there was a multi-million krone increase in factory turnover, partly because Talgø's collection gained a foothold in several export markets.164 In 2001 the company suffered a fire. This, combined with a downturn in the market for pine furniture, resulted in a decision by Talgø to discontinue furniture production at Vågå in 2002.165 Despite persistent efforts on the part of the municipality, all efforts to recommence furniture production at the factories failed. These factories had been solely dedicated to the mass production of pine furniture, and the market for such did not improve.
Tennfjord has always made the curved sections for the Tripp Trapp chair. Depicted here is a series of sections heading towards the drying tunnel after being varnished.
Application of adhesive to plywood sheets at Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk. The next phase in the production process involves lamination in a high f requency press.
Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk – a lamination specialist Laminated wood had been a dominant type of material in Stokke's production processes ever since the 1980s. This is because laminated wood was eminently suitable for what would become Stokke's basic values, i.e. a commitment to products with a high design profile and a product philosophy incorporating the concept of movement. It was easier to mould laminated materials than ordinary wood. When lamination technology was introduced to the Norwegian furniture industry in the 1950s, designers acquired far greater design freedom than previously. It was also the elasticity and flexibility of laminated materials that encouraged designers like Peter Opsvik to develop furniture that could mould itself to the human body, and which was dynamic and movable, but never theless warm and inviting. Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk was able to adapt itself to accommodate Stokke's sharp profile and product commitment. Lamination was defined as one of Stokke's core activities, and it was Tennfjord's objective to be the leading company in this sector in Norway. The fact that Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk was able to specialise its operations in order to accommodate laminated deliveries to Stokke, also resulted in manufacturing profits for the company. Although Tennfjord suffered a fire at its plant and a 4-week shutdown
in 1983, the company achieved substantially increased profits for the year, with its profit before year-end adjustments amounting to NOK 1 million, based on a turnover of NOK 11 million, i.e. more than the average profits being made by companies in the Stokke group at that time.166 80 % of Tennfjord's production volume consisted of laminated components for Stokke Fabrikker, most of which were intended for the Balans collection. The remaining 20 % consisted of sub-contracts for other furniture manufacturers. This success continued during the following year, but then levelled out slightly, in line with the downturn in demand for Balans products. Ole Bolle was the Operations Manager and Managing Director of Møbelfabrikk AS up until 1988 when he retired. Lars Petter Ranheim was employed as the new Operations Manager of the laminating factory with effect from August 1988. After the laminating factory at Tennfjord was expanded and modified in 1998 it became Norway's most modern manufacturer of laminates. The organisation of production was changed from line to cell production, exactly in line with the changes made at the Håhjem factory at the same time.167 This change had a great impact on the working environment at the factory, because the employees acquired a closer ownership relationship with their part of the production process.
Group Director, Kjell Storeide, on the right, impressed his colleagues by presenting a poem he had written himself in honour of Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk when the new building was inaugurated in November 1998. He is standing here in front of festive partygoers with, from the left, Construction Manager Odd Arne Rekdal, Project Manager Svein Parr and Plant Manager Dagmund Hildre.
The former Divisional Manager at Tennfjord, Ole Christian Drabløs, with operator Roar Sæheim and a pressed laminate that would eventually become a Balans chair.
A review in rhyme Many people saw the Corporate Director, Kjell Storeide, in an unexpected new light at the opening of the new b uildings at Tennfjord on 6 November 1998. His speech, in which he summed up major events and the history of the factory, was held in rhyme.
Då gol den raude hanen noko som i Stokke-konsernet ikkje er vanen og i løpet av ei trist brann-natt var einaste vinninga redusert skatt! Men Tennfjord let seg ikkje falle til fot med leiinga og tilsette sitt pågangsmot hadde dei knapt blitt kalde, gløra før ein hy fabrikk vaks opp i fjøra
Ute på landet, nesten i det fri låg Tennfjord Møbel, Ole Bolle sitt snekkeri Laga treverk til Vatne og Stokke Måtte no finne på nokke!
Og framgangen han fortsetter Etter han Ole, så med han Lars Petter Stokke Fabrikker sin vekst gir ikkje store valet stadig meir treverk til Håhjem på 90-talet
Slik gjekk det fram til 1969 då Kåre Stokke kom forbi For Ole kom han som frå himmelen sendt og Kåre endte opp med 67 %
Til ein dag det vert ein stor diskusjon Kvar skal ein legge framtidig produksjon? Skodje eller Haram, snipp, snapp, snute Skal tru om ikkje ei av kommunane vert ute?
Ole Bolle var av det dyktige slaget og hadde rette handelaget til å utvikle sin gamle verkstad til nokke som vart ei kjernebedrift i Stokke
Men ein skal også bere det ein seler og difor er det ikkje for å vere dum At vi har følgt rådet til Ole Brum og sagt ja takk til begge deler
Samarbeide gjorde dei til han vart pensjonær og Stokke enda som eine-aksjonær Men går eg ikkje litt fort fram no? Eg må tilbake til nittensyttito
I staden for å bygge kjempefabrikkar som inneheld dei mest ulike teknikkar vedgår vi gjerne at vi har mest tru på anlegg rundt ei teknologisk kjerne
Det var året då Hove brann og Kåre og Ole fekk blod på tann I staden for ein gammaldags snekkerfabrikk skulle ein satse for fullt på lamineringsteknikk I Stokke sin utradisjonelle møbelkolleksjon av artige figurar var det naudsynt med ein treverksproduksjon av dei merkelegaste krummelurar
Stokke Tennfjord skal i laminering vere «state of art» Med ein utviklings- og produksjonskompetanse som gir Stokke Håhjem den naudsynte fart til å meistre auka marknadskonkurranse
Og etter kvart som lamineringsteknikken vart Tennfjord sitt særpreg vart kvadratmeter lagt til fabrikken i ulike byggesteg
Det er fabrikken sin misjon og til det må vi bruke vår kreativitet for ein prislapp på nesten 35 million set klare krav til rentabilitet
Men ein skal ikkje misunne møbelgrannar eller gle seg over deira brannar For det som i 1972 vart Tennfjord sitt brød kunne i 1984 lett vorte fabrikken sin død
Sjølv om framtida ikkje alltid let seg lede er i dag likevel mitt siste ord til Dagmund og tilsette i Tennfjord at fabrikken vil bli oss alle til glede!
Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk was modified and expanded in 1998. Depicted here are Dagmund Hildre and Project Manager Svein Parr showing off the new plant.
Vatne joins the Stokke family Stokke furniture to Vatne Over the course of just a few years, Vatne Lenestolfabrikk grew to occupy a sound position in the Norwegian furniture industry. It was respected by its colleagues for its consistent quality and v alued by its customers who were seeking furniture with a sound, distinctive design. For many years the company had enjoyed excellent co-operation with the designer Fredrik Kayser who created timeless models that had won approval way beyond Norway's borders. The Chairman of the National Association of Furniture and Interior Producers in Oslo, Alf Midtbust, was a d emanding industrial boss, but one who could also give praise when he thought that some of the producers deserved it. He a lways described Vatne Lenestolfabrikk's products in positive terms. The company made
discerning and valuable contributions when Norwegian furniture was marketed at exhibitions both at home and abroad. One could always expect to see something new and p romising on Vatne's stand. It was the brothers Knut and Jostein Sæther who laid the foundations for the success of the Sunnmøre furniture industry following its establishment at Vatne in 1946. The company experienced healthy, controlled development over the next few decades and gradually acquired an extensive and rational production plant. It was this plant in particular that caused Stokke's management to cast their eyes towards Vatne at the end of the 1980s. After moving to Håhjem in 1988 the company had struggled with space problems, even though the carpentry workshop at the old factory
Cooperation with the designer Fredrik Kayser played a part in building up Vatne Lenestolfabrikk's reputation as a quality furniture company. However, the brothers Knut and Jostein Sæther, who established the company, also contributed their own valuable designs. This Manhattan sofa was designed by Knut Sæther.
in Spjelkavik was still operational. The latter was only a transitional arrangement, because in Spjelkavik it was clear that the future lay in using the premises for retail businesses, and not in furniture production. During August 1989 the premises had to be cleared to make room for new commercial activities. 168 There were no plans to expand the factory at Håhjem in order to make room for a woodworking and machinery division. The primary alternative was to undertake a major expansion in Tennfjord. Plans were drawn up for such expansion, but the management hesitated to implement them due to the high costs involved in such a project. When it emerged that the Sæther family was open to the idea of selling the operational part of Vatne Lenestolfabrikk, this was regarded as being a better solution. The new operating company, Vatne M øbler, rented the factory plant from the property company which remained
in the ownership of the Sæther family. As far as Stokke was concerned there was also another advantage to be gained from this joint venture with Vatne. Although Stokke had been consolidating its collections, its Gavott and Menuett recliners and a couple of other models, including the King Star recliner, still r emained. Gavott and Menuett were related to the products in Vatne's c ollection, and could therefore be included in Vatne's product portfolio without the company's distinctiveness being weakened. The other Stokke models, which went under the d esignation Stokke Comfort, were gradually phased out or handed over to other producers.169 In this way, the acquisition of Vatne formed part of the highly prioritised “branding” that Stokke had been pursuing with a substantial degree of consistency during the second half of the 1980s.
Here the takeover of Vatne is marked by a handshake between the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, and Per Arne Sæther. Sæther continued as the Managing Director of Vatne for a while after the company was purchased. Photo: Roger Engvik (Sunnmørsposten 21 December 1988).
Vatne Lenestolfabrikk was acquired by Stokke in 1989.
Already the year after Stokke acquired Vatne it became clear that staffing levels would have to be cut in order to make the company profitable again. Downsizing was met with understanding by the employees, who are represented here by, from the left, Arna Skogvoll, Nelly Wahl and former Manager, Per Arne Sæther. (Sunnmørsposten 13.6.1990.)
Emergency aid during the Balkans conflict Per Arne Sæther, son of one of the founders, Knut Sæther, was employed as the General Manager of the new Stokke-owned operating company that at the time of takeover had 68 employees representing 57 man-labour years.170 Initially production was divided into three parts: the largest part consisted of the Vatne collection of reclining chairs and sofas, plus the models that were brought in from Stokke's earlier collection. The company's third leg involved partial deliveries of wooden components for other units in the Stokke system. The new operating company had a difficult start, for which there were several reasons. The prevailing economic conditions did not favour Vatne towards the end of the 1980s when income was falling. Furthermore, new factors had been introduced into the production process which were hard to incorporate into the flow. After weak financial results in 1990, a demanding turnaround operation was implemented which was commenced at the end of the year. Tore Lillebostad was hired in to serve as the company's new General Manager for a period. Lillebostad involved the employees in the turnaround process and they helped by implementing specific measures designed to turn around the negative trend and save jobs. In order to avoid anticipated dismissal, the employees offered to work half-an-hour less per day for one year. In addition to eliciting the involvement and motivation of the employees during the readjustment process, physical measures were also initiated in order to improve production flow.171 Tore Lillebostad received excellent support from both the employees and the group management for the measures which were implemented, and positive results started to emerge. However, the turnaround operation was tough and Vatne Lenestolfabrikk's situation was described as being serious in the Stokke group's 1990 annual report.172 In 1991 there was a further change of leadership at Vatne. Tore Lillebostad was required for another clean-up job, at Vågå Bruk, and the third generation member of the Stokke family, Rune, came in as the new General Manager. He came almost directly from MBA-studies at IESE in Barcelona. Prior to studying in Spain he had worked for four years in the corporate finance sector in Oslo. He got a demanding start to his career in the Stokke system. During his first week at Vatne, war broke out in Yugoslavia. Components for the Tripp Trapp chair were made in the northern part of Yugoslavia, and after hostilities commenced, Tripp Trapp deliveries ceased. This was critical for Stokke Fabrikker, because the Tripp Trapp chair was the one product which contributed most to the company's sales and earnings. Fortunately the company had a warehouse containing adequate supplies for three months of sales. The company also had a raw materials warehouse since Vatne had already been involved in contingency Tripp Trapp production. In other words,
Vatne, which was Stokke Fabrikker's woodwork supplier, had three months during which to reorganise and increase production in order to produce the group's most important product. Rune Stokke remembers those dramatic days well: “Kjell Arne Reknes – who at that time was Plant Manager at Vatne – Egil Hanken and I worked very hard. There was machinery that needed to be installed, materials that needed to be obtained and not least people that needed to be recruited. Over the course of just a few days people were called back from holiday and the factory was running 24 hours a day. We trawled the industry in Sunnmøre for CNC operators – and tried to entice permanent employees to take on extra work in return for good pay.”173 During the autumn Vatne succeeded in boosting annual p roduction capacity to 150,000 chairs, and this covered n early all the demand. The unrest in Northern Yugoslavia settled down after a while, and Slovenia was established as an independent nation. Shortly afterwards, Stokke Fabrikker's Tripp Trapp supplier recommenced normal production operations.
Downsizing The Vatne management, ably assisted by the company's employees, had seen Stokke Fabrikker through a critical phase. However, as far as Vatne itself was concerned, its vigorous p roduction efforts in respect of Tripp Trapp components meant that the company's basic problems were not addressed as early as desired. Rune Stokke explains: “Our focus was somewhat diverted during my first few months as a result of this situation. We lost ground in respect of implementing necessary measures”. The company's main challenge still concerned increasing sales and adjusting manpower and capacity to suit what was supposed to be the company's viable product range. It was observed that sales of some of Vatne's older models were declining and it took time to boost sales of new models. Stokke and Rune, who had initially supported the idea of taking over Vatne, reflected on the quality of the purchase they had made. Perhaps the company was declining more than they originally thought? Perhaps its brand name was not that strong in the market after all? The company management realised that they could not avoid making drastic reductions in Vatne's workforce, which was artificially high due to production and manning adjustments that had been made following the c losure of its woodwork division in Moa in 1989. At that time a lot of the division's machinery and equipment had been transferred to Vatne, and this was accompanied by the employees, many of whom were highly skilled and had been with the company for many years, but not all of them were needed at Vatne. The former Moa employees were also given a contract, stipulating that they would retain the wages they had received at Stokke Fabrikker. Traditionally wages in the regional areas of Sunnmøre had been somewhat lower than in Ålesund. This resulted in substantial overall wage increases at
Rune Stokke was presented with great challenges when he took on the task of General Manager of Vatne Lenestolfabrikk in 1991. Rune believed in the company and went wholeheartedly in for achieving positive results for this quality-oriented company.
Kristian Røvreit was the head employees' representative at Stokke Fabrikker when it acquired Vatne Lenestolfabrikk. He was a good conversation partner for Rune Stokke during the difficult processes that followed. Here Røvreit, front left, is presented with a medal for long and faithful service at Stokke in 1997. The others who were presented with medals were, front no. 2 from the left, John Nybø and Alfred Hofseth. Back left, the former Mayor of the municipality of Haram; Margrethe Tennfjord, Svein Vatnehol, Marit Solheimsnes, Per Vatnehol, Anfred Risjord, Hans Barstad and Kjell Arne Reknes.
atne. After a while, all Vatne employees moved up to a higher V wage level. This coincided with the fact that the market for Vatne's home furniture collection was under pressure. One of the most important, and most difficult, challenges for Vatne Møbler, was therefore to adjust manning to the company's operating level and its ability to pay wages. Over a period of three years, from 1991 to 1994, the workforce was reduced from nearly 100 to 46 persons. During this process, which was undoubtedly experienced as painful for those who were affected, the e mployees' representative network at the company was a necessary partner. The head employees' representative at Stokke Fabrikker was Kristian Røvreit. He was an experienced negotiator, who s howed both firmness and the necessary flexibility in the discussions which were held in connection with downsizing. Rune Stokke gives Røvreit much of the credit for the fact that the company came through the difficult reorganisation process in a dignified manner in spite of everything. This involved obtaining the right balance between necessary and tough prioritisation and the ability to act with compassion. Kristian Røvreit experienced this integration of two working environments and corporate cultures as a long and demanding process. He was one of the employees who moved from Moa in 1989 and experienced the disintegration of a united and func tioning working environment. One of the greatest challenges that he faced in his capacity as an employees' representative, was having to coordinate two different wage systems. At Stokke Fabrikker at Moa the employees had always been paid on a piecework basis. That had been the case at Vatne previously, when
large numbers of the successful Falcon model, etc. were being manufactured. Gradually volumes decreased and a fixed wage was introduced at Vatne. Røvreit and his workmates were transferred to a factory where the real hourly wage was NOK 10 to NOK 15 lower than they were used to. Those employees who came from Stokke Fabrikker were not prepared to accept such a reduction in wages, so the merger of the two carpentry departments led to a more rapid rise in wages for the Vatne employees than they would otherwise have experienced. Tackling the problems associated with a surplus of employees was no less demanding. Kristian Røvreit remembers that the principles of group seniority, local seniority, expertise and relevant experience were weighed up and balanced against one another. Some of the company's over-capacity was resolved through natural wastage. Unfortunately they had to let some employees go in order to bring numbers down to the d esired levels. Kristian Røvreit respected Rune Stokke for the way in which he tackled these difficult challenges in his capacity as a new company manager: “He was not frightened to get down on the floor and get his hands dirty. He was a mate and a good conver sation partner for those of us who were in the thick of it.”
Merger with Møremøbler Even though the acquisition of Vatne was not an immediate financial success, Stokke once again showed its strengths as a long-term
Inge Langlo is the nephew of furniture pioneer P.I. Langlo from Stranda. He invested a great deal of effort in promoting good design in the Norwegian furniture industry. From 1970 onwards, he and co-owner Olav Nerbøvik built up Møremøbler in Ørsta to become the country's leading contract furniture producer. Here he is together with one of Møremøbler models, the Sevilla chair, which represented Norwegian furniture design during the world exhibition in Seville in 1992. Designer: Svein Gusrud.
In 1996 Vatne Lenestolfabrikk organised a retrospective exhibition at Vatne's factory premises to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary. Depicted here is Per Arne Sæther, right, standing next to one of the company's e arlier models. To the left, the Office Manager at Vatne for a number of years, Martin Eidsvik and his wife, Solveig.
wner that was keen to explore different options in order to ensure o growth and survival for one of its subsidiaries. Once again, Stokke was seeking possible joint venture partners. This time it was Møremøbler in Ørsta that emerged as being the best partner for utilising the resources inherent in the brand name of Vatne and its collection. It was thought that coordination of the two companies could result in a unit with the distribution and marketing power which neither of them could have achieved on their own. Vatne had one foot in the domestic furniture market and one in the contracts market, whereas Møremøbler was the country's leading supplier. Apart from the other benefits of a joint venture, Group Director Kjell Storeide and owner Kåre Stokke thought that the Vatne collection would be more successful in the contracts market if it was included in Møremøbler's distribution system and contact network.174
ment age. Neither Nerbøvik nor Langlo had successors who wanted to take over the responsibility for operation of the plant. The first time that Inge Langlo publicised the fact that the owners of Møremøbler were wanting to sell the company, was at a seminar organised by Nordvestforum at Ulsteinvik in 1992, which was attended by both Kjell Storeide and Kåre Stokke. A few days after the seminar, Storeide called Langlo and indicated his interest in a joint venture with Møremøbler. Langlo then replied that he would need to discuss the matter with his partner. Nerbøvik was initially slightly reluctant about Stokke's initiative because he was more interested in other possibilities. Amongst other things they had been in contact with HovDokka and several Swedish and Danish companies to sound out the possibilities of a sale. Kåre Stokke was aware of their contact with possible foreign buyers, and this gave him and Stokke an extra incentive as they threw themselves into the fight for Møremøbler. He was realistic and realised that any foreign manufacturers would remove the most lucrative models from the company's collection and close production in Ørsta. As a S unnmøre patriot he did not regard this as being an attractive option.
The industry had known for some time that the two owners of Møremøbler, Inge Langlo from Stranda and Olav Nerbøvik from Ørsta, were thinking about selling the company if they could find an attractive buyer. Both Langlo and Nerbøvik were familiar with the Stokke company. Both Stokke and Møremøbler (formerly Møre Lenestolfabrikk) had been involved in the export organisation Westnofa Ltd. from the start. Inge Langlo says that he and Olav Nerbøvik had discussed before 1990 what would happen to Møremøbler after they left. Olav Nerbøvik, who was the older of the two, was approaching retire-
Nothing specific emerged from Møremøbler's contacts with foreign manufacturers, so in the end a meeting was held between the management of Stokke and the owners of Møremøbler just before Easter 1992. After this meeting Kjell Storeide took all the relevant documents relating to the overall situation at the Ørsta company to study over the Easter holidays. The parties met again just after Easter and it was relatively easy to reach an agreement
whereby Stokke would purchase 36 % of the shares in Møremøbler immediately with an option to purchase up to 100 % by 1 January 1994.
Co-ordination Kjell Storeide's and Kåre Stokke's plan was that Vatne should be merged with Møremøbler in order to benefit from the economies of scale which could be achieved. The management found motivation in the accounts to start restructuring and rationalisation measures from Day 1. In 1991 the company had a deficit of NOK 3.3 million, compared to a deficit of NOK 4.5 m illion in 1990. It was heading inevitably towards a NOK 6 million deficit in 1992 as well. The two Stokke managers realised that something would have to be done – immediately. Rune Stokke continued as the Managing Director of Vatne up until the end of 1994 when operations had almost returned to a state of balance. Once the merger had been completed, he moved to Oslo, but continued to work on sales and marketing for Møremøbler/Vatne from his base in the capital. In 1995 he took over Inge Langlo's position as the company's Marketing Director. Inge Langlo took up a new position as the Director for Business Development at the group administration office at Moa. The new manager for the contract furniture company at Ørsta was Steinar Gjertsen. Profitability in respect of Vatne's products for the domestic market continued to be poor. However, the sales figures relating to products aimed at the contracts market showed a positive trend for the parties to the merger. There is reason to believe that the reputation enjoyed by Vatne among purchasers in the public arena contributed to the favourable developments experienced by Møremøbler during the 1990s.
Møremøbler at Gardermoen After Inge Langlo and Olav Nerbøvik acquired Møremøbler in 1970 the company developed to become an undisputed leader in the contract furniture sector. Inge Langlo was the strategist, who with his contact-making abilities and nose for current trends, should be given most of the honour for the company's achievements. He and Nerbøvik had acquired loyal and interested employees who gradually became Norway's leading team in this product segment. These employees included Arild Bakke, who with his youthful
vitality and capacity for work, helped the company to land many good contracts. Also Frode Sporsheim, Olav Haugen and Yvonne Haugen contributed their relevant expertise and contagious enthusiasm for marketing of the company's many exciting products. Per Arne Sæther (product development), Jan Kåre Tvinnereim (sales) and Rune Stokke all came from Vatne. They all helped to keep up the pressure and retain focus on innovative product design and open market communication. Managing Director Steinar Gjertsen held the reins and ensured that the various measures implemented remained within budgetary forecasts. Accompanied by an experienced and motivated production workforce, the people mentioned above contributed towards Møremøbler being able to deliver their chairs and tables to places where people congregated and passed through. They also contributed to Møremøbler obtaining attractive contracts in connection with the Olympic Games at Lillehammer in 1994. Another prestigious p roject was the delivery of furniture to the waiting areas in the spacious halls in the terminal building at the new airport at Gardermoen in 1997. This furniture was designed by the veteran designer Sven Ivar Dysthe. Dysthe remembers that initially he was not the most obvious candidate to carry out such a project. “Arild Bakke, who is now (2000) the company's Marketing Manager, said a few years ago to my wife, Trinelise, that Sven would now have to accept that greater use was being made of younger designers. During the summer holidays in the same year, Rune Stokke at Stokke Industri, which now owned Møremøbler, called and asked me to design some waiting area furniture for Gardermoen. He thought it could be based on my Kabel model. Our designs were submitted, and when we, in competition with six others, were awarded the contract, Arild called and opened the conversation by saying: “You are the youngest designer we have. Congratulations, we won the contract.”175 Rune Stokke adds: “The Sakron model was submitted first. I had heard in a roundabout way that it was not particularly favoured by the members of the jury, and was not likely to make the grade. Something had to be done. I called Dysthe at his holiday home in Sørlandet and asked him to start designing a less complicated model.” The result was the Gardist model. Other major projects for Møremøbler included deliveries made to the new extended National Hospital in Oslo and the Vestfold Central Hospital, in addition to a range of cultural centres and cinemas around the country. The most profiled cinema project was without doubt the Panasonic IMAX Theatre at Aker Brygge. Product Manager Arild Bakke said that deliveries of chairs to this Oslo cinema in 1998 were worth NOK 2 million, but that the project was worth far more in marketing terms.176
Møremøbler/Fora Form received a prestigious order when the company was selected to furnish the waiting halls of the new main airport at Gardermoen. Sven Ivar Dysthe designed the Gardist model.
The Collage series, designed by Komplot Design, was launched in 1989. In 2000 this series was awarded the Klassikerpris (Classic Prize) by the Norwegian Design Council. At that time it was Møremøbler/Fora Form's most important commercial product and was responsible for 30 % of the company's turnover. This table series was followed by a similar stacking and conference chair model.
Totem. Design: Torstein Nilse (1984). The designer approached Inge Langlo at Møremøbler with a fan separated by small balls and asked whether he was willing to develop a chair with such a back. Langlo was interested and Totem showed that Norwegian furniture designers and producers can compete with the best in an international context, even in respect of visual expression.
Fora Form A prioritised field for the management of Møremøbler up until 1997 was the building up of a new brand name and new profiling of the whole company. The company's change of name was not contingent on the fact that its product profile was changed. The foundations, which were laid during the days when Inge Langlo and Olav Nerbøvik were the company owners, continued to apply. Møremøbler had always had some core models, such as Laminette, which ensured a good flow of capital into the company. Good liquidity gave the company the capability to experiment and allowed it to take a chance on young, untried designers who through Møremøbler had their first, demanding meeting with industrial production logistics and rational market expectations. The main reason why the company needed a new profile in 1997 was because of its export commitment. In 1996, Møremøbler withdrew from the export organisation Westnofa and started developing its own export base in collaboration with the rest of the Stokke group. Møremøbler was not an easy name to market abroad. The double “ø” was confusing for contacts in countries who were not familiar with this letter. Following an extensive brainstorming process, which involved the design agency Anisdahl, Sand & Partnere, the company's new name was launched with c onsiderable panache at a function held on 29 August 1997 at the company's Oslo office. The new name of the furniture producer was to be Fora Form. It was designed to indicate that the company would be
f ocusing on public spaces and meeting places and that the design of its furniture would continue to be exclusive. At the same time as the new name was launched, Fora Form presented several new products. The company's contract furniture mentor, Inge Langlo, still sat on the company's product board and his hand and influence could still be perceived in the range of specialist designer furniture which was presented. However, there were a few logistical matters which had not been properly addressed in connection with the launch. The problem was that Fora Form was not ready to deliver the new products when they were launched and this resulted in a cooling off of customer interest. Rune Stokke has singled this out as one of the most important lessons he learned during his years at Møremøbler/Fora Form: when a product, or a product range, is launched, everything should be ready. There should be enough products in stock so that everything ordered at the launch can be ready for delivery the following week.177 1997 was an eventful year in many ways for the company now called Fora Form, and the year was looking good on the profit front as well. It was great to be able to post a profit of NOK 700,000 after several years of being in the red. As far as the group management was concerned, this served to confirm the validity of the coordination principle that was introduced at Vatne and Møremøbler in 1992. The best developments occurred in the domestic market, with 80 % of sales made to customers in Norway.178 The company reinforced its attempts to gain a stronger foothold in the international markets, especially Germany and Japan, but was
There were great festivities when the new name and new profile of the former Møremøbler were presented in Oslo in 1997. The name Fora Form was easier to use on the international market, and it showed that the company also wanted to be a supplier of specialist designer furniture for public places in the future. Rune Stokke and Fora Form Director Steinar Gjertsen officiated at the formal presentation ceremony.
Key Stokke representatives during the presentation of Fora Form in 1997. From the left: Geir Løseth, Kjell Arne Reknes, Harald Brathaug, Nils HøeghKrohn, Kjell Storeide and Kåre Stokke.
i nitially forced to accept that its export hopes could not be fulfilled. In 1998 an Export Manager, Axel Holtermann, was appointed by Fora Form, in order to boost export work.179 One product about which the company's management had high expectations in 1997/98 was the Rav chair. It was designed by
Fredrik Torsteinsen and was developed especially in connection with the refurbishment of the government's offices in 1997.180 This model attracted considerable interest from other customers on the contract market and was an excellent sales item for Fora Form over the next few years.
Westnofa Industrier Westnofa Industrier at Åndalsnes was a Stokke subsidiary that had benefited well from long-term ownership and which had gained strong market positions for its foam plastics and mattresses. Westnofa was able to present good figures in 1991, primarily as a result of its mattress expansion. Its annual profit amounted to NOK 9 million based on a NOK 109 million turnover, compared to figures of NOK 3.4 million and NOK 95.7 million respectively the p revious year.181
Mattresses for export Mattress production was a space-intensive production process, which initially occurred at the main factory at Øran Øst. In the
middle of the 1980s capacity problems led to production operations being moved to premises at Øran Vest. After a few years, this building also became too small, and in 1991 the factory's managers presented proposals to expand the premises. The Board wanted something that they believed would be a more future-oriented solution and cast its gaze on the empty bakelite factory that had been occupied by Dynoplast during the last few years. This was the option chosen, and Stokke joined forces with the municipality of Rauma to form a property company which took over the existing loans of the former bakelite factory. The building was modified to accommodate new operations and was ready for production in February 1993.182 Westnofa's mattress collection quickly became established as the leading mattress collection on the market in Norway. The company's mattress department also grew relatively quickly, from
Steinar Loe and Odd Slettaøyen with customers on Westnofa Industrier's stand at the Sjølyst exhibition in October 1990. In the background: Malvin Vegsund, who was a faithful representative of the Stokke group from the time he joined the company in 1968 and up until his retirement.
Westnofa Industrier was awarded EMAS Certification in 1997, something that showed that the company took its environmental challenges seriously. Depicted here is Director Steinar Loe as he accepts the Certificate on behalf of the company's employees. The former Regional Director of the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, Magne Skudal, is on the left of Loe. Otherwise, from the left: Kollbjørn Megård from the Environmental Division of the Office of the County Governor, Ola Fremo from the Møre and Romsdal branch of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature, Torbjørn Bruaset, the Mayor of Rauma, Atle Storås, Dovre Certification, Ove Søvik, Plant Manager, and Roger Grande.
aking a modest contribution to the company's turnover at the m beginning of the 1980s to becoming a dominant contributor ten years later. Of a t otal turnover of NOK 40 million in 1983/84, mattress sales were responsible for NOK 9 million. Odd Slettaøyen says that in 1998 the company's mattress budget accounted for NOK 157 million of its total budget of NOK 218 million. He confirmed that mattress production had progressed from being a secondary commitment to becoming a serious area of f ocus.183 In 1996, Westnofa Industrier was ready to branch out on the international market with the establishment of a sales office in Sweden.184 In 1997 three of Westnofa's 173 employees worked there. The plant management had high expectations about the company's foreign commitments and Director Steinar Loe told Åndalsnes Avis in December 1996 that he hoped that it would be possible to win new market shares in both Sweden and Denmark. In 1996 sales in Sweden and Denmark accounted for approximately 9 % of the company's total turnover. In 1997 the company attended the Copenhagen exhibition for the first time where most focus was placed on its flagship item, its adjustable electric bed, the Activ. The exhibition marked the first phase of an extensive marketing campaign that was conducted in Denmark and which entailed advertising in weekly magazines and on Danish TV. Activ was also offered as the main prize in several quiz programmes broadcast on Danish TV.185 The company's expectations relating to increased sales in Sweden and Denmark were realised, and in January 1998 it em barked on an export drive in Finland and Iceland. During this period Westnofa was at its peak in terms of its turnover, its earning ability and the size of its workforce. Growth had been considerable over
a period of just 20 years: in 1981 the company's turnover amounted to NOK 20 million, while in 1997 it was NOK 198 million. In 1981 the company had 55 employees, while in 1997 it had 173, and it was the mattress division that accounted for the lion's share of this growth.186
Environmental beacon Westnofa was an independent unit within the Stokke group, enjoying considerable freedom to stake out a course which its local management deemed to be best. As already mentioned, group control was strengthened after Kjell Storeide returned in 1989 and particularly after he took up the position of Group Managing Director in 1990, but Stokke's well-managed activities in Åndalsnes were not something that the group management initially felt a need to address. They were run in accordance with sound business principles involving continuous focus on product development, rationalisation measures and marketing work. This operational latitude was also felt and appreciated locally. Odd Slettaøyen formulated it thus: “We did not keep running to the owners to ask for their permission!” Despite this freedom, a corporate culture of loyalty to Stokke developed which permeated management thinking and attitudes. Some of these ideas were directed at the environmental image which the Stokke group was hoping to cultivate. By focusing on ergonomic furniture designed to promote correct body posture during the 1980s, Stokke had tapped into a dawning environmental awareness that was prevalent among broad
groups of purchasers, particularly on the Continent. Customers were becoming increasingly interested in the products that furniture was made from, and gradually also in how production was organised and how furniture companies dealt with the treatment of hazardous waste, etc. Westnofa's environmental image was put to the test b ecause of the problem substances that were used in the production of foam plastics. The management of the company met these challenges with the implementation of a three-year plan designed to satisfy the requirements of the EU's environmental management system, EMAS. The company's environmental escalation plan was initiated in 1997 and had an ambitious
rogramme, including the complete segregation of steel and other p metals at source, the replacement of all solvent-based glue with water-based glue or hot-melt adhesives and a 50 % reduction in the w aste resulting from the raw materials used in plastics production.187 Steinar Loe, who was involved in setting up this environmental project, handed over completion to the former Chief of Finance at Westnofa, Jørn Nes, when he took over from Tor Norbye as the Director of Stokke Fabrikker in August 1998. The other Stokke companies, Stokke Fabrikker AS and Stokke Tennfjord, were also granted EMAS certification during 1997.188
Moa becomes a shopping centre Just after Stokke Fabrikker completed its final major building phase at Moa in 1977/78 it looked for a while as though the company and its owners had taken on too much. The building project was more expensive than originally planned and it had been completely financed by loans. However, after just a few years the Stokke family started to realise that it might actually be a small gold mine, and this was not primarily because the plant was eminently suitable for furniture production, but because the area in which the plant was located was to be deregulated from being an agricultural and industrial area to becoming Sunnmøre's most expansive shopping centre.
Town versus countryside Local historian Harald Grytten writes that the first offshoot of the commercial town of Moa developed during the 1900s. In 1917 the municipality of Ålesund purchased some land called Åsemyrane. This area consisted of rough grazing ground belonging to the farms of Åse, Furmyr and Nedregarden (later called Langelandgården). Under work schemes for the unemployed the area was cultivated and developed to become a farm which the municipality ran for several decades with the assistance of hired labour. Over the years, a series of plans were launched relating to possible uses of this area, e.g. airport, railway station, agricultural college, landfill site. P oliticians and local government officials were quick to realise that the area might at some time be useful as a relief area for the city centre, e.g. as a residential area and for facilitating traffic flow in the area.189 The farm that was subsequently named Moa Farm remained intact for a long time, but in 1970 the politicians in Ålesund made a decision about how to use the area. It was then regulated for
usiness and public purposes. The development area was located b in its entirety to the north of the main road, extending from Spjelkavik primary school to Vingårdsskiftet. Stokke Fabrikker's plant was located to the south of the main road on land which was not initially included in the development plans. The first public building to be erected was the Moa Health Centre. It opened in 1979 and contained a doctor's surgery, a senior citizens' centre, a pharmacy and a library. The next construction phase included a traffic terminal and shops. The bus station opened in October 1982 and the first shops in the centre, which was later named StorMoa, opened in May 1983. Not everyone approved of the emergence of a new c ommercial centre on what had previously been green belt land. Protests were received from people with agricultural interests and from others who were concerned that children and young people would lose their football pitches and playgrounds. However, the most violent opposition was voiced by residents who were worried about the impact on shops in Ålesund's city centre. During the first stage of the Moa development, it was not easy to protest without being accused of indulging in pure selfishness. Up until the 1970s, extensive building activities had taken place in the area sur- rounding the former Moa Farm. At Åse, at Lerstad, in Breivika and elsewhere people were keen to have a variety of shops and other service institutions in their vicinity. The development of business and service enterprises at Moa therefore came in response to the changes in settlement patterns which occurred in the municipality of Ålesund, especially as a result of its merger with the municipality of Borgund, in 1968. The shopping centre at Moa soon proved to be a success and it was clear that the shops in the area were attracting more shoppers than those who could walk to the centre! The Moa centre was one of several such projects which were developing on the
Aerial photo of Spjelkavik. In the middle of the photo is Stokke's new plant which was built in 1948. Just below is Spjelkavik Skofabrikk, where just a few decades later a large shopping centre would be developed.
outskirts of towns of all sizes throughout the country. These shopping centres all had one thing in common, i.e. they were located in the same building, thus enabling shoppers to walk from shop to shop without getting their feet wet, regardless of the weather. They were also designed to ensure that there was at least one shop offering products from each of the segments that consumers normally expected. Due to the fact that much focus was placed on the efficient use of time, the shopping centres could easily sell their argument about people being able to do all their shopping quickly and efficiently under one roof. The fact the customers would spend a lot of time on transport to and from centres was not something that was openly communicated. On the contrary, easy access and good parking facilities were yet another argument in favour of the shopping centres. They were located on the outskirts of city centres, and while city shops were suffering from a lack of car parks and long walking distances from any such parks, the centres were able to attract customers with offers of free parking in large indoor and outdoor car parks right on the premises. The strong growth in trade at Moa and the equivalent decline in business in the centre of Ålesund centre during the early 1980s, were used as arguments against the expansion of shopping facilities at Moa. Traders in the city had good allies in political circles and several of them were active in local politics. In particular, the city traders were strongly represented in the Conservative Party, and this obviously affected the Municipal Council's subsequent discussion on the question of deregulation of the area to the south of the main road in order to accommodate commercial activities.
Attractive rental income The first time that the rental of the buildings at Moa for other than industrial purposes was mentioned in Stokke's annual report was in 1984. It was then reported that several long-term leases had been entered into with banks and insurance companies which would increase the company's rental income considerably. In 1983 the rents received by the property company Stokke Industri AS amounted to NOK 2.7 million. In 1984 this income had increased to NOK 3.4 million, with NOK 1.4 million of this sum being paid to companies outside the group.190 The main tenant was still Stokke Fabrikker AS. In 1985 it was stated in the annual report that rental income had increased to NOK 3.7 million and that all unoccupied areas were being rented out to external interests. In its rental practice, Stokke was obliged to observe the development regulations that applied to the area and which were different to those which applied to the area on the other side of the road, just fifty metres away. The area where Stokke Fabrikker was located was regulated for industrial and service purposes. Renting out premises for banking, insurance and office purposes
was straightforward, but ordinary retail trade was not permitted. Until well into the 1980s the authorities thought that Moa at that time was big enough and that further expansion would be in opportune since it might upset the balance thought to be n ecessary between capacity in the city and at Moa. During these years, Kåre Stokke spent much of his time on plans to rent out many of the buildings at Moa. He, and the Board of Stokke Industri AS, were aware of the potential income they could receive by renting out buildings to shops of various kinds. It was possible that the income from such activities might exceed the anticipated income generated by furniture production at the same premises. The alternative would then be to build up production capacity further away from the centre in an area less attractive than the lucrative area that Moa had become.
Slow administrative proceedings Kåre Stokke and the Board worked on several fronts at the same time. They actively lobbied politicians and the municipal a uthorities in an attempt to bring about regulatory changes, and they sought to attract potential tenants who could take over much of the company's factory premises. Establishing contact with potential tenants was quicker than gaining the support of the development authorities. In 1987 a contract was entered into with the wholesale company Joh. Johansson from Oslo relating to rental of the areas used by Stokke Fabrikker. The plan was then to move all woodworking operations to Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk, while the administration, upholstery and sewing departments were to be moved to a plant acquired by Stokke at Håhjem in the municipality of Skodje. Kåre Stokke and the group management were playing for high stakes. The contract with the grocery wholesaler Joh. Johansson was based on the assumption that Stokke would ensure deregulation of the area. The fact that such a contract was entered into indicated that they were relatively certain that the matter would be resolved quickly. It was not that simple. It took a long time before the matter could be clarified and presented to the politicians on the M unicipal Council for a decision. And when the case came up there was a majority of 32 to 28 in favour of rejecting the application for regulatory changes.191 Kåre Stokke remembers that the members of the traders' lobby in Ålesund were very active in the wings and they succeeded in gaining political support for their views, including the support of the Conservative faction. Kåre Stokke was himself a member of the Conservative Party, but he resigned from the party in protest against the fact that 11 out of 16 Conservative councillors voted against regulatory changes. Kåre Stokke clearly remembers the reactions of a former Board member of Stokke
The flag flying at full mast when the Moa Syd shopping centre was opened after many years of struggling to have the area deregulated for shopping and service purposes.
F abrikker, Svein Tømmerdal (a lawyer), when Kåre told him that he had signed a contract with Joh. Johansson relating to renting out the plant for a grocery shop and other shops: “There's no way that will work out for you” Tømmerdal's statement indicated that there were strong forces at work trying to protect business interests in the city. For Kåre Stokke it was an unusual experience to meet opposition from a former Board member of his own company. As far as he and the other members of the management were concerned, this was a matter of justice. They referred to the fact that the property of other b uilding owners in the area had been deregulated from industrial use to use for trade and service purposes in accordance with p ublic approvals. They also thought that it was unfair that a random boundary had been set along a road to mark where groceries and other essential articles could be sold. As a Conservative, Kåre Stokke thought the demands of the market should be heard, and he was in no doubt that in this case the customers in the district w anted a larger shopping centre at Moa, and that this would in turn attract more customers to all the shops in the municipality of Å lesund. As he viewed it, the traders in Ålesund would not suffer from such a development, in fact quite the contrary. Those responsible for the project within the Stokke group were both discouraged and surprised by the outcome of the case in the municipality of Ålesund. They had already devoted considerable resources to their plans, including the acquisition of a new plant at Håhjem, so turning back was not really an option. In August 1988 Stokke Fabrikker transferred its stitching, upholstery and cutting departments, as well as its warehouse and its entire administration department, to Håhjem. This occurred before any clarification had been received regarding future utilisation of the premises at Moa. In order to enable the company to move on, Joh. Johansson was released from its contract and Stokke turned instead to individual enterprises in the service industry. Service was a flexible concept and also included companies that sold (electronic equipment) and building materials. The first company in this category that Stokke rented out to was Elkjøp, followed by Jysk, Teppeland and Bolighuset – Kristian Westad.
Higher employment with shops Spjelkavik Skofabrikk (a shoe factory) was on the same side of the main road as Stokke Fabrikker. After shoe production was discontinued, the owners started to develop their building into a shopping centre. Several traders from Ålesund joined in this project: Gullsmed Stamnæs (a goldsmiths), Arne Nilsen (a shoe retailer) and Anton Oskar Dale (a retailer). In 1972 they opened their shops in Moa Varehus. So not all Ålesund traders had turned their backs on Moa.
Around 1990 the Ekornes family took over the former shoe f actory – and called the site MoaGaard. A grocery shop was opened there by Rema 1000. The MoaGaard site was also located outside the boundaries of the land that had been deregulated in 1970 for business purposes and which had the same planning status as the premises of Stokke Fabrikker. This move established a new practice and Stokke took advantage of it. Stokke's management contacted the Berg Jacobsen group in Molde, and they agreed to open a Rimi shop on the site that subsequently became known as Moa Syd. This move was followed by new shops selling different products: a flower shop, a sports shop, a watchmakers and a café. Gradually as time passed the municipal development plans had to be adapted to accommodate the actual reality of the situation. Kåre Stokke remembers that Ålesund's Chief Municipal Building Control Officer, Kjell Fjærtoft, made the adjustments that were necessary. In its annual report for 1989, Stokke Industri AS reported that the municipality of Ålesund had made a decision in principle r egarding deregulation of the area for trade purposes.192 The municipality had therefore not taken the initiative in respect of developments at Moa. One could safely say that the path was staked out as events progressed and that the conditions for the development had been drawn up by the business interests involved! Transport and traffic issues were also a long-term challenge for those who were responsible for trading activities at Moa. Access to the buildings had not initially been designed to cope with the large volumes of traffic that suddenly appeared. During 1987 a roundabout was built to improve the difficult exit from the shopping centre, swimming pool and cinema located to the north of the main road. Later another roundabout was also built at the crossroads by the petrol station located to the west of Stokke's former factory premises. The problems associated with these formal regulatory amendments meant that progress in renting out Stokke's remaining premises at Moa was slower than anticipated. Stokke Industri therefore missed out on the large rental revenues that the company was planning to spend on important reorganisation work elsewhere in the group. The acquisition of Vatne Lenestolfabrikk was one of the things which proved to be particularly demanding on group resources. In 1990 the Board of the property company was able to report that all of the 7,500 m2 main factory had been rented out to 10 different shops. In 1990–91 Stokke invested NOK 10.9 million on modifying premises so that they were ready to accept business employees and customers. In 1991 the newly-established shops were already employing more staff – 140 – than had ever been engaged in f urniture production.193 While working on modification of the factory plant at Moa for trade purposes, Kåre Stokke had received excellent assistance from a firm of architects called ARCESS and Jakob Storlykken (an architect). After 1985, ARCESS was the firm used for the archi tectural work involved in connection with the factory expansions in Åndalsnes, Tennfjord and Ørsta.
Moa shoppingcentre – for enjoyment and benefit During the following years Kåre Stokke and his children continued to follow up developments at the trade and service centre at Moa, even though they sold the former factory plant in two stages. The first stage was in 1996 when they sold 60 % of the shares in the property company owned by the wholesale company Giørtz AS. Giørtz sold half of its shares to the Berg Jacobsen group. After that, Stokke was left with a 25 % ownership stake in Moa Syd. Stokke's neighbour, a local landowner called Rolv Langeland, received a 15 % stake in return for transferring the plot of land between Statoil and Moa Syd to Stokke. The existing shopping centre was extended onto this land in 1999 with the addition of a 3-storey building incorporating several shops and an underground car park. Stokke was also involved in building a bridge between the shopping centres on each side of the road between Moa Syd and StorMoa. This bridge was completed in time for the Christmas shopping season in 2000. The building then looked more compact than previously, like an El Dorado for shopping enthusiasts from the whole of Sunnmøre, a magnet for the enjoyment and benefit of people living in the municipality of Ålesund. Complaints from the traders in the city centre could still be heard, but with diminishing intensity. People were starting to r ealise that the two arenas, Moa and the city centre, complemented rather than threatened one another. This was the image presented by the Project Manager for the new development at Moa Syd, Lars S tendal, when the centre was extended in 1999: “It is now time that Å lesund looked upon itself as a regional trade centre, with Moa and the city centre forming a unit. Seen from this perspective, Moa is a power centre, and not an unpleasant competitor of the city centre.”194 Kåre Stokke felt that he had attained his objectives as regards the transformation project at Moa in 2003. By this time the former industrial area had been transformed into a place teeming with eager, adventurous shoppers from all over Sunnmøre. Accompanied by Kjell Storeide, Kåre sought out potential buyers for the shares in the property company which he and his family still controlled. They approached both Giørtz and the Berg Jacobsen group, but both declined the invitation. In the end the shares were sold to the Amfi chain and the Thon group which were about to build up a nationwide network of shopping centres, the so-called Amfisentrene. Lars Løseth from Surnadal was the Managing Director of the Amfi chain. Kåre Stokke rang him one day early in January 2003 and stated his business. After listening to him for a while, Løseth exclaimed: “This is the most interesting phone call I have had in a long time!” They agreed to meet at Moa later in the month – at 12 o'clock on 24 January, and Løseth turned up on the dot at midday. The two men got along very well and agreed to meet again in Oslo on 8 February. The last pieces in the puzzle fell into place when Amfi Eiendom held a Board meeting in Ålesund on 19 March the
same year. In addition to a good cash settlement, Stokke received payment in the form of 50,000 shares in the Amfi company. The Stokke family retained these shares for two years. When they sold them they had doubled in value. “A great deal”, according to Kåre Stokke.
The meeting place The shopping centre at Moa has been Sunnmøre's most expansive shopping centre ever since the first shops were opened in 1972, not least thanks to the contribution made by the Stokke group. This trading and service conglomerate has clearly been an attractive facility for local people. We are probably talking here not just about the calculated fulfilment of people's demands for cheap and fashionable goods, but also about additional values of a less material kind. The shopping centres at Moa have served as meeting places where people can gather, regardless of whether or not they need to go shopping. Pensioners go there to meet old friends – something that Stokke's founder Georg Stokke has been accustomed to doing for years – school children go there to swap the latest news with their friends, and mothers with small children from Sykkylven and Ørsta go there to meet other mothers with small children over a cup of coffee and a cake in one of the centre's cafés. And if you just happen to be in Ålesund on a Saturday, you might just as well stroll along the pedestrian precinct and soak up the atmosphere, and then go and sit on a bench by the harbour with a bag of prawns on your lap … Not everyone is attracted by the rather unoriginal shop facades at Moa which they regard as being an expression of vulgar commercialism. One of these is the author Stephen J. Walton. When his book on the Americanisation of Europe during the post-war years was published in 2006, he made the following comment about the shopping centre at Moa: “The town planners have committed collective hara-kiri. The best architects in Europe came here and built a fantastic town, and then its roots start to rot because some idiots want to build Los Angeles in Spjelkavik. No, as a matter of fact, delete that – I actually like Los Angeles. I can't think of anything bad enough to compare it with.”195 Even though academics like Walton will still continue to bypass Moa on their way into the centre of Ålesund to experience the city's Jugend style of architecture, the Moa centres will still attract customers from far and wide because people enjoy being with other people – and because they appreciate being able to do their shopping without having to battle against changeable weather conditions.
For the last few years the dispute between those responsible for the shopping centres at Moa and the shops in the centre of Ålesund has abated somewhat. Most of them now realise that Moa and the city centre form a collective unit in a regional commercial centre. At present there are more people employed in commercial firms than there were furniture workers in former times.
The organisation is enhanced, 1997–2007
p until 1995/96, Group Managing Director Kjell Storeide and the organisation around him achieved the main objectives that were set when the group hold was consolidated in 1990: Vågå Møbler was sold, Vatne Lenestolfabrikk was consolidated with the new version of Møremøbler, the properties at Moa were demerged from Stokke Industri into a separate corporate structure and financial management was improved. Nevertheless, there was still some way to go before Stokke Industri AS emerged as a unified group with positive synergies and a clear structure.
New roles In 1997 a generation shift occurred in the Stokke group when Rune Stokke purchased the remaining 8 % A shares in the company from his father, Kåre. At the same time Rune sold most of his 23 % stake in the Moa property to his siblings in return for a settlement in industrial shares. After this he became the owner of 58 % of the holding company in the industrial part of the company, including
all the company's A shares. He thus controlled the company (the Stokke group) which owned 91 % of Stokke Industri AS. It was important for Rune that his siblings Geir, Knut and Kristin should also be owners of the industrial part of the company. They each owned 14 % of the B shares in the holding company. Their shares carry the same financial entitlements as those owned by Rune. The remaining 9 % of the Stokke group was owned by Kjell Storeide. During the same year Rune Stokke took over from his father as Chairman of the Board of Stokke Industri AS. Kjell Storeide had enjoyed close cooperation with Kåre Stokke right from the time he joined the group in 1977. Now Junior was to become his employer and boss. He had lost his mainstay within the owner family and would have to get used to a new one. In the first instance, the challenges presented did not consist of professional disagreement, but rather adjustment to new roles. After a few demanding challenges during the transition phase, things settled down. Rune, who had taken over as Chairman of the Board, soon handed over that position to Even Wahr-Hansen and instead accepted the challenge to manage Movement, which in 1998 was in a difficult situation. Rune continued as a member of the Board and these changes helped to ease cooperation within the organisation.
The Stokke group was ready for a generation shift in 1997. Kåre Stokke, who had managed the company since 1964, felt that the time was ripe to allow the next generation to take over responsibility and ownership. The family still wanted to retain its single-owner model. It was clear very early on that it was Kåre's oldest son, Rune Stokke, who would take over main responsibility for the family company during the forthcoming years.
Rune Stokke had worked his way up through the ranks in the group, mainly under the professional mentorship of Kjell Storeide. Unlike his father, Rune possessed international economic and administrative qualifications. His education and experience had given him, in his capacity as Stokke's new owner, a different approach to modern industrial operations to that of the company's founders. Rune's main contribution to the group would be his strong focus on markets and customers, something that the Board started to apply with effect from 1997 when the Swedish economics professor, Jan Erik Vahlne, joined the Board. Vahlne had been one of the Stokke group's regular advisors since the middle of the 1980s. In 1996, he was once again involved as a discussion p artner
s upported the group management's assessment. The reason why Tripp Trapp had not been fully exploited was that insufficient focus had been devoted to marketing. Stokke's furniture was not targeted at distinct target groups, but at different target groups with different areas of application. This meant that it was difficult to find just one distribution channel that TrippTrapp could be channelled through. Vahlne concluded that Stokke Fabrikker should be divided into four divisions. The result was two divisions: one for children's furniture – the Children's Division, and one for variation furniture for adults – the Movement Division. This split was accomplished, resulting in powerful revitalisation of the Children's Division. However, from an organisational point of view, some cleaning up still needed to be
It was important for Rune Stokke, right, and Kjell Storeide, middle, to find good cooperation models quickly after Rune became the owner of the group in 1997. Kjell Storeide had enjoyed long and close co-operation with Kåre Stokke, who after 1997 started to focus more on business developments at the company's property at Moa.
Even after Kåre withdrew from daily management of the group, he was involved in some activities and he was pleased to see that his favourite product, Tripp Trapp, still featured strongly on the market. He is d epicted here with Peter Opsvik on a visit to a kindergarten in Ålesund.
for the group management. Vahlne advocated the development of a more compact organisation with a clearer focus and closer ties between its head office and sales apparatus. Division of the company was, as he saw it, the best way to clarify its image and strengthen customer focus. The reason why the group management once again called on Vahlne for advice was that they felt that the potential of Stokke's best sales product, Tripp Trapp, was not being adequately exploited. This may be related to discussions held with the former Managing Director of' Stokke Fabrikker, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, who was not interested in cultivating individual products. He viewed individual models as parts of a comprehensive chair and furniture philosophy which was Stokke's unique contribution to a global population forced into adopting a sedentary lifestyle. Vahlne
c arried out in order to achieve the group's objectives. Mini groups were formed at both Stokke Fabrikker and Westnofa by splitting up the different business areas. The group management was not satisfied with financial developments after 1998, and Group Managing Director Kjell Storeide perceived the reasons for this to be as follows: “Profits had definitely been lower since 1998, and as far as Stokke Fabrikker was concerned the reasons for this had been apparent for some time: poor cost control, low product profitability in respect of products not related to Tripp Trapp and some nonprofitable financial decisions.”196 These developments were used to explain the more in-depth division that took place in 1999/2000.197 New organisational plans were approved at a Board meeting of the Stokke group held on 16 December 1999. The company moved from a management structure with a holding company at the top to
a management team structure with clear top coordination. The purpose of this reorganisation was to achieve more efficient exploitation of personnel resources, to eliminate double functions and to relieve group management. The Children's and Movement divisions were retained in the new organisation. In addition, Westnofa and Contract became separate divisions. The production divisions at Håhjem, Tennfjord, Vatne, Stranda and Ørsta were merged into one division. All these five divisions were given their own Divisional Directors who joined the Director of Finance and Managing Director to form a new group management team which would play a key role in the new organisation. For the first time in the group's history a representative body
in the group, and communications between the various business areas were inadequate. Kjell Storeide felt that the transfer of his office to the plant at Håhjem was a useful move because he came into direct contact with the pulsating life in the sales and production departments. He also achieved direct contact with other areas of activity when he was appointed as Chairman of the Board for all the company's subsidiaries in Norway. Geir Løseth was the Director of Finance at Stokke Fabrikker AS up until December 1999. During the reorganisation he was given responsibility for establishing a common finance department w ithin the group. Before he took up this post there were six financial/ commercial divisions in the group and 25 people working on the
Kjell Storeide spent much of the 1990s on developing a more suitable group platform under which all parts of the group could work towards achieving common objectives. Some of the key partners involved in this development work were Steinar Loe, Westnofa, Jørn Nes, Wonderland and Steinar Gjertsen, Fora Form.
In 1998 Stokke introduced the Movex order processing system which considerably facilitated ordering and invoicing tasks. This photo shows a demonstration of how the system was used in practice. From the left: Norveig Alvestad, Oddvar Skytterholm, Lars Hjelle, Leif Blindheim and Gunn Hellevik.
had been set up which met regularly to discuss common c hallenges for the group as a whole. It was not until 2000 that the group finally achieved the objectives that had been set in 1983 with the establishment of a group superstructure in Stokke Industri AS. The new Chairman of the Board, Even Wahr Hansen, who had been appointed in 1998, maintained that it was during the 1990s that Stokke had been turned round from being a product-governed founder company to being a group.198 The ambitions publicised by the group management following the completion of its reorganisation in 2000 were that the new management structure should result in increased growth, better profitability and thus more secure jobs. Furthermore, this reorganisation could have been justified purely by normal rationalisation considerations. There were without doubt many double functions
group's finances and accounts. The group's specialist areas were small and there was little interaction between them on a group basis. With a common finance department it was possible to develop broader financial and IT expertise. As Director of Finance, Geir Løseth experienced rapid developments in data processing after he joined the group as Director of Finance at Stokke Industri AS in 1996, when there just three computers in the whole group. Prior to 1999 the company had invested in, and implemented, an order processing system called Movex, and data processing then also became part of the everyday lives of the employees involved in production at Stokke. With effect from 1999/2000 Stokke started to emerge as a more closely integrated company, with an organi sational model that created productive dynamism within the fields that were to be coordinated:
Kristine Landmark took a bold step when she changed the distribution channels for Stokke's Children's products from ordinary furniture businesses to children's equipment businesses. This change proved to be successful.
Former Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, had a family connection with the Stokke group. For several years his brother, Audun, was a prime mover in the sales work undertaken by Stokke and Blindheim Møbelfabrikk. Here the Prime Minister and other politicians are being p rovided with information about Stokke's products by Kristine Landmark.
N ew production strategy was developed in cooperation with SINTEF in Trondheim. This had an impact on all production areas in the group, resulting in improved efficiency. IT and logistics were boosted. A new branding/brand name strategy was drawn up in coopera tion with the Interbrand company. The value chain all the way to the shops was rationalised. G reater focus was placed on organisational and managerial development.
s ales. The various divisions had their own products and distribution channels and there were limited options available for being able to gain common synergies from such varying areas as mattresses and furniture for movement and variation, for example. Otherwise the production processes of Westnofa Industrier AS and Wonderland AS were separated from other production processes and were not integrated to any extent. These challenges illustrated both to the Board and to the Group Director a strategic problem associated with the new model. They were included in the next round to promote further improvement of the group profile.
In the latter instance, the new structure also benefited customers as a result of more efficient order follow-up. This reorganisation thus also constituted one aspect of the company's increased focus on markets and customers. But there were also counter-forces in the new group structure which emerged in the discussions which took place at group management meetings. The managers of companies that had previously experienced a considerable degree of freedom in respect of decision-making and the prioritisation of local resources were forced to realise that local resources were now defined as common resources. Technical discussions about certain business areas were not always regarded as being particularly relevant by group colleagues.199 There is nevertheless reason to believe that the commitment made in respect of management and organisational developments during the 1990s made it easier to survive this demanding reorganisation processes. A common conceptual system was established and communication between the various managers was based on common perceptions of reality, even though their priorities could be different. The only things that were not coordinated under the new management model were product development, marketing and
Tripp Trapp, first and foremost As already mentioned, the Children's Division was made into a separate division at Stokke Fabrikker AS in 1997. The manager of the new Children's Division was Kristine Landmark. She joined Stokke in 1989 and since 1994 she had been an Assistant Director at Stokke Fabrikker AS with responsibility for product development, marketing, customer service and production. In 1997, the products in the Children's Division at Stokke were not very well organised. Tripp Trapp was indisputably the dominant product. In addition, there was another children's chair, Sitti, which was launched in 1994. The Tripp Trapp chair had been part of Stokke's collection ever since 1972, contributing favourably to the group's profits year after year. The growth in production and sales of Tripp Trapp chairs was particularly marked during the period 1989 to 1997200 when Stokke's sales network in Europe was developed and helped to boost awareness of this Norwegian child-friendly chair among new customers groups. After 1997 sales
The Tripp Trapp chair has been one of the most resilient products in the history of Norwegian furniture, but in 1997 sales started to stagnate slightly. This stagnation would prove to be just temporary.
The new back that was designed in response to new regulations relating to infants. It can be removed when the child reaches the age of 2, or thereabouts.
The new harness that is used for infants.
Peter Opsvik's Tripp Trapp and Date designed by Olav Eldøy.
stagnated a little and it a ppeared as though the market was about to be saturated with this resilient product which was also available on the second-hand furniture market. In a group context it was not the Children's D ivision that featured highest on the wish-list of those seeking challenges in the group. This may have been due to the fact that the development and sale of furniture for children was not as prestigious as the development of furniture for the adult market, and that furniture for movement and variation actually symbolised Stokke's position as a furniture producer.
New distribution channel The group management, under the leadership of Kjell Storeide, nevertheless gave the new division the latitude and support that it thought was necessary in order to achieve maximum product potential, and expected in return the development of new p roducts which could provide the division with more legs to stand – or lie – on. Kristine Landmark says that one of the first things she did as the manager of the Children's Division was to sit down with the new management team and analyse the Tripp Trapp chair's position and future prospects on the market. They undertook a thorough and unbiased analysis. One of the most important questions asked during this phase was: what sort of shops do people wanting children's products go to? Prior to that time the children's Tripp Trapp chair had mainly been sold in furniture shops. 80 % of Tripp Trapp's overall turnover in 1997 came from furniture outlets. When sold in furniture shops, it was displayed next to large lounge suites, wall units and coffee tables with varying styles. The answer to the question did not correspond to the distribution outlets that Stokke had been using. Consumers seeking equipment for children do not usually visit furniture shops – they visit children's equipment shops. Nevertheless, switching from furniture to baby equipment sales outlets appeared to be a very bold move. Stokke's self-image and traditions indicated that it should stick to furniture outlets. Stokke had always been a furniture company and understood the furniture market. The company's sales network had been cultivating relation ships with the employees of furniture shops for many decades. Switching over to a different distribution network would mean breaking away from the identity that the company had cultivated and it would entail a step into unknown territory. It would
challenge the expertise of key personnel and it would be conditional on having the will to start from square, once again. Despite all objections, a bold choice was made during the summer of 1998. In future, the children's collection would be sold through children's equipment shops both at home and abroad. By making this move, Stokke had partly changed its associations with the industry. A key part of this traditional furniture group was no longer involved in producing furniture – it was producing baby equipment. The process leading up to this change in distribution outlets took place during the spring of 1998. The initial strategy work involved the management team at Stokke Fabrikker, where Tor Norbye was then Managing Director, and the managers of the various sales companies. This resulted in this part of the Stokke group releasing its grip in other central areas as well. Previously, Stokke had defined woodwork and laminated wood materials as core values. Now the Children's Division released its grip on woodwork and said that function and style should decide which materials should be used. Furthermore, this new strategy indicated that the Children's Division should not be defined as a furniture producer, but as a supplier of children's equipment with collection development and brandbuilding as key aspects. These were bold measures for a company which was just one part of a larger furniture group. However, one of the things that was apparent during this phase was the fact that few limitations were placed on creativity and freedom of action by the group management and owner. The company's policy of dividing responsibility and encouraging bold, alternative thinking has been one of Stokke's distinguishing features throughout its history. It is probably this “hidden hand” that has given the company the necessary capabilities to adapt during decisive phases. Before the Division finished clarifying the strategy outlined above, it had been through a search process during which previous successes were experienced as being obstacles to further development. For several years the company had been seeking new products which could supplement its children's collection, but the idea that new products should not be allowed to detract from Tripp Trapp had been a self-imposed limitation. They were preferably supposed to be just as unique and innovative, and bearing in mind the company's existing expertise it was natural to think that new products had to be chair models. This attitude is reflected in a memo sent to the group's Board by the Children's Division: “... what we understand is sitting, ergonomics, woodwork, furniture.”201
The collection of the Children's Division consisted basically of the Tripp Trapp and Sitti chairs. The Sitti chair (1994) has good functional features and is still in production.
The best for your child After the summer of 1998 the division had thus divested itself of something that had been experienced as being a straightjacket. It was free to develop new products in the baby equipment segment. A greater range of collections emerged as the company made its way into this market. Tripp Trapp sales were actually stagnating as parts of the market became saturated and there were therefore slim growth prospects for retailers involved with Stokke unless the company could offer more products. And Stokke realised that good retailers wanted growth. Good retailers wanted fewer suppliers with more comprehensive collections, and Stokke could be a more attractive supplier if it had a larger collection. As far as Stokke was concerned, its sales and administrative work would be easier if the company could market several units at the same time during just one shop visit. An expanded collection would also give Stokke more shop space and consequently build up Stokke's position with end users. This was completely in accordance with the objectives of the group management and Board in 1977 which called for improved customer focus which could then be allowed to govern how the company conducted its product development and marketing work. At that time the question was: which new products should be included in Stokke's new children's collection? The concept group also devoted a considerable amount of work to this question. The company based itself on the equipment requirements of children and parents during a baby's first year. The new products were to cover different basic requirements/functions such as sleeping, resting, sitting, eating and transport, in a unique and carefully considered manner. Such an approach gave free rein to ideas and opened up for exciting concepts which could defend Stokke's position as a quality-oriented and creative finished goods
producer. The success of Tripp Trapp carried obligations, but by loosening a few ties and releasing some mental and technical blocks, it was possible to move further along the path that had been staked out. It became clear early on that it would be necessary to do away with the limitations imposed by the company's chairs in order to move on. If new chairs were to be developed on a par with Tripp Trapp this would result in erosion of the company's own market shares. One alternative would have been to make cheaper, lower quality chairs, but that would have undermined Stokke's image and Tripp Trapp's brand value as top-quality furniture. Instead, efforts were directed towards new product groups which could build on the same values incorporated in Tripp Trapp: ■ A fundamental respect for children and their changing needs as individuals – active, learning and contact-seeking. ■ T he requirements of children and parents for flexible products which could easily be adapted to suit the changing daily requirements and phases that children pass through from birth until the age of five. The products should therefore grow with the children, exactly like the Tripp Trapp chair. Stokke c hose to direct its attention towards children in the age group ranging from birth to the age of five, because the requirements of this age group were traditionally met by one distribution outlet, the baby equipment outlet.202 Stokke had ambitious goals for its product development work over the next few years. The aim was for individual units in the children's collection to become the preferred products for expectant and new parents the world over because they would be convinced that Stokke had the best products for their children, and because Stokke, like the parents themselves, thought that only the best was good enough for their children.
The big leap Stokke's Children's Division took a bold leap into the unknown when the decision was made to concentrate on sales through children's equipment shops. The company's sales and marketing network knew very little about these new activities when they landed after taking the leap, and what they found could easily have caused a beginner to lose heart. There was an increasing n umber of Tripp Trapp copies and Tripp Trapp-inspired chairs in all price ranges. The large children's equipment chains developed their own products, and were primarily interested in marketing their chain names. There were fewer independent children's e quipment shops and there was increasing integration between producers and retailers. In addition, the customer groups in Stokke's most i mportant markets were stagnating. Birth statistics showed that people in the
western world were having fewer children. The positive thing about this was that when they did have children, the parents were both well-educated and had good income prospects, so Stokke's products and product philosophy would have a good chance of winning through. Stokke did not allow their first experiences with these new distribution outlets to frighten them, and Stokke was not a beginner either. In 1998 the company's leading product, the Tripp Trapp chair, was already a market leader in key international markets. The problem was not getting Tripp Trapp into the shops, but g etting shop employees and owners to dedicate their attention to the chair and market it more aggressively. In order to achieve this, Stokke needed to have a somewhat larger range in its portfolio.
Copy threats Since the 1980s Stokke had focused on producing innovative, unique products with user benefits that were not available from other furniture producers. The Stokke management at that time, under the leadership of Roar Hauge-Nilsen, were confident that retailers and furniture buyers would prefer the company's unique, original products if they were made aware of their beneficial effects for the human body. In the US, where Stokke had experienced explosive interest in the Balans concept in 1984, this assumption proved to be incorrect. Retailers who were offered cheaper copies of the Balans products allowed themselves to be tempted by the prospect of greater profits for themselves and turned their backs on the original products. The management of Stokke responded relatively quickly to the disappointment they felt when their hopes for the promising American market were unfulfilled, and to their indignation about the theft of their creative furniture concept. The company contacted the Norwegian authorities for legal assistance in stopping these copies. The costs involved in pursuing such cases through the American legal system were so high as to be prohibitive for a medium-sized Norwegian furniture business.203 Despite attempts to stop what in Stokke's opinion were dishonest competitors in the US, this market was evaluated as b eing so problematic over the next few years that Stokke chose to cut it out completely. The company turned instead to Europe and built up a network of dedicated retailers in many of the large cities, in the first instance in Germany and the Benelux countries, then in D enmark, France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. At that time Roar Hauge-Nilsen was the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker AS. He had recently learned an expensive lesson from the American market which was ruined by disloyal retailers and poor copies. In the opinion of
Roar Hauge-Nilsen, on the left, was convinced that Stokke's distinctive furniture could win through on the global market by undertaking patient marketing work. He doubted that there were any benefits to be gained from engaging in legal battle against the large number of copies of Stokke's furniture. He is depicted here with Group Managing Director Kjell Storeide and the Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker, Tor Norbye, at a meeting with Stokke's Swiss sales company in 1994.
auge-Nilsen, the best way to prevent the same thing happening in H Europe was to establish stronger ties with each retailer by paying considerable attention to each individual through a conscious selection process. The aim was that such attention should include the provision of detailed information about the special charac teristics of Stokke's furniture, and that the enthusiasm and insight communicated by individual retailers to their customers would be the best guarantee against copycats and copies. It was not long before Stokke started experiencing similar problems in Europe. Herleif Ulstein joined Stokke as an export m anager in 1990. One of his first challenges was to build up a new distribution network for Stokke in Denmark. At that time Stokke was represented by an independent, sole Tripp Trapp importer – Finn O. Møller, and a group of retailers importing Balans products. After working for just one month, Ulstein came across a copy of the Tripp Trapp chair in Denmark. He reacted spontaneously to something that he regarded as being dishonest competition. He contacted the management of Stokke Fabrikker, who had initially been rather lukewarm about t aking legal steps against producers who had been tempted to copy Stokke's unique furniture. Hauge-Nilsen still thought that Stokke's best protection against plagiarists was to cultivate the original products and present their advantages to the customers. Ulstein argued that Stokke had to do both: build s tronger branded products and fight against copies. He won s upport for his views from the owners, Kåre Stokke and Kjell Storeide. The necessary steps were taken to try the case in question before the law courts. Stokke's lawyers at BAHR evaluated Denmark as being a favourable country in which to explore legal remedies in respect of products. Denmark had legislation favouring holders of intellectual property rights – especially copyright. In addition, Denmark was a member of the EU, and a positive judgement h anded down there would
Herleif Ulstein, left, made great efforts in the 1990s to remove copies of the Tripp Trapp chair. He is depicted here with Karsten Larsen and Torben Guldhammer Nielsen at Stokke's Danish office in Copenhagen during the furniture exhibition in Copenhagen in 1997. Larsen, who in 2007 was the Stokke's Scandinavian Area Manager, is enthroned on a Garden chair.
have a positive effect on any similar cases in other EU/EEA countries.204 Stokke won a complete victory in its first court case. Finn O. Møller AS represented Stokke on a three-year contractual basis. Herleif Ulstein thought that Stokke should take over control of all distribution in Danmark. “I emphasised that all distribution should be based on selective distribution contracts with each retailer and should include conditions relating to intellectual property rights. The retailers should also help Stokke by hunting for copies. I received support for this, and was given the task of establishing and managing the subsidiary Stokke Danmark ApS.” This enabled Stokke to build up an efficient distribution network for its Tripp Trapp and Balans products and to simultaneously enforce its intellectual property rights. With effect from 1 January 1993, Stokke Danmark ApS was in such a position, and a series of cases against copies were brought before the courts in Denmark and Sweden that same year. The Tripp Trapp chair had patent protection for 20 years. When this patent expired in 1992, there were many producers who were ready to launch copies. Many thought that the chair was only protected by patent legislation. But in the cases heard in Denmark and Sweden, Stokke's lawyers had maintained that Tripp Trapp had artistic qualities connected to the chair's main design which meant that it was protected under intellectual property legislation. It was further pointed out that the chair was also protected by marketing legislation, which amongst other things was designed to prevent anyone from taking advantage of someone else's marketing efforts for a period of several years. There was also a case in Norway where the children's pram producer Simo launched a copy of the Tripp Trapp chair. In the case against Simo, Stokke called Arne Brenna as a witness. Brenna was a professor of art history at the University of Oslo and he explained that the main design of the Tripp Trapp chair was unique in a global context when it was launched in 1972. Brenna was of the opinion that Simo had copied the overall characteristics of the chair. The court found for Stokke and Brenna, and Simo lost the case on all points. This judgement was not appealed by Simo and it was thereby enforceable. This meant that the Tripp Trapp chair was entitled to protection under intellectual property legislation in Norway for 70 years after the death of the copyright holder. The same arguments were subsequently used in all copycat cases. A chair of the same type as in the Simo case turned up a few years later in Sweden and Denmark. Stokke once again contested the copy chair. In Sweden Stokke won the case in two courts before judgement became final. In Denmark a case against the large Danish furniture group Tvillum was taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Stokke won the case, thus providing the company and Brenna with weighty legal support for their evaluations. After the victory against Simo, Herleif Ulstein began to cast his gaze outside Scandinavia during the autumn of 1993. He discovered
that there were copies on the market in Germany, Holland and Switzerland. The Hauck family business had been particularly aggressive when selling their copycat chair which Stokke thought was an almost slavish copy of the Tripp Trapp chair. It came to light that Hauck had been selling this chair since 1987 without anyone at Stokke's head office being aware of it. Through the BAHR firm of lawyers, Ulstein obtained a legal opinion from German lawyers about Stokke's legal position in this respect and Stokke's chances of winning a case against Hauck. In their memorandum they concluded that the Tripp Trapp chair would in all probability also be protected by copyright under German law, and that Hauck's chair would be judged to be an illegal copy. However, there was a danger that Hauck could win by pleading passivity because Stokke had not reacted earlier. Herleif Ulstein says: “I remember well the day I sat in Roar Hauge-Nilsen's office and Kåre Stokke was presented with this memorandum. He reported that very cautious German lawyers had indicated that we had an approximately 40 % chance of winning a legal action against Hauck. I argued that our chances were better. Then Kåre said something that has always helped me when the fight against copies has been difficult: 'If we do not try this case our chances of winning are zero – we shall try this one – I think we will win!' The company then embarked on extensive preparatory work for this case.” The first case against Hauck lasted for several years, and was heard by all the courts, all the way up to the German Supreme Court which found in favour of Stokke and ordered Hauck to pay compensation. Stokke was then able to bring a new action in order to determine the amount of compensation to be paid. It turned out that German courts have far stricter formalities than their Scandinavian equivalents. Formal documentation relating to the company's reorganisations and personnel changes had not been highly prioritised by the Stokke family business. Georg Stokke had an obvious explanation about his role in the matter: “When generation shifts occurred on fjord farms in Storfjorden, the old people moved into the farm workers' house. Everything was then sorted and no further formalities were required.” But the German legal system was not satisfied with the procedures relating to generation shifts at Storfjorden in Sunnmøre. They wanted written documentation showing that Kåre Stokke had the authority to sign the Tripp Trapp production contract in 1972. They also wanted written proof that Peter Opsvik, the person, had actually transferred the intellectual property rights relating to the chair to the company of Peter Opsvik AS. It came to light that the Stokke group did not have any papers documenting that Kåre had taken over responsibility from Georg in 1964. In order to try and get to the bottom of the matter, Herleif Ulstein contacted an acquaintance at Sunnmørsposten and asked him to search through the newspaper archives relating to a certain defined period of time for something that could document the
Kåre Stokke with Tripp Trapp chair no. 2.5 million in 1997. Sales received a tremendous boost when Stokke succeeded, over a period of time, in removing a large number of Tripp Trapp copies. In November 2007 Tripp Trapp no. 6 million was produced.
Original Stokke products over three generations. Georg Stokke with model 5 B, a best-seller during the post-war years, Kåre Stokke with Tripp Trapp and Geir Stokke with Gravity.
change in management. This important piece of the puzzle fell into place when a small notice was found in the newspaper announcing the change in management. In cooperation with the BAHR firm of lawyers, who for many years had been Stokke's legal advisors, Ulstein was finally able to present a comprehensive “Group CV” that documented in detail all the organisational and personnel changes that had taken place during the history of the company and all the production contracts that had been entered into with those who had intellectual property rights to the company's products. With this documentation in its briefcase, Stokke won the case against Hauck. The case relating to the determination of compensation is to be heard by the German Supreme Court in the autumn of 2007 and a final judgement is expected some around the end of 2007/beginning of 2008. In 1997, the same year that the company was divided, Stokke Fabrikker established its own legal department under the management of Herleif Ulstein. This move represented a clear acknowledgement of the work that Ulstein had accomplished during much of the 1990s, supported by the owners and the Group Managing Director. They had started to realise that idealism did not always prevail on the market, i.e. furniture customers did not a lways seek out original products and manufacturers who had acquired the right to manufacture products under legally binding contracts. Those who play by the rules and pay the costs involved in developing unique products, are dependent on legal protection, otherwise those who take shortcuts could easily win by offering goods at lower prices. The company also realised that its US experience could not be transferred directly to circumstances in Europe. In summary Kjell Storeide states that the European courts have clearer powers to enforce judgements that create a precedence. The employees in Stokke's legal department have had their hands full with many tasks. This department deals with everything relating to the protection of intellectual property rights such as establishments, the maintenance and enforcement of designs, and patent and trademark registration. It also handles cases connected to product liability, and the drawing up of licensing agreements with designers and distribution contracts which Stokke enters into all over the world. These distribution contracts also contain conditions specifying that importers and retailers shall assist Stokke in monitoring the global market in order to track down illegal copies. A high percentage of the cases dealt with by the legal department have concerned copies of the Tripp Trapp chair. Hundreds of cases have been handled and a large number of these have been
rocessed through the law courts in a number of countries, p especially Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland. Two examples of major enterprises that have been adversaries are the Swiss grocery chain Migros and the American toy giant Toys “R” Us. This indicates just how attractive and commercially viable this product has been and continues to be, and how important the Tripp Trapp chair has been for Stokke in a business context. Tripp Trapp was far too valuable to Stokke for the group to deal lightly with those who were trying to cream off the profits brought in by this hugely successful children's chair. For Stokke it has not just been the rights connected to commercial utilisation of the Tripp Trapp chair that have been so important. This children's chair has been marketed under the brand name of Tripp Trapp ever since it was launched in 1972. Stokke had made huge marketing efforts to establish this brand name which has recently been associated with considerable status and assets. This has also resulted in the brand name being copied and used illegally. Herleif Ulstein says that there have been many minor cases, but in 1999/2000 and with the support of Kjell Storeide, Steinar Loe, Kristine Landmark, the Board and Rune Stokke initiated an extensive case against the Danish company Trip Trap Denmark A/S which had started to actively market its products, mainly garden furniture, on the international market under the brand name of Trip Trap. Stokke possessed the sole rights to this brand name by virtue of registration and the cultivation of markets all over the world. Legal remedies were quickly sought in a number of countries, with cases being heard simultaneously by the courts in New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, England and the US. Stokke was ready to take legal action in any country where its rights were being violated. Apart from the Hauck case, this was the most extensive case brought by Stokke. A lot of work was carried out on documenting rights in cooperation with the BAHR firm of lawyers. Stokke won the first case in New Zealand, then cases in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. Trip Trap Denmark soon started to realise that the case was going in Stokke's favour, and they called for a settlement which was made on 2 December 2004. It was agreed that Stokke would retain its rights and that Trip Trap Denmark would change its name. The company would not be permitted to use the name Trip Trap as a brand name outside Denmark. It changed its name to Skagerak Denmark A/S on 1 January 2005. The Balans concept was also exposed to copycats during the 1990s. Stokke itself did not take legal action, but participated in paying the costs incurred by one of its Balans manufacturers – HÅG – when Balans copycats were brought before the courts.
Stokke's Balans products were also exposed to copying. These cases were pursued by HÅG, with the support of Stokke. Here is a Balans Duo, designed by Peter Opsvik.
For a while at the end of the 1990s Stokke collaborated with the producer of Voksi-posen, Bodil Korshamn. Depicted here is Kristine on a visit to Rindal to see the bag being manufactured. This venture did not last long.
Kristine Landmark and Karsten Larsen, who were responsible for Children in Denmark, ensuring that Sleepi is presented in the best possible way. Here they can be seen with shop owner Søren Lyager at BabySam in Svenstrup in Denmark in 2000.
Products that grow with the child
c ultures. Stokke's next product was d eveloped by the company in collaboration with two external d esigners, Susanne Grønlund and Klaus Hviid-Knudsen, and was designed to meet a child's basic needs for sleep and rest. The result was a bed called Sleepi which was ready to be launched at the Kind & Jugend exhibition in Cologne in 1999. Sleepi was a bit more than a traditional bed. It was a m obile resting product that grew with the child. It also had wheels so that it could be moved from room to room. Stokke's product catalogue provided information about why one would want a bed that was easy to move: “During the first six months, children do not usually have a fixed sleeping pattern. During that time it is a good idea for the child to sleep in its parents' room so that it can experience light and sound and learn the difference between night and day.” This echoes the Tripp Trapp philosophy: the chair moved the child up to the level of the adults sitting at the table, bringing the different generations closer together in an equal and harmonious relationship – and it grew with the child. Stokke was more successful than most other producers of children's equipment in reaching welleducated, resourceful parents with newly-acquired insight into children's emotional and intellectual needs. Psychologists have emphasised that a child's experience of security and closeness to its carers during its formative years is extremely important for the development of a harmonious personality. Stokke emerged as the best exponent of child-friendly home furniture. It thus looked as though one of the company's objectives, that of catching “the spirit of the times” before its competitors, had been achieved.
After its experiences with the copycat cases during the 1990s, S tokke started being much more scrupulous about documenting all contracts and all product developments. This also concerned development work on new products in the Children's collection which started in earnest in 1998. The company had no desire to develop large numbers of new products. Based on its highly ambitious objectives relating to the fulfilment of basic needs, u niqueness and quality, the company realised that it would take a long time to realise these products and that it would have to take one step at a time. Objectives were set whereby the company would design products covering four to six basic needs for c hildren in the 0–5 year age bracket within a few years. There was an important nuance which applied during the early stages of this p roduct development work. No-one ever said that they would design a bed. Instead the aim was to develop a product which would satisfy children's needs for sleep and rest. The first product to supplement the company's limited Children's collection, Voksi-posen, came from outside the c ompany in 1998. This grow bag/sleeping bag was developed by Bodil Korshamn from Rindal in Nordmøre in 1985. Like Stokke's Tripp Trapp chair, the bag grew with the child. It was an all-year-round bag which could be transformed very simply into a carrycot, and it could be used in a pram, a sledge and a bed from birth until the age of three or four. Voksi-posen had been awarded the N orwegian Design Council's Award for Good Design in 1996. When Stokke entered into this collaborative venture the bag was being produced by Ullkorga AS in Rindal, a company with 27 employees and an annual produc tion of 20,000 bags. It was anticipated that production could be increased substantially after the contract with Stokke was signed.205 This collaborative venture with Ullkorga did not last long because it was difficult to coordinate two companies with different business
Value added The Children's section was split off into a separate division in 1997. In 1999 the necessary steps were taken so that the whole group could be separated into divisions. One of the main reasons for
The Care changing table was launched in 2001.
Stokke® Sleepi™, Stokke® Keep™ and Stokke® Care™.
Sleepi Campus play tent (2001).
u ndertaking these changes in the company's management structure was the desire to free up resources for investment in future growth.206 Previously, the local company management had been left relatively to their own devices as regards implementing measures that they themselves regarded as necessary. Now all measures were to be put before the new management team in the group in which Kristine Landmark was the representative for the Children's Division. Even though Children both then and previously had made substantial contributions to the company's liquidity, this did not necessarily mean that self-generated funds could automatically be fully used by the division. However, the excellent profits posted by the division and the creativity that emerged in its product development work were reflected in its relationship with the group's management team and contributed towards anchoring it as one of the group's supporting divisions. The figures spoke clearly: after the Children's Division had found new distribution outlets, sales of Tripp Trapp chairs reached new heights. After the downturn in sales in 1998, sales rose steadily until they passed the 326,000 mark in 2001. The Movement Division suffered a definite reduction in sales, from 76,842 in 1998 to 67,684 in 2001. The Children's Division contributed a total of NOK 25 million towards the group's overall profit of NOK 29 million in 2000. The Movement Division did not make any positive contributions to these figures, although Wonderland did. On the basis of this situation, the Children's Division obtained approval to pursue its ambitious development project. The Tripp Trapp chair and Sleepi bed were the first couple of products to be incorporated in the company's children's collection. These were followed by the Care changing table and the Sleepi Campus play tent in 2001207 and the Keep storage system in 2004. Both Care and Keep could be adapted to suit the child as it grew and developed. The changing table had copied Tripp Trapp's attributes by enabling children and adults to be close to one another. The height of the table could be adjusted, and it could also be altered to accommodate other functions as the child grew. It could easily be changed into a desk, bookshelf, TV table, CD rack, etc. The basic products Sleepi, Care and Keep not only had extra functions and adjustment capabilities. A set of accessory products was also developed which were designed to accommodate fashions, customer satisfaction and not least help to increase turnover per transaction. These were all motivating factors for developing a comprehensive collection, and it was obviously more cost-effective to achieve an increase in each customer sale, thus helping to boost sales output and simplify order processing and invoicing. As already mentioned, the retailers preferred suppliers with good, high-profile product ranges because this facilitated sales developments and helped to simplify their administrative procedures.
One challenge that Stokke met in the market was that its children's furniture was more expensive than most of the alternatives. Stokke had to overcome this challenge by making consumers more aware of the added value of these products. If they purchased Sleepi they would no longer need to store their child's bed in a dark loft when the child was a couple of years old. The child's bed could be transformed into a junior bed, and later on perform other functions which actually incurred an additional investment. From an overall financial point of view, the purchase of an initially more expensive Stokke product would be beneficial in the long run. So Stokke was actually offering a complete collection for children's rooms, which also served to deepen and strengthen contact between parents and their children and promoted healthy child development, both mentally and physically.
Even stronger focus Tripp Trapp had become a strong brand name. It was not expected that Sleepi or Keep would acquire the same position in the awareness of potential customers, and unlike Tripp Trapp, no attempts were made to develop equivalent brand knowledge relating to these new products. Since the company's objective was to develop a complete collection designed to fulfil certain basic needs during a child's first year, there was no particular point in doing so either. The main idea was to develop a brand name that could send the desired signals to the market, and it was the name of the producer, Stokke, that was to perform this function. The brand name of Stokke was intended to create positive associations and promote confidence among customers all over the world. One problem with this brand name was that it was not exclusive to the Children's collection. Up until 2006, the Movement collection also went under this brand name. Stokke's 1980s logo was also linked strongly to furniture in this collection, since the slogan “Makes life worth sitting” appeared under the Stokke name. Like the Children's Division, the Movement Division had an inter national presence and profiling requirements, but its products were different – although its target group did not necessarily have to be very different. Parents with an eye for children's particular needs, would probably also be receptive to information about ergonomic and healthy furniture for adult bodies. Nevertheless, this is an area that was highlighted during the company's in-house strategy debates. It was gradually acknow ledged that a large product area like children's equipment for the global market would require maximum focus from a small Norwegian company like Stokke. This dawning acknowledgement became a pressing certainty during the process which resulted in the final product in the Childen's collection so far: the Xplory pram. This was an extremely resource-intensive project which extended over many years.
The Movement division goes new ways Inflexible movement? Stokke – “Makes life worth sitting” was the logo of Stokke Fabrikker when it was separated into two divisions in 1998 – Children and Movement. Ever since 1970, Stokke Fabrikker had been moving towards clarification of what was to become the company's image, and in 1986 the company management thought that they had found it. The company's main mission was to produce furniture that provided the body with movement and variation, as expressed in the motto in its logo. The Managing Director of Stokke Fabrikker up until 1995, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, was the architect behind this company philosophy. He thought that it was essential that the company should remain as one unit and that its activities should be channelled towards Stokke Fabrikker's unique contribution to the global furniture industry, i.e. products with an ergonomic design. This is why Hauge-Nilsen was hesitant about proposals put forward by the group management and owners to split the company's output into different product areas. The actual division of Stokke Fabrikker into the Children's and Movement divisions in 1998 represented a move away from the overall company philosophy supported by Hauge-Nilsen and several others. It was also the first step towards the removal of the motto “Makes life worth sitting” from Stokke's logo.
Movement to the Netherlands In 1997/98 it was not taken for granted that the Children's Division would form the basis of the new Stokke. Working with Movement products was still the most popular option, and the company management still wanted to focus on the unique characteristics of the company's movement and variation products because they thought that the company could make a decisive contribution towards the battle being waged by ordinary people against an enforced sedentary lifestyle. The Stokke group's 1998 annual report contains the following statement: “In our information society there are increasing numbers of people who are spending more time sitting down. The body cries out in longing to be able to move. People are forced to adjust to their chairs rather having their chairs adjust to them! A chair from Stokke Fabrikker welcomes people seeking variation and movement while sitting – in other words: everyone.”208 The Dutchman Wynand Mens was employed to run the Movement Division after the reorganisation. In order to achieve closer
proximity to the Division's main markets, it was decided that the centre for marketing activities in the Movement Division would be moved to Tilburg in the Netherlands. Wynand Mens made his debut at the large furniture exhibition in Cologne in 1998 where all attention was focused on the Movement collection. One measure implemented by Mens involved making drastic cuts in the number of retailers working for the company. He wanted to focus more heavily on the contract market since this market was easier to target. He narrowed down the company's product profiles and divided its products into different modules, earmarked for various market segments. One such module incorporated the Move chair, while another was called Activity and incorporated Balans Variable, Gravity and Thatsit. The former director of Stokke Fabrikker, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, was still keeping a close eye on the company and the industry and he was surprised about the changes implemented by Mens. Mens had previously been one of Hauge-Nilsen's strongest supporters in the European retailer network, and he had followed up by selecting and choosing dedicated retailers. Now he was turning everything upside down and making a pun out of his name Wynand – Why not? “Why not open things up?” asked Mens, “and let those who wanted to sell Stokke products do so”. However, important boundaries were nevertheless set for Stokke's retailers. In order to follow up the company's basic ideas relating to target groups, the retailers had to choose one of the modules. They were no longer allowed to present Stokke's entire product range. It became clear that the sales network measures initiated by Mens were not entirely successful. The group management received many protests from frustrated retailers. The management and owners of Stokke realised that the reorganisation had resulted in competing products encroaching on Movement's position in many shops.209 Out of loyalty to each other, many more retailers left than originally planned. Sales nosedived. Managing Director Kjell Storeide and Rune Stokke, who had taken over as the owner of Stokke Industri AS in 1997, were keen to address the situation relating to Movement which was largely responsible for Stokke Fabrikker's reduced profits in 1998. That year, Rune Stokke himself took over as the Manager of Movement and the divisional management was moved back to Håhjem.210 At the same time, Tor Norbye resigned as the Director of Stokke Fabrikker and was replaced by the former Director of Westnofa Industrier, Steinar Loe. Loe used his personal skills to help stabilise the situation at Stokke Fabrikker. He also helped to smooth relations between the plant management and top executives within the organisation, the Group Managing Director and owner.
92 % of Stokke Fabrikker's income came from foreign markets. It was therefore imperative to address the disturbance that had been created in the company's international distribution network, following the changes that were implemented in 1997. One measure involved t erminating the company's contract with its importer in the UK with immediate effect as of 1 January 1999. A new subsidiary, Stokke UK, was formed on the same date and this c ompany took over responsibility for the marketing and sales of Stokke's products. Stokke GmbH in Germany acquired new m anagement and Stokke increased its ownership stake in Stokke SRL in Italy from 52.5 % to 92 %. Stokke Movement's products were sold in 14 countries. Germany
hopefully increase market interest. This was demanding and timeconsuming work. Rune Stokke, who was responsible for Movement, realised that these products had considerable unexploited potential. The imbalance between the Children's and Movement divisions had become even more apparent. This situation was reflected in the company's 2001 annual report which showed an operating profit of NOK 260 million for the Children's Division compared to NOK 225 million the previous year, while the o perating profit for the Movement Division fell from NOK 138 million in 2000 to NOK132 million in 2001.211 Rune Stokke had already been asking about the reasons for these developments in 1998. With the help of
For a few years, Stokke Fabrikker had a permanent exhibition of its furniture for movement and variation at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen. The Garden furniture sculpture occupied a central place in the exhibition premises and served as an attraction for young and adult visitors. 1995.
Move. Design: Per Øie. Wynand Mens devoted considerable attention to Move after he took over as the manager of the Movement Division in 1997.
had been the company's largest market ever since the company's failure to enter the American market during the middle of the 1980s. There were many consumers in the Netherlands, the UK, Spain and Italy who were fascinated by the Movement philosophy. Even though the company's children's and movement furniture had separate marketing and sales divisions, this did not necessarily mean that there was a watertight bulkhead between them. The stable income generated by the Tripp Trapp chair was still being used to maintain and develop the Movement collection. The two divisions also had common product development which was managed by Kjell Heggdal until Bjørn Refsum was appointed PD Manager. During the first few years after 1997 the Movement division received a generous proportion of the company's r esources in order to develop new products which could maintain and
the company's sales personnel and the management of Stokke Fabrikker he prepared some simple market analyses in an attempt to discover the cause of the problem. One of the answers they received was that the immediate sales appeal of many of the products in the Movement collection was not large enough – the visual design language was too specialised for many people. As a customer-oriented company owner, he realised that a shop's most important promotional sales, occurred during the first few seconds after a customer had entered the shop. If what the customer saw did not appeal to his/her senses, there was often no sale. Rune Stokke therefore concluded that as far as broad customer groups were concerned, it was important to have products with an aesthetic expression that created an immediate emotional impact. Rune Stokke had also observed something else: “At the same time
we observed that an increasing amount of shop space was being devoted to reclining chairs, that their prices were improving steadily and that the concepts were becoming increasingly more alike. So there should be plenty of scope for a separate Movement concept in this area.” This therefore paved the way for including furniture in the company's collection which not only, and primarily, had an ergonomic mission, but in which style also played a role. However, this did not mean that the company made a sudden U-turn from functional to aesthetic forms of expression. Market surveys had confirmed that the Division's basic concept was correct.212 All the Division wanted was to indulge in greater
tings were created – a simple one for small chairs and a threestage one for larger chairs. The first product to feature the Movement collection's new aesthetic profile was the Peel chair, designed by Olav Eldøy. This chair was a bold “Kinder Egg” where an attempt had been made to combine several features in one product. Basically, the Peel is a reclining chair and there was definitely a market for reclining chairs with a high design profile. Consumers interested in design had indicated that they were not satisfied with the reclining chairs available on the market in the year 2000. Most of the reclining chairs, or recliners, were the same and had mainly been inspired by Ekornes' Stressless. Peel was also
Former PD Manager at Stokke Fabrikker, Kjell Heggdal, and Production Manager Egil Hanken in conversation with a customer at a furniture exhibition. For a number of years Kjell Heggdal had been responsible for creating Stokke's stands at furniture exhibitions.
Turid Stokke has also had close contact with the furniture environment over the years. She is depicted here at a furniture collection in Oslo in 1997 with, from the left, Kåre, Steinar Loe, Kjell Storeide and Arne Seljeflot.
freedom of expression, compared to the stylistic constraints previously imposed by the company's ergonomic furniture, e.g. its Balans products, where the stylistic options were actually limited by the chair's runners. Rune has the following comments about how he experienced these readjustments: “Reorganising the collection was a relatively lonely path to go down. There was a lot of scepticism and relatively little support to be had.”
esigned to satisfy consumer requirements for movement and d variation. Its movement was different to that provided by chairs with runners, i.e. a forward-tilting and active sitting position. Stokke's product developers and the management of Movement realised that the requirement for movement and variation also applied when the user was sitting in a relaxed position. Even when we are lying flat in bed, we are always moving as we try to find our next, and best, position!
Rest and movement In order to prepare for the development of furniture with good movement functions and innovative aesthetic appeal, two new fit-
When the Peel was launched in 2002 Stokke's presentation showed that it was important for the company to link Peel to the basic values associated with its established Movement collection: “This chair has been designed by our designer Olav Eldøy, and it is a chair which offers more than just comfort. It complies with Stokke
Stokke Date. Design: Olav Eldøy. This chair provides maximum comfort on a small sitting surface. A built-in spring mechanism enables the chair to follow the user's movements.
Movement's basic values; inviting sitting solutions which satisfy everyone's need for movement and variation when sitting down. The movement and balance of the chair is maintained by a double spring system, developed by the designer Ole Petter Wullum.”213 Inventas AS in Trondheim developed the spring system further prior to the launch. This chair was also presented at the exhibition in Cologne – in 2002. It was the unveiling of eight Peel chairs in different colours that was Stokke's main attraction in Cologne that year, as was the presenta- tion of the Xplory pram in the same city the following year. A report about the event in Stokke's news magazine states that the chairs “revealed themselves to customers taken by surprise”. 214 The fact that Stokke's children's collection was no longer being sold through the furniture outlets was evident, because it had been relegated to a small 20 m2 corner, while the Movement collection occupied a spacious 210 m2 area at the exhibition.
Peel not only received verbal praise – it also sold well during the first year. This chair was largely responsible for a 9 % increase in turnover for the Movement Division in 2002. Commenting in the company's in-house news magazine, Managing Director Kjell Storeide said that this just shows how important good products are for achieving success in the furniture industry.215 We might add that it is also important to have products that have immediate sales appeal. Peel attracted instantaneous interest and attention. This chair, shaped like unfolded orange peel, is like no other chair in the reclining chair segment. It invites customers to come closer, to study it and to try it. Because it attracted immediate attention, Stokke's retailers were able to tell a story and thus create the right setting for a sale. Rune Stokke's version of events is as follows: “The fact that Movement acquired its own PD Manager in 2001 – Tor Rønnestad – helped to ensure the development and success of Peel. During the three previous years, less priority was placed on Movement than on our Children's projects – understandably enough.”
Stokke Peel. Design: Olav Eldøy. After Rune Stokke took over as the Manager of the Movement Division in 1998, he started to expand the range of products that, in addition to their movement functions, could also create an immediate aesthetic impact. The Peel chair is perhaps the most successful result of this work. The design of the chair is inspired by unfolded orange peel.
Planet was designed by Sven Ivar Dysthe in 1965 and produced by Møre Lenestolfabrikk/Møremøbler. After Stokke took over the company, this model was re-launched and given an additional function in the form of a patented tilting mechanism.
Emphasis on aesthetics Movement followed up with an exciting new launch at the furniture exhibition in Cologne in 2003 when the Date dining chair, designed by Olav Eldøy, was unveiled. The exterior features of this chair seemed to be an obvious departure from the core values of the Movement Division, but the tilt principle, which had previously been linked to runners at floor level, had instead been incorporated into its seat so that users could move the seat and back by a djusting their weight. Nevertheless, it was probably this chair's slim, aesthetic expression rather than its movement pattern which was most appealing. This applied to an even greater extent to the retro model Planet, designed by Sven Ivar Dysthe, which Stokke Movement included in its collection in 2004 under a joint venture with Fora Form. Planet also had a movable dimension because it had been equipped with a tilting mechanism.
Sales of these new products, Peel, Date and Planet, developed in a positive direction during the next few years, while the classic Movement collection went into permanent decline. In 2003 this decline was so great that the Movement Division's overall sales developments were negative compared with the previous year.216 In hindsight, critics of Movement's new direction towards more design-oriented products could only say that that was how things were meant to be. As experienced previously by Stokke's management, the classical movement furniture in the Balans series and Move were sales-intensive. They required specialist expertise in the sales network, as well as a conviction that such furniture was the right furniture for people with active bodies. By focusing more on the aesthetic aspects, people could be forgiven for thinking that the company doubted the essence of its message. Perhaps the communication of the physical aspects of ergonomics and function requires different skills than the communication of visual values?
TOK was launched in 2004 and provided further proof of the fact that Stokke's Movement Division wanted to and were able to combine aesthetics and function. TOK was designed by the world-renowned Japanese designer Toshiyuki Kita.
Sale of Movement However, right up until 2004, Stokke believed that Movement's negative trend could be turned around by concentrating on models, like Peel, that combined aesthetics and function. Further efforts were made with the launch of the reclining chair, TOK, in 2004. TOK had been designed by the Japanese designer Toshiuyki Kita, who was introduced with great enthusiasm at the furniture exhibition in Milan in April 2004. In its capacity as the only Norwegian exhibitor, Stokke received considerable attention at this exhibition.217 However, despite the retailers' favourable response to TOK, there was little improvement in Movement's overall profits in either 2004 or 2005. One of the problems was that Stokke did not have enough retailers who were able to sell products in this price range. Stokke had tried to supplement its traditional collection with new models which it hoped there would be a demand for. When
this failed to materialise, the Board came to the conclusion that it would be best to sell the Movement Division. Geir Løseth, who had been the Director of Finance at Stokke Gruppen AS and Stokke AS since 2000, took part in the discussions relating to the future of the Movement Division. He discovered that it was not going to be easy to dispose of the Movement Division due to the emotional/ existential and technical/financial aspects involved. The Movement furniture had been Stokke's flagship for the last twenty years and the company's identity had been built up around it. It was now being replaced with something new. The Chairman of the Board, Even Wahr-Hansen, noticed that Kåre Stokke was the least sentimental about it, saying that it would have to go if it could not make a profit. However, Geir Løseth remembers that there were also technical challenges that were equally demanding. He had previously participated in negotiations with potential buyers of Wonderland and Fora Form, and these had been relatively straightforward processes because the specialist operations of these
c ompanies stood on their own feet and they had their own PD divisions and their own sales networks. Children and Movement had a history as two parts of the same company, Stokke Fabrikker AS, and they were fused into one another in a totally different m anner. Not only were they under the same roof, but they also had common departments for product development, common sales networks in many countries and a common brand name. After 2000 the company had deliberately coordinated the activities of Children and Movement in order to achieve coordinated output where possible. When selling Movement appeared as the most likely o ption, this process had to be reversed, and this required a high degree of flexibility on the part of the management and employees. One thing that complicated the separation of Movement was that the c ompany took in more than 50 % of the turnover of the Stokke-owned c ompany, Tennfjord Laminering. If Movement was ultimately closed down there was a chance that Tennfjord Laminering would also have to be closed, and this would be a heavy loss for Stokke. In addition, Fora Form would lose its main supplier of laminates. This highlights just how difficult demergers can be in integrated groups, and it also explains why the Stokke management put so much effort into trying to sell Movement as an active and future-oriented c ompany.
Variér and Credo Partners
and a new Movement company, Variér, owned by Stokke and C redo Partners, was formed on 1 July 2006. This company thus acquired the opportunity to focus fully on its own segment, just like when the Children's Division acquired a similar opportunity in the new Stokke AS. Variér has also maintained contact with Stokke after the demerger – not just by virtue of the companies' common location at Håhjem and the joint ownership of the Stokke family in Varièr. Stokke is still included in the brand name. Up until 1 July 2008, the Movement collection will be marketed by Stokke under the Variér brand name. It is undoubtedly an advantage for a new company such as Variér to receive help on the market by being connected to a well- established in brand name. For Stokke AS, which had just started to establish its image as a children's equipment producer, such a link could be slightly difficult since it could cause confusion about Stokke's position. On the other hand, the marketing of Stokke's name on a broader front in a market segment where Stokke felt at home was regarded as being beneficial. Both the children's equipment producer Stokke and the Movement producer Variér, were offering ingenious and unique products with a care dimension, i.e. care for newborn babies and infants, and care for fragile human bodies. In 2007 Variér was marketed as follows by the Sanz furniture chain: “Variér uses its experience to provide you with intelligent solutions that actually look after you while you are sitting down.” 218 A bridge was thus built between the two companies which were nevertheless expected to develop independently.
Although the demerger process was demanding, it was successful,
Fora Form, a separate limited liability company Rune Stokke left his job as the Sales and Marketing Manager of Fora Form during the autumn of 1997, the same year that he took over the controlling shares in the Stokke group from his father. Fora Form continued along the same lines as previously until the year 2000 when it was affected by the reorganisation of the company. Fora Form then became one of four different market divisions. At the same time, a separate Production Division was established, and this marked the commencement of a process designed to close down woodwork production at Fora Form in Ørsta. Stokke as a company stood to benefit considerably from coordinating the company's various types of production. In addition, the production plant at Fora Form was run down and its production flow was not good enough to satisfy the requirements being imposed on industrial
manufacturers in Norway. These production conditions were no doubt partly responsible for the fact that Fora Form's 1998 and 1999 financial results were lower than expected. In 1999 the company's operating deficit amounted to NOK 6.1 million.219
Essential changes The main motivation for refurbishing the company's factory facilities at Ørsta was the company's desire to improve physical production conditions. The building had been erected in two stages, the first in the 1930s and the second in the 1950s, and it had been adapted
In 1997 factory owner Bård Hemminghytt and Director Steinar Gjertsen at Fora Form decided that it was time to build a new production facility for the long-standing Ørsta company. They are depicted here in the oldest part of the factory, which dates back to 1938.
The Stokke companies were often visited by various delegations. The company was interesting both because of its successful design and export investments, and because its factories gradually became highly productive and rational. Here, Kjell Stordal is showing a delegation of politicians from the county of Møre and Romsdal around Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk in 1997. Taking part were, from the left, Petter Løvik, Margrethe Tennfjord, Aud Folkestad and Harald Tom Nesvik.
Since 1988, Ivar Sandnes has been the main architect behind the development of Stokke's new logistics system. Here he is discussing a technical feature with Ove Telseth at the Tennfjord branch.
Fora Form enjoyed a strong position in Norwegian design circles and this was a fortunate position to be in since professional designers were often key members on the procurement committees of public companies calling for tenders. Fora Form celebrated its 70th anniversary during Designers' Saturday in 1999 by holding an exhibition displaying the work of all the 56 designers who had worked for Fora Form. Thirty of the designers were present when the exhibition opened.
to accommodate completely different requirements to those that were being stipulated towards the end of the 1990s. The building consisted of 4 storeys, and in some parts of the factory the roof was too low for using suitable modern production equipment. Two alternatives were available; either significant modernisation of the existing premises, which would also include having to demolish the oldest part, or the construction of a new factory in a different location. Modernisation would solve the problems in the shortterm, but would not allow for future expansion.220 In the autumn of 1997 the factory management asked the municipality of Ørsta and the neighbouring municipality of Volda to present location proposals for a new factory building. Their approach was based on discussions held between the owners and the Board of the company. The Board had been unable to agree about a solution for Ørsta, but initially put its doubts to one aside pending the establishment of a dialogue with the municipality of Ørsta about terms for continued development and a potential new factory in the municipality. It became apparent that the municipality of Ørsta was prepared to do its utmost to keep Fora Form. At one stage the neighbouring municipality of Volda was also involved in these discussions and offered a specific site for Fora Form's new building. At that time the municipality of Ørsta had no specific sites suitable for industrial purposes. Stokke gave the municipalities a deadline of March 1998 to make their offers. The municipality of Ørsta held an extraordinary meeting in January in an attempt to keep updated about its neighbouring municipality and competitor, Volda. At this meeting it was decided that a former agricultural area at Mosflatene would be regulated for industry and service purposes. There was broad political support for this decision from the members of the municipal council.221 Fora Form had no specific views about which municipality it should be based in. Ørsta and Volda shared a common labour market and there was only a 5-minute drive between the two most likely locations. However, it turned out that Fora Form really wanted to remain in Ørsta. When the regulation process was delayed, the company offered Ørsta a slightly longer deadline for its final location offer, initially until 2000.222 Another reason why Fora Form's building project at Ørsta did not progress as planned, was the above mentioned reorganisation of the Stokke group's production system. Five former production units were reduced to four – Ørsta, Tennfjord, Stranda and Håhjem. One of the consequences of this was that Fora Form's production of laminates and other woodwork
at Ørsta was discontinued and moved to Stokke's factory in Tennfjorden. Vatne's previous upholstery and stitching operations were moved to Ørsta. These measures were based on operational and financial assessments. The group management deemed it irrational to have several functions at each factory. By concentrating production on various specialist areas, it was possible to maximise the volume in each area and thus achieve economies of scale. It was not until 2004 that Fora Form was able to start using the new factory at Ørsta. Fora Form had by then been one of Stokke AS' business areas for four years. Tennfjord's specialist status as a pure laminates manufacturer, meant that the production of woodwork and visible solid wooden components previously manufactured by Tennfjord, was now outsourced to external subcontractors. When the production of laminates at Fora Form was discontinued, Tennfjord invested in heat presses which, unlike ordinary high- frequency heat presses, utilised new technology. The use of heat presses was eminently suitable for compressing thin-shelled laminates which were incorporated in a number of items in Fora Form's product range.223 The restructuring of the Stokke group was, as the management saw it, a necessary response to the framework conditions offered to Norwegian industry. At the beginning of the new millennium, unemployment was low in Norway. There was still an unfulfilled demand for employees in the public sector, particularly the caring professions, and this helped to keep Norwegian wages at a relatively high level. In 2001/2002 pressure on the Norwegian economy was generally high due to high oil prices and a high dollar exchange rate. As a result the Governor of Norges Bank (the central bank of Norway), Svein Gjedrem, warned that some parts of Norwegian industry could experience problems if this pressure remained high. Competitive industries could face higher costs than they could handle due to competition from countries with lower costs and less pressurised economies. Gjedrem was particularly concerned about the furniture industry with its high level of processing and high wages and salaries. Group Manager Kjell A. Storeide saw the same threats as G jedrem, but felt that Norwegian industrial companies with active countermeasures could be proactive and competitive despite w arnings to the contrary: “If Norwegian costs increase more than those of our competitors, we must compensate by becoming more rational than our competitors. This can be done by using the most modern
Spring. Design: Terje Hope. 1986. Producer: Møremøbler/Fora Form. This chair exquisitely combines ergonomic functions with an elegant, sculptured shape. It has the same design as the Prime Minister's chair which is to be found in the Ministry Chamber in the Prime Minister's office. Spring is used as a conference chair by the Arts Council Norway.
Fora Form was able to start using its new production premises at Mosflatene in Ørsta in December 2004.
The Manager of Fora Form, Gunnar Hareide, in a Loop. Design: Johan Verde.
Loyal workers at Fora Form's division at Stranda. In 1998 they received medals from the Royal Norwegian Society for Development for having worked for the company for 30 years. Front row, from the left; Hans Petter Ringstad, Magne Gjerde, Eilert Sundal and Arne Naustdal. Rear row, from the left; Inge Langlo, Leif Stokkeland, Steinar Gjertsen, Stranda's former Mayor Anne Lise Lunde, Gjermund Stokkeland and Kjell Storeide who all contributed to an important ceremony.
technological equipment, constantly improving planning and control systems, concentrating production in order to fully exploit installations and equipment, and boosting the expertise and specialist knowledge of our employees, etc. Our investment in a cutting edge laminates factory in Tennfjord will help to increase our competitive abilities, despite the fact that we are in a high-cost country. The same applies to our investment in a new factory at Ørsta.”224 In this area Stokke has shown more foresight than many other Norwegian furniture companies. Stokke's main product, the Tripp Trapp chair, had been produced in Eastern Europe ever since 1973. The production of Tripp Trapp components was not particularly demanding from a technological point of view, and there was a good chance that the financial returns from this high-volume production could be increased if the unit costs were kept low. This could probably be best achieved in a low-cost country like Yugoslavia. Stokke had always kept an eye on production logistics, but it was not until the 1990s that this aspect was followed up in a more systematic way. In cooperation with SINTEF in Trondheim, the group undertook a critical evaluation of its production, its available and feasible production locations, its available technology and expertise, in the context of the general framework conditions relating to industrial production which existed in Norway and elsewhere. As a result of this evaluation, Stokke defined a few core areas which the company would focus on, where the conditions for optimising production flow were best, and where heavy invest ments could be defended even in the light of high Norwegian costs. The production of laminates became an area of investment which Stokke wanted to take in a new direction. Other components were thus outsourced to other producers both at home and abroad. Ivar Sandnes, the Production Manager at Stokke Fabrikker since 1998, had been the main architect behind Stokke's production and logistics concept during the previous few years. Since 2006, he has held the title of Production and Outsourcing Manager. The equal status given to the two elements, production and outsourcing, says something important about the conditions which apply to modern industrial production in Norway.
New factory? As a result of the clarification that was obtained by moving the company's laminates production, Stokke and Fora Form were able to pursue their plans to replace the old factory premises in Strandgata with a new building. Throughout the planning process, Stokke experienced a great willingness on the part of the munici pality of Ørsta to find a solution which would secure Fora Form's future. The Stokke management had put their cards on the table and presented various alternatives, including such scenarios as further
downscaling and the possible discontinuation of production in Ørsta. Up until that time, Fora Form had been a loss-making project for its owners, but the company had a powerful market position for contract furniture in Norway, and its export efforts were starting to look promising. So if a site solution could be found, many people were very interested in pursuing this commitment in Ørsta, despite the scepticism of the Board of the Stokke group. The owner, Rune Stokke, was one of the sceptics because of Fora Form's profit developments over the past few years. The company's accounts had long been showing a loss. He doubted that a new factory would be enough to change these developments. Group Manager Kjell Storeide was the one who fought hardest for giving Fora Form another chance. In his view the only way to make Fora Form profitable was to build a new factory. According to Storeide, the Fora Form concept was far too good to suffer a silent death, and building a rational and modern factory would be an advantage, regardless of whether or not Stokke kept Fora Form or found someone to take over the business. The Stokke Board eventually agreed with his sentiments. The fact that reaching a decision took time was not really a disadvantage. In the end, what was realised was a sound project, both financially and risk-wise.225
Contributions from Ørsta municipality Stokke and the municipality of Ørsta municipality reached agreement at a municipal meeting in March 2002. After the meeting everything was set for planning and building a 6,000 m2 factory at Mosflatene, which by then had been deregulated to an industrial and service area. The building work would be carried out by a property development company into which Stokke and the municipality of Ørsta would each inject NOK 4 million in share capital. The estimated cost of the building was NOK 30–35 million, which Stokke would pay off by paying fixed annual rent. The final sum ended up being NOK 38 million, plus NOK 7 million which was invested in machinery and equipment. The Manager of the Fora Form Division since 1999, Gunnar Hareide, was full of praise for the municipality of Ørsta which had remained true to its best industrial traditions by participating in the joint effort to save Fora Form. This company is a continuation of Møre Lenestolfabrikk which started up in rented accommodation in Ørsta's former municipal building in 1931. In September 2004, everything was set for the big move. Fora Form was the last industrial business to move from Strandgata where just a few years earlier there had been furniture, wood and hosiery factories. Sewing machine operator Åse Johanne Riise explained how she was both excited and nervous about leaving the
well-used factory premises: “The old stitching room had almost become a home to us. I was on 7 krone and 2 øre an hour when I started in January 1968, and the stitching rooms and I have moved several times since then. But never as far as this.”226 The new factory enabled Fora Form to double its production capacity, and everything had been organised with all activities on one floor so that operations would be much more efficient. When the factory opened, Production Manager Jan Emblemsvåg stated that it had been constructed to eliminate as many non-productive activities as possible, such as walking backwards and forwards, searching and transporting components from one place to another. The greatest investments made were on a new computer-operated transport system, a new warehouse system and a new, advanced forklift truck.227 Emblemsvåg also emphasised the future-orientated company layout during the formal factory opening in December 2004: “Because Fora Form has such an extensive product range, we need to be constantly changing our production solutions. For example, there are no permanent storage places in the new factory. It has a so-called flowing warehouse system. Without the product flow, warehouse and production solutions that we have introduced, the production area might have had to have been doubled.”228 This is how a modern furniture company was able to adapt in a highcost country like Norway in 2004. During the planning stages it became apparent that extra space would be needed in order to accommodate the administrative section. Originally, most of the company's administrative work was supposed to have been carried out at the group administration office at Håhjem,229 but in 2004, Fora Form was separated out as an independent company with a new ownership structure as a result of Stokke AS' decision to focus mainly on equipment for the baby market. The owners of Stokke, Single Holding, were left with 51 % of the shares in Fora Form; Kjell Storeide took over 16 %, whereas Manager Gunnar Hareide and other company employees received 33 %. Fora Form's capital requirement during the restructuring and building period was partly mitigated by Stokke's contribution of a NOK 22.5 million loan. As far as the table factory at Stranda was concerned, these organisational adjustments did not lead to any immediate changes, but in 2006 the manufacturing of tables c eased and Fora Form sold the factory to a neighbouring company on the Svemorka industrial estate; Norsk Sjømat.230 Stokke had thus restructured a commitment which had never been a financial success. Even in 2002 the group's annual report stated that Fora Form's operating profits had been weakened and that profitability was unsatisfactory. However, the relief felt after disposing of this commitment was different to that experienced, when a good buyer was found for Vågå Bruk. Fora Form had, and
still has, world class design products, and was the leading player in the Norwegian contract market, which, to be fair, was limited, but nevertheless expected to develop well in the future. It was thought that more could be achieved on the export market, despite the logistics challenges involved in the transportation of heavy furniture. By retaining some ownership stakes in Fora Form, the Stokke family demonstrated their faith in its potential for development. However, Stokke was convinced that it would be best for both parties if it focused as much as possible on its remaining core activities while Fora Form devoted itself fully to its own activities.
Progress under new owners One of the greatest challenges associated with Fora Form's future activities at Ørsta was what to do with the old factory building. The 2002 agreement stipulated that the municipality of Ørsta and Stokke would be joint owners of this building and it would be called Ørsta Storsenter AS. As the name indicates, the owners were hoping to develop the premises into a shopping centre. The municipality was probably not the right partner to help realise a project like this. Stokke started to realise that although the municipality was supposed to help trade and industry, it was also supposed to avoid direct involvement in specific development projects. It soon became apparent that many politicians wanted the municipality to pull out of its involvement in the property development company, even if this meant losing its share capital of NOK 5.1 million. In November 2005, not long after the municipality pulled out of the project, Stokke sold the property to a local group of buyers who were planning to develop the building in order to accommodate businesses, offices and flats.231 With effect from the summer of 2005, Fora Form's results started to show a significant improvement, although it is not certain whether this could be attributed to its narrower focus after it was separated out, the loss of its “rich benefactor”, or the improved economic situation. The Board, management and employees pushed themselves to the limit during the early spring of that year, when it started to become obvious that the company was heading for another year of substantial losses. Since 2001, the company's annual accounts had been showing red figures, and this was not solely due to the somewhat clumsy production logistics at the old factory premises. It was an international trend which became apparent in the wake of the attack on New York and the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. Investments in companies requiring contract furniture suffered a significant decline and there were fewer new buildings to tender for. Up until 2004 there had been an accumulation in demand from the market which had benefited the new owners of Fora Form. Manager Gunnar Hareide and his highly
City, design: Øyvind Iversen. This 1954 chair model was re-launched during the Stockholm International Fair in 2007 and has already been selling well for its new owners, Fora Form.
otivated team have turned Fora Form into a supplier of meeting m room furniture with a very strong image. The business has focused less on individual products and more on complete, integrated room solutions. This conceptbuilding has yielded good results, and Fora Form has retained its prominent position on the Norwegian market for public interior design solutions, and its exports are increasing.
In 2007, the Stokke family sold further shares in Fora Form AS. In June that year, the privately owned equity firm Credo Partners became the main shareholder of the company, leaving the Stokke family's Single Holding AS with an ownership stake of 19.3 %. Kjell Storeide owns a similar stake through Borgund Industri AS. The remaining 18 % is owned by the management and employees of the company.
Westnofa Industrier stands on its own feet Order-controlled production The generation change at Stokke in 1997 coincided with a difficult period for Westnofa in Åndalsnes which was struggling with financial problems. There was no direct correlation with the generation change, but it gave the group management the grounds and motivation it needed to become more active in Westnofa's general situation. One of the main conclusions of Jan Erik Vahlne's strategy evaluation in 1996/97, which was supported by the group management and the Board, was that Stokke should concentrate on activities involving contact with end users. The production of industrial foam did not fit into these plans and the management of Stokke consequently intensified their search for potential buyers of the industrial foam unit. They simultaneously also considered transferring all or some of these activities to Åndalsnes. However, it was concluded that there was so much to be gained from
r estructuring the company's logistics and production operations at Åndalsnes that the safest option would be to remain and continue developments in the municipality of Rauma. Another deciding factor, apart from the municipality being an excellent joint venture partner, was the fact that a complete industrial environment with unique foam rubber and mattress production expertise had been developed there over a period of many years. As regards mattress production, the greatest efficiency benefits would be realised by switching over to the production of items in response to orders, instead of manufacturing them and then storing them in a warehouse. Pending the sale of the foam rubber division, production was rationalised as much as possible. The entire warehouse was cut out and the company's machinery was upgraded to handle a higher degree of order- controlled p roduction. Equipment technology was boosted and
Odd Slettaøyen has been with Westnofa/Wonderland right from the start, and his creativity and enthusiasm have made him a key figure in the success of this mattress manufacturer. He is depicted here promoting one of Wonderland's mattresses; “A good night's sleep starts here”.
Foam rubber production in Åndalsnes, showing the production of Celtex, an environment-friendly material.
NOK 46 million was spent on the upgrade as well as on a general expansion of production capacity. The latter was mainly achieved by erecting a new 3,600 m2 factory in connection with the existing mattress factory. The new building was used for forwarding and storing raw materials, and the former finished goods warehouse was converted into production premises. The local government in Rauma had been informed that Stokke was undertaking a critical evaluation of its involvement in Åndalsnes, and that a scaling down of production could be the result. They were therefore delighted when the acting Manager at Westnofa, Jørn Nes, was able to announce a positive decision. With 180 employees, this company was the largest privately owned employer in the municipality. In September 1998 the local news paper, Romsdals Budstikke, reported that modernisation of the factory could provide extra jobs.232 Four people at Westnofa were responsible for planning and implementing the new order-controlled production model; Project Manager Tore Lillebstad, Manager Jørn Nes, Technical Manager Ove Sørvik and Production Manager Oddleif Østigård.
reduce wastage, attempts were also being made to develop foam types that could attract new customer groups. Its 1998 product range consisted of 10 different grades, ranging from very soft to very hard. More finely adjusted grades, combined with cheaper raw materials, provided Westnofa with new opportunities on the market, enabling the company to approach manufacturers of cheaper furniture.233 However, despite creative product developments and continued market adjustments, the industrial foam division remained a financial risk. It was immediately affected by fluctuations in the general furniture market, and the stagnation tendencies in this market continued into the beginning of the new millennium. During these years, the furniture industry struggled with unstable interest rates. Periodic increases in interest rates and a strong Norwegian krone against foreign currencies, put pressure on the margins of furniture companies, especially those exporting goods. Westnofa's accounts showed a drop in turnover in both 1998 and 1999. The group's annual report attributed the 1999 reduction to heavy fluctuations in orders, which thus resulted in inefficient operations.234
Troublesome industrial foam The production of mattresses and industrial foam was subjected to scrutiny in connection with the above-mentioned project. The production of industrial foam was also affected by another problem: high wastage levels. By investing in new technology, wastage was reduced by 2–3 % prior to the summer of 1998. Marketing and Product Development Manager Terje Klauseth informed Stokke's in-house newspaper that this would mean saving more than NOK 1 million per year. While the company was trying to
Out of industrial foam The divisionalisation of the Stokke group in 2000 was based on a desire to promote unity and coordination in the company. As in 1997, the group management and Board's expressed goal had been to phase out the production of industrial foam. This was not because the group management was dissatisfied with devel opments in Åndalsnes and was unable to see any opportunities in this business area, but because they did not fit in with the
Important figures at Wonderland in the Scandinavian market in 2000. From the left: Kurt Arild Dahle; Carl-Erik Jarlesäther, Sweden; Jimmy Ramstrøm, Sweden; Pertuu Hietanen, Finland; Jørn Nes; Odd Slettaøyen and Keld Hansen, Denmark. The business was sold out of the Stokke group in 2004 and it has been doing well ever since.
Showing the production of mattresses at Wonderland's facility in Å ndalsnes. Here springs are being sewn into bags to provide maximum comfort.
consumer-orientated model that Stokke wished to cultivate. Throughout the 1990s, Stokke searched for potential allies with experience in the foam rubber sector. One of the companies approached was Ekornes. Both Stokke and Ekornes were involved in the production of foam rubber, involving both moulding and cutting blocks. In 1990, the two companies attempted to coordinate this production. The idea was that they could exploit a shared production facility in order to rationalise foam rubber production as much as possible. This was seen as desirable b ecause the Norwegian market for foam rubber was very limited.
Longing for transparency The development of new products was also a prioritised area for the mattress producer Wonderland. It was expensive to stay ahead in a market area which around the year 2000 was characterised by bold product innovations. The most demanding task involved developing mattresses which could be adjusted so that consumers could move from a reclining to a sitting position in one continuous movement.
It was Brekke Industri at Melhus near Trondheim who won the bid for Westnofa. Brekke had become one of the largest Norwegian suppliers of block foam and foam mattresses. In 2000, an agreement was reached between the Stokke group and Brekke Industri regarding the sale, although the Stokke group initially retained a 20 % stake in the new Westnofa Industrier AS. The transfer took effect on 1 January 2001.235 The profit from the sale of Westnofa was NOK 17 million, which was useful for Stokke during a period marked by high product development costs, continuous group efficiency and reorganisation measures and low profitability in respect of operations.
As far as the mattress producer Wonderland was concerned, it was in many ways beneficial that the company had been d emerged out of Westnofa Industrier AS, to become a separate marketing division within the Stokke group. This contributed towards a greater degree of transparency in respect of its marketing work. It had always been difficult for the market to keep the two production areas separate – Westnofa and Wonderland blended into each other. When a company is attempting to develop a clear image, such ambiguity is unfortunate. The next Divisional Manager of Wonderland, Jørn Nes, used this as his main argument when trying to explain why a demerger would be a good move: “Building a brand requires a focused effort. We have been on the point of m aking this happen for a long time, but we have been slightly impeded. It is important for us to retain our position as one of the leading mattress suppliers in Norway and simultaneously increase our market shares in the Nordic countries. The new organisation will better equip us to deal with this task.”237
The foam rubber producer in Åndalsnes continued to retain strong ties with Stokke, even after the sale. In 2000, NOK 40 million of Westnofa's NOK 90 million turnover was derived from b usinesses in 236 the Stokke group.
In 2001, Wonderland was thus one of Stokke's four main areas of operation. Children was the area which performed best, both in respect of profits and volumes, being responsible for 38 % of the group's operating income. However, for several years Wonderland
Neither this nor other advances made to Norwegian foam rubber manufacturers produced any specific results until 2000. The reorganisation in 1999/2000 made it easier to sell the foam rubber division.
had also been a stable net contributor to the group and was responsible for 24 % of its operating income in 2001.238 Even so, at that time there was a certain amount of concern that mattress sales would continue to decline and that profits were not as high as they had been previously. In 2001, the accounts showed a deficit for the first time in many years. Discussing which measures to implement in order to turn around a downward spiralling trend was a recurrent topic for the group's board, and in 2002
healthy focus and felt secure in the stable environment of a family company, particularly from a financial point of view. After 2000 there was a greater degree of coordination and joint management meetings were held for every business area. We had to attend meetings which addressed highly diverse problems and c hallenges. The manufacturers of children's equipment, contract furniture, mattresses and laminated wood do not have much in common. The company was evolving in too many directions. There was not a lot we could offer each other.”241
Positive attention Wonderland placed great emphasis on having a good relationship with its sales network. The company was responsible for contact with its customers, and failure to nurture this part of the value chain could have an immediate impact on production. In 2002, Wonderland succeeded so well in this respect that the company scored top marks in a quality survey of the Norwegian furniture sector carried out by Sentor Gruppen AS. This survey evaluated how producers were perceived by the retailers in various areas. Wonderland scored particularly high for its service, its handling of complaints, its quality and its speedy deliveries. Wonderland also ranked highly in respect of its designs and product development. Only Slettvoll was ranked above Wonderland with regard to design quality in this 2002 survey.
Wonderland's results did not arrive overnight. The company experienced, as many had before them, that it takes a long time to gain a secure foothold among retailers and in the market. Wonderland's management received a wake-up call four years prior to the above-mentioned survey. At that time, a consumer survey had shown that many people had heard about Wonderland, but few of them knew that it was a mattress. Contact was made with InterAction Gruppen in Oslo who specialised in brand building. A few key values were defined which Wonderland could be associated with, e.g. branding its mattresses as quality products both inside and out.240 The results achieved in 2002 show that this brand building had been successful over a r elatively short period of time.
onderland was consequently separated out as an independent, W 100 %-owned subsidiary of Stokke AS.239
The owner and Group Manager held a somewhat different view. Divisionalisation resulted in far better opportunities for coordi nated group control. One level of management was also eliminated within the organisation, with all operational threads being gathered by the CEO who also became the Chairman of the Board of the group's subsidiaries. New staff functions were developed in ICT, finances, personnel and information which resulted in improved teamwork and a better flow of information between the various group units. As previously mentioned, not all operational areas were coordinated. Product development, marketing and sales of various products ranging from mattresses to furniture for variation and children's furniture were not easily coordinated. According to Rune Stokke this affected the agenda at group management meetings: “The management group talked far too little about customers and the market – from my point of view that was our main weakness. We kept trying, but ended up with agendas containing items about management/management d evelopment, structure, production and a few products. These were also important topics, but I feel that, in our capacity as a management group,
The company finds its shape The release of Wonderland in 2002 was a step in the right direction for the group reorganisation that Stokke's management group had been involved in with renewed intensity since 1997. Their strategy discussions resulted in some new moves which shook the very foundations of the long-established furniture company. The transition from furniture to baby and children's equipment in the Children's Division was the boldest move. Fundamental changes were also on the cards for Wonderland. According to Odd Slettaøyen, key personnel at the factory's administration office in Åndalsnes were not entirely comfortable with the new divisionalisation: “Until the end of the 1990s we felt that the conditions for our own growth and development were good. We maintained a
we failed to get a good grasp on customer orientation. This was probably caused by the strong product-orientated culture we were all imbued with.”242 It was probably also caused by the diversified mixture that still made up the group. Customer-orientated products, which were the common denominator after 1997, were not sufficient to glue together the new organisation which was going to be built up. The group management eventually realised that a family-owned
that would lead to clarification with the main owner about the road ahead. However, the practical adjustments which formed the basis of a more cutting-edge Stokke were initially made during the interplay which took place between Kjell Storeide and Rune Stokke. The resulting concentration of products and markets was based on organisational processes which were commenced when Storeide returned to Stokke in 1989. He tightened up the group from day one, and the group also started receiving contributions from its subsidiaries during the 1990s. At times both Stokke Fabrikker and
Westnofa's Harmony Kontinental.
c ompany, which Stokke would continue to be, could not be a world class company in several areas at the same time. The demands that were placed on marketing, product development and p rofiling were so great for an internationally orientated company, that specialisation became a necessity. These strategic deliberations resulted in the search for new owners for Wonderland. Ever since the late 1990s, various sales models for the bed division had been considered, i.e. merger with a larger unit, merger with others or the establishment of a different owner ship structure. Actual negotiations were held with both Norwegian and foreign investors. This was not an easy choice for Stokke. It was obvious that Wonderland was a business with good potential for growth. Technologically and product-wise, the company was in the driving seat. It had a motivated and competent group of employees and enjoyed a solid position in the market among retailers and furniture buyers. The Board as a whole, but two members in particular, Even Wahr-Hansen and Stein Verle, were key negotiators in a process
Wonderland were in a position to do this, and they did so in order to strengthen joint functions and move the group forward. This coordination was furthered with greater consistency through the reorganisation that took place in 2000 when unified group management was introduced and more ambitious profit and payback objectives were set for the company's various divisions. The reorganisation process provided the tools that were necessary in order to achieve the desired focus which the new owner was hoping to achieve with effect from 2003/2004. In 2004, Kjell Storeide was on his way out as the CEO of Stokke AS, but he was actively involved in the process of finding new owners for Wonderland. This resulted in the company Foinco taking over 80 % of the shares in the mattress production company in May 2004. Kjell Storeide, Steinar Loe and the Wonderland management acquired the remaining 20 %. In 2006, the investment company Ferd took over all the shares, and they have subsequently been running the company in Åndalsnes with great success.
Stokke = Children As Stokke celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2007 the company has become recognised as a focused and dedicated producer of equipment for children in the 1–5 age bracket. The company's demanding development projects have served to confirm that its high levels of international industrial activity, require the full application of all available assets and human resources, something that has been demonstrated by the process relating to the Xplory buggy.
roduct messages, as was the case with the Movement collection p which delivered the following message: we have the chairs you need because you are a living, developing organism and you need movement and variation. Stokke incorporated this tradition of creating messages and its ability to provide customers with stories about messages/products into its product development work in the Children's Division.
When the management and product development group of the Children's Division started visualising in 1999 what would end up as the Xplory buggy, they did not allow themselves to be limited by traditional buggy concepts. Their mandate was to design a mode of transport for children over both long and short distances, primarily in urban environments. Their work started with a market survey carried out in Denmark, Germany and Italy in 1999. Stokke held in-depth interviews with mothers in maternity groups, customers in children's equipment stores and retailers, in order to obtain a general idea about actual supply and demand on the market. In May/June of 2001, this survey was followed up by another survey in Denmark, France and the UK. This time, people were presented with sketches of different products and concepts. These surveys established a basis for Stokke's future work on the project. One of Stokke's strongest attributes during this period was its ability to create development networks with external specialists. As far as Stokke was concerned, these networks were decisive for the company's chances of success with its advanced product development projects. The company did not possess any specialist expertise in respect of materials technology, apart from laminates, and usually took advantage of external industrial design expertise when required. However, as it turned out, Stokke's own core skills – and company traditions – proved to be the most important success factor in respect of the company's innovations. The project devel opment work undertaken by the management of Stokke F abrikker ever since the 1970s had been dominated by designs which were influenced by function, although high aesthetic requirements were also important. The primary focus of Stokke Fabrikker was not devoted to aesthetic expression, but to the development of
The employees in Stokke's Product Development Department were involved in working on the Xplory for a considerable period of time. In 2001, several new prototypes were created in collabora tion with the design group K8 and the plastic specialists Bård Eker Industrial Design in Fredrikstad. Thus far this project was definitely the most expensive development project that Stokke had ever been involved in. The owner Rune Stokke, CEO Kjell Storeide and the Board were nevertheless confident that their basic investments would eventually turn out to be profitable. This confidence is another characteristic feature displayed by the Stokke group over the last few decades, i.e. the will to patiently follow a chosen strategy and to give it the time required to justify its existence. The first time the buggy was presented to the market was during the large Kind & Jugend exhibition in Cologne in 2003. Kjell Heggdal was responsible for building the Stokke stand which would be used in connection with the launch. The dominating features of tarmac and aluminium were used to underline the fact that the Xplory was a buggy designed primarily for urban environments. There was a staircase in the middle of the stand which was designed to demonstrate that the Xplory could also easily cope with demanding surfaces. The Cologne exhibition opened every day at 0900 hrs. Normally things were quiet during the first hour, but on the first day the Stokke stand was inundated with visitors long before 9 am. People were pushing and shoving in order to obtain the best possible position in relation to the stage where the buggy was due to be revealed. Rumours had spread that Stokke was developing an extraordinary buggy. Although everyone involved had been told to keep quiet about it, enough information had leaked out to attract a huge amount of interest. In fact the interest was so great that
The Xplory buggy is a product in the best Stokke spirit. It lifts children up and allows them to interact with their surroundings and explore the world.
Xplory meets royalty. During a visit to Ålesund in 2004, Princess Märtha Louise showed a genuine interest in the buggy, accompanied by, from the left, the Portuguese first lady Maria José Ritta, HRH Queen Sonja and Stokke's Wenche Kjerstad.
Stokke's people had to set up barriers made of brown paper d uring the final stages of assembling the stand in order to keep inquisitive visitors at a distance.243 Xplory met everyone's high expectations. It elicited enthusiastic applause from both retailers and the press with its tilted, elegant aluminium frame, its high seat, its flexibility and its high-tech features.
Market innovators Xplory was chosen as an exhibit for several exhibitions during the year of its launch, including the Vitra Design Museum's major exhibition tour and the “Scandinavian Design beyond the Myth”
e xhibition which visited 11 countries over a 3-year period. Xplory also won several design awards, indicating that it was an innovative buggy incorporating genuinely new functional features for the transport of children. The jury that selected the candidates for the “Award of Design Excellence 2003” also considered the Xplory to be a ground-breaking quality product. “The Stokke Xplory is based on an exciting concept in which Stokke once again is being innovative with regards to children and mobility. The buggy stands out. The Stokke Xplory design is based on an overall aesthetic expression combined with a sporty technological look and intelligent additional equipment. This is found to be genuinely innovative.” The jury also liked the multiple functionality of the seat which can be used in both directions, and mentioned that the product was exceptional because the child is seated high enough to interact with whoever is pushing the buggy.
Xplory was developed for transporting children in urban environments where there might also be rough surfaces.
Exhibition appearances, award presentations and media coverage all provide marketing exposure which can hardly be planned, but which is a very welcome bonus after years of targeted work. However, these apparently random marketing benefits are also the result of strategic discussions and desired developments. Stokke was fully aware of how important it was to make contact with so-called market innovators, i.e. people who are well informed about innovative products and are the first to make use of them. When such innovators are also people who are constantly in the media spotlight, their influence on the market is even greater. Stokke's sales machinery therefore took note every time a famous film star or model was depicted in a magazine with their little bundle of joy in a Stokke Xplory. Stokke has gradually collected quite a few articles of this type and they have proved to be highly effective in motivating the retailer network.
Stokke + Courtney Cox Stokke Children displayed an intrepid attitude right from the start with the aim of becoming the leading global brand in their field. Their aspirations showed the faith that they had in their own collection and their ability to give the world what it wanted, and when they looked around, they realised that there was excellent justification for their belief in their mission. What they usually saw were products which to a large extent were variations on familiar themes. Blatant copies and imitations. There were few unique products to be found, and there was little interest in treading new paths when catering to the deeper needs of consumers. Once again, we would point to the inspiration that Stokke's employees were able to draw on from the history of their own company. The launch of furniture for movement and variation, furniture which was ergonomically motivated from the start, offered the market
Celebrities all over the world use Stokke's products, as shown in these magazine and newspaper articles.
Xplory with a sleeping bag. This 2005 innovation enabled even newborn babies to use the buggy.
something qualitatively new. The same applied to the children's collection, as fronted by the Tripp Trapp chair. Stokke entered the global market in 1998 with confidence in its own innovative abilities, although at that time the company was still a long way off having a global sales network. In 1999, the company carried out a survey in order find out the size of Stokke Children's market shares on the various international markets, based on the number of Tripp Trapp chairs sold in relation to the number of newborn children in the countries concerned. At that time Stokke was mainly established in just the European market, and this market was divided into four areas according to their contribution margins. The highest margins were found in Denmark, Switzerland and Norway – 38 % for Denmark, 26 % for Switzerland and 25 % for Norway. The second group comprised the N etherlands, Belgium, Germany and Sweden with 14 %, 12 %, 11 % and 11 % respectively. Finland, Iceland and Austria followed closely with 8 %, while the areas with greatest potential were represented by Italy, France, Spain and the UK where Stokke's modest market s hares ranged from 3 % to 1 %. In 1972, Japan was a new and uncharted market for Stokke, but business there was increasing steadily. In 1990 Stokke established a sales company in collaboration with the Japanese company Matsuya for the import and sale of Stokke's products. In 1999 30,000 Tripp Trapp chairs were sold to Japan The prospects for growth were good. The Japanese have small families and a high standard of living. Japanese parents were willing to spend relatively large sums on their children, and this suited Stokke whose image was based on function and quality rather than on low prices. For many years Stokke has been marketing the Tripp Trapp chair
in Japan as a Scandinavian quality product through high-profile furniture shops, but the company is now making a concerted effort to find Japanese partners who could become involved in distri buting baby equipment. In other markets there are well-established sales outlets for baby equipment where parents can go to buy everything they need for their children. This was one reason why Stokke Children placed such heavy emphasis on expanding its collection after 1997/98, and as already mentioned, it would be important in helping Stokke to become the preferred partner of retailers and chains and in winning the battle for the minds of consumers. This latter point was also one of Stokke's strategic objectives. Being completely at the mercy of retailers and chains can be a risky business. Retailers and chains come and go, and producers are d ependent on shop owners' priorities with respect to product ranges and sales campaigns. Stokke's experiences in the USA during the 1980s showed that some shops might even switch to competing products if such a move would bring in higher profits. The safest position involves being popular with the customers and being in control of a strong brand. If customers demand Stokke's products because they are convinced that they are the best, as well as being the original product and genuine article, shops c annot get away with selling copies if they want to keep their customers. However, becoming the customer's preferred choice in a global market is a challenging task, although since the year 2000 it has actually become easier to achieve this, than it was previously. Today, media coverage is global. Several magazines and news papers are published globally, and market innovators are sought by the media in every country in the world. This applies, for example, to well-known actors and pop stars. When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt walked out of a Stokke retail outlet in New York in 2006 carrying
Japan has been a growing market for Stokke ever since the late 1980s. Kåre Stokke still helps to cultivate important contacts. He is depicted here in 2002 with Katsuhiko Furuya, the President of the Japanese company Matsuya.
a Stokke Sleepi, pictures appeared shortly afterwards in celebrity media all over the world, including “Verdens Gang” (a Norwegian daily newspaper). The same article reported that celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, Courtney Cox and Halle Berry were all happy owners of a Stokke Xplory. 244 These living adverts are worth their weight in gold! Xplory is a globally conceived product. It is also a global product in the most direct sense of the word, as it contains components from different countries. When producing Xplory, Stokke was able to draw on the experience it had acquired from over 30 years of being involved in international production logistics. Production and Outsourcing Manager Ivar Sandnes was responsible for sourcing components for the buggy from the right places. In 2003 its plastic components were cast at four different factories, three in Norway and one in China. The wheels were produced in China and the Netherlands, the aluminium frame in the Netherlands and all the textiles in China. The buggy was delivered to retailers as two units; one with all the solid parts which were available in grey, and one textile unit which was available in five different colours.245 Since 2003 the back wheels have been altered and improved and an agreement has been signed with a new supplier in Germany. In 2007 the wheels could therefore be either Chinese or German. Xplory is a buggy that was already offering users considerable flexibility when it was launched. Additional products were subsequently created to make it even more user-friendly. In 2004 a new baby bag was developed which helped to extend the useful life of the product so that it could be used for babies whose mothers would previously have preferred a traditional pram. There
is no doubt that Xplory did not initially fit the image that most consumers had of a buggy. However, a sleeping bag designed for babies turned Xplory into a buggy that could be used by babies from birth onwards, although it looked more like a pushchair!246 After a somewhat tentative start in most markets, sales reached satisfactory levels within two years thanks in part to new product adjustments, e.g. adaptors that were designed to attach different children's car seats sold by other manufacturers to the Xplory frame. Xplory's style and functions are innovative, but it is also a technologically advanced product made from components produced by manufacturers from all over the world which have been assembled to make this a safe product. During the summer of 2007, a fault was detected in a series of wheels supplied by one of the company's subcontractors. Stokke reported this fault immediately and customers who had purchased buggies with faulty wheels were informed that they could return them and have new wheels fitted free of charge. There have been no indications to suggest that this consignment of faulty wheels had a detrimental effect on the market's faith in the Xplory. Similar cases have actually served to strengthen the position of a brand on the market. If customers gained the impression that Stokke had intervened resolutely and displayed a “better safe than sorry” attitude to the problem, then the incident was probably to Stokke's advantage. It will also have helped to spread the word about the buggy and its manufacturer which did everything in its power to ensure that the product was 100 % safe for customers.
Danish Furniture Manager with a Tripp Trapp The Danish market embraced the children's Tripp Trapp chair at a very early stage. This was partly due to the well-distributed sales network that Stokke had developed in Denmark, but it is probably not the full explanation because Stokke was present in the Swedish market at an even earlier stage without achieving high sales figures there. For many years it has been known that the Danish market is open to all sorts of furniture innovations, regardless of whether or not they are based on aesthetic expression or functionality. Proximity to Continental style trends may be one explanation for this tendency. In addition, the Danish media have always displayed a broad interest in the functionality of various consumer goods, e.g. children's furniture.
The Manager of the Danish manufacturing association, Keld K orsager, was attending a furniture seminar in Ålesund in October 2006 when he revealed that he was the happy owner of two essential Norwegian furniture products; a Stressless and a Tripp Trapp. He had owned the Tripp Trapp chairs while his children were able to use them. After that he had advertised them for sale in his local newspaper and had sold them for more than he had originally paid for them. Korsager explained that the Tripp Trapp chair is a clear leader in the market for children's chairs in Denmark. Danish parents had noticed that Tripp Trapp had scored top marks on several occasions in product surveys carried out by Danish consumer magazines.247
From 1973 onwards, the Tripp Trapp chair was produced by the LIK factory in the city of Kocevje in Slovenia. Milena Rozman was a pattern maker at LIK in 1973, and she completed her first test chair on her 21st birthday. She subsequently worked her way up to become a Departmental Manager, followed by Control Manager and Production Manager and finally the factory's CEO. She is depicted here with Production Manager Branko Lavric and the 3 millionth Tripp Trapp chair produced in Slovenia.
Erik Hanken and Silvana Sivic inspecting the quality of Tripp Trapp units at Stolik in Kocevje. In 2003 there were 110 employees at this company, which at the time was the largest of Stokke's two Tripp Trapp producers in Slovenia.
Tripp Trapp still most important
unit in order to demonstrate the profitability of the Tripp Trapp part and thus obtain higher production investments. The new unit was called Stolik (Stokke-LIK) and was managed by another female executive, Milena Rozman.
Even though Stokke's new products received most attention in the company's Product Development Department from 1998 onwards, Tripp Trapp was a cutting-edge product that was responsible for the profits that enabled the company to devote considerable resources towards designing new products for the market. Up until 2006, when Stokke sold the Movement Division, Tripp Trapp h elped to advance demanding production development projects, including those implemented by the Movement Division. The success of the Tripp Trapp chair was based on excellent sales developments and highly rational low-cost production in Slovenia which yielded improved margins and better profits. The Tripp Trapp chair has been produced in Slovenia ever since 1973. Production costs in this former Yugoslavian province were, and continue to be, far lower than they would have been in Norway. At the same time, Stokke provided the technology and skills necessary for achieving good production flow of the Tripp Trapp units. These simple, logical components were also perfect for large-scale industrial production. Silvana Sivic was Stokke's main contact in Slovenia for many years. Up until 1992 she was employed by the state-run export office Sloveniales. When Slovenia became an independent state, she started her own company, but maintained her connection with Stokke. The manufacturer of the Tripp Trapp chair, LIK, was located in the southern city of Kocevje. Stokke eventually succeeded in separating out LIK's Tripp Trapp production into an independent
In May 2002, LIK Stolik passed the 3 million mark for total Tripp Trapp production, and this was celebrated by holding a festive event attended by many representatives of the Stokke m anagement in Norway. As part of the event, a friendly competition was held between Stokke and Stolik, which Stokke won. A ccording to the reports, victory was primarily secured by Kristine Landmark's energetic efforts in the dancing competition and Production Manager Egil Hanken's ability to quickly assemble a Tripp Trapp. Contrary to expectations, the members of the Norwegian dele gation also turned out to be great singers. The CEO of the Stokke group, Kjell Storeide, who demonstrated his guitar skills, said that Slovenians must be very polite people, because their singing abilities were not the best!248 Such get-togethers are not only welcome breaks in everyone's hectic everyday lives, they help to strengthen friendships and motivate employees who work on a daily basis to secure the stability and quality of Stokke's key product. On the 2002 trip to Slovenia, the Stokke delegation also visited the factory which was making components for the Sleepi bed. It was a huge factory and the visitors were able to follow production from the wooden logs that entered at one end to the ready-made products that exited at the other.
The management of Stokke showed themselves in a new light when they provided entertainment during a visit to the chair factory in Kocevje in 2002. From the left; Kjell Storeide, Egil Hanken, Ivar Sandnes, Kristine Landmark and Inger Lise Ødegård.
Stokke's new textile collection was presented in 2002. From that point on, the various items in the Children's collection could be equipped with matching accessories.
Care with matching accessories. Varnish in matching colours was also introduced. This enabled the products to be presented as a complete set of furniture for children's nurseries. One of the ideas behind the textile collection was that it would strengthen the links between the various items in the Children's collection, in order to boost recognition and thus spread the market's goodwill for individual items in the collection to other items.
As a concept, the Tripp Trapp chair was fully developed in 1972. However, as new additions were made to the Children's collection, a textile program was created which also involved a new look for the Tripp Trapp. The new textile collection was launched in 2002. It enabled consumers to equip Stokke's Tripp Trapp, Sleepi and
Rules and regulations After Stokke was split into four divisions in 1998, the joint produc tion department for Movement and Children continued to exist for a few more years. Much of the product development work in the Children's Division was focused on adapting the Tripp Trapp chair to comply with international technical standards for children's f urniture. The chair was exported to several European countries, including EU countries where detailed specification requirements had been drawn up relating to children's furniture. These regulations covered the diameter of drilled holes, the width between the curved back pieces and construction stability. Although these regulations appeared to be detailed and bureaucratic, they were based on experience and estimated risks relating to the use of children's furniture. They were designed to prevent children's fingers from being squashed, to prevent their heads from becoming stuck between different furniture parts, and to prevent furniture from
falling over, even if it was kicked hard by a child! Stokke's Product Development Manager between 1991 and 2000, Kjell Heggdal, recalls that they spent a lot of time studying the safety standards for children's furniture, and on fine-tuning products in order to obtain clearance from the supervisory authorities in the various markets. It was necessary to create different versions of the same p roduct in order to comply with various national safety requirements. In 2002, the Tripp Trapp chair underwent some design modifications in order to accommodate amended standards. The aim of these modifications was to have one product version that could comply with as many standards as possible. After the Product Development Department had completed its work on the product in 2002, Stokke only needed 4 different versions for the international market. The Sleepi bed was also redesigned in 2002 for the same reasons.249
The Tripp Trapp chair's strong position in the market was both a positive and a limiting factor. It was the Tripp Trapp that gave S tokke the confidence and strength to make progress in new markets and in its relations with new retailers. However, Tripp Trapp's position also meant that Stokke was restricted in its choice of suitable retailers. The EU's competition authorities had ruled that the Tripp Trapp chair was dominating the market and should consequently be available to anyone who could pay for it. Having exclusive agreements with selected retailers was deemed to be discriminatory, detrimental to fair competition and in breach of EU regulations. Nevertheless, in collaboration with the BAHR firm of lawyers, Stokke managed to secure a selection contract that was a pproved by the EU. Under the terms of this contract Stokke was able to exercise a certain amount of discretion when selecting retailers. Rune Stokke discovered that Stokke's efforts to obtain such a contract represented a groundbreaking move within the EU. Up until 2000, the main geographical area for sales of the Tripp Trapp chair had been Northern Europe. In 2000 there was a break through in the Mediterranean area when agreements were entered into with large baby equipment chains in Spain, France and Italy. These agreements were responsible for a considerable increase in Stokke's market shares in these countries during the following years. During the same year, Tripp Trapp was introduced in the US under the name of KinderZeat, and a sales company, Stokke LLC, was established in Atlanta, Georgia. This company was in charge of the Stokke group's activities in the American market.250 Kåre Stokke's second son, Geir Stokke, was responsible for setting up the American office. Geir had several years of sales and marketing experience from other industries before taking up this position. He had also lived in the US for a total of five years whilst studying for a degree in marketing. In order to obtain as much information as possible about consumer patterns and competition in the children's chair market in the US, Geir carried out a survey of the American market. Stokke had a challenging start “across the pond”. The idea of buying a chair which children could grow up in, was foreign to most Americans, and ergonomic considerations did not feature highly in the consciousness of furniture customers. It took longer than planned to increase sales in the US,251 but through diligent application to marketing work Stokke eventually made progress in promising market niches. Since 2000, Stokke has gradually stepped up its activities in the US, and this has been a priority market for Stokke since 2006. It is estimated that the US will be responsible for 10 % of the company's turnover in Children products in 2007. Could the fact that Courtney Cox owns an Xplory buggy have a bearing on the sales statistics? However, the celebrity effect will be helped by Stokke's own market machinery and in 2007, 30 % of Stokke's marketing resources will be devoted to the American market.
As of 2007, Geir Stokke is still managing the company's American operations, and Geir and his 20 employees have seen a rapid escalation in sales. Stokke has decided to focus on the larger cities on the east and west coasts until the company is more established. In relative terms the Sleepy and Xplory are both selling better than the Tripp Trapp chair in the US. The American market is a challenging one – most people get a chance to succeed, but they usually only get one shot at it. Although Stokke was without representation in other overseas markets for some time, 2001 saw new sales agreements being entered into in both the Australian and Asian markets.
A more active board In the 1990s, Stokke AS was characterised as an administratively run company. Up until 1997, it was the group management, CEO Kjell Storeide and the owner Kåre Stokke, who were primarily r esponsible for making decisions about group developments. The CEO made proposals to the Board in consultation with the owner, and the Board never opposed any suggestions or plans that were presented. The relationship between the day-to-day management and the Board may be different in a family-owned company like Stokke compared to a larger limited company with many owners and an external leader. In Stokke's case the CEO and the owner were well matched during the 90s and held the same views about important matters. Opposing the CEO would in this case also mean opposing the owner, and such a situation was hard to imagine. During the last few years before the new millennium, the Board gradually became a more active sparring partner for the administration. When Rune Stokke took over as owner in 1997, the outlines of a more demanding Board were starting to become more apparent. Evan Wahr-Hansen, the Chairman of the Board from 1998 onwards, played a more active role in the Stokke group in connection with the reorganisation which took place in December 1999, when coordination across the group was tightened up. At that time WahrHansen believed that it was absolutely essential to tighten up the company's poor budgetary procedures which, in his opinion, had resulted from the culture that had prevailed at the company right from the start, i.e. the company's various sectors had more or less been allowed to manage themselves. In the opinion of Wahr- Hansen, Tripp Trapp profits were expected to cover any deficits resulting from the company's defective budgetary practices, and individual operational areas were thus not called to account for their failure to show good profit developments and exercise strict cost control.
When Rune Stokke took over as the majority shareholder of Stokke in 1997, a number of changes were made to the group's Board. One of the basic conditions for selecting new Board members was that they should be able to supplement the skills of other company officers. This picture shows the Stokke group's new Board in 1998. In front, from the left; Chairman of the Board Evan Wahr-Hansen and Group CEO Kjell Storeide. Behind, from the left; Stein Thor Verle, Jan Erik Vahlne, Rune Stokke, Helge Ove Larsen and Håvard Aannø.
In 2000, Stokke established a US sales office in Atlanta, Georgia. The opportunities were considered to be vast in a market with over 275 million people who share the same currency and which has the same spending power as the European market. Geir Stokke headed up the US office (on the left), accompanied by his team members Jeff Durkee (no. 2 from the left), Victor Harris and Patti Kopec.
Wilhelm Mohn has been a Board member for Stokke since 2005. He is Senior p artner and the CEO of Credo Partners. Credo Partners became the majority s hareholder of Variér Furniture AS in 2006 and of Fora Form in 2007.
Each year, one of the Board meetings of Stokke AS is usually held in one of the company's markets, where the Board meets important customers and visits stores. In October 2007, the Board met in New York. From the left; Sales Manager Jacob Østerhaab, Chairman of the Board Rune Stokke, Board members Barbara Thoralfsson, Kåre Erlandsen, Stein Thor Verle, Øyvind Eriksen and Ingegjerd Eidsvik. Board member Wilhelm Mohn was engaged in a phone conference when the picture was taken.
A native of Sykkylven, Geir Løseth was Stokke's Financial Manager from 2000 to 2007. He then became a personal advisor to Rune Stokke and CED of the holding Company. Løseth has assisted with all the demanding sales processes in which Stokke has been involved since 1998.
The Chairman of the Board felt that subsequent Board discussions were constructive. One of the contributors to these discussions was Stein Verle, the former Deputy CEO of Det norske Veritas, who became a Board member of the Stokke group in 1998 and had previously been a Board member of Stokke Fabrikker AS. Verle felt that the board members had two main tasks; to help Rune Stokke to settle into his new role in the group and to improve the accounts systems and the cost control in the group's various areas of operation. Verle called for analyses of growth potential, profits and sales for Stokke's four remaining key areas; Children, M ovement, Fora Form and Wonderland. He felt that greater focus on profits was needed in order to ensure healthy developments in the future. Another board member, Håvard Aannø, who also joined the Board in 1998, pointed out the challenges facing Stokke due to its multi-faceted operations and lack of focus. He stressed that Stokke needed to intensify its development programme and ignore peripheral areas of production. Wahr-Hansen, Verle and Aannø joined the Stokke Board in 1998 following the generation change and they were occupied with helping the new owner to settle into his role in the organisation. Rune Stokke was satisfied with Stokke's direction following the changes that occurred in 1997 and 2000 when the company's key areas were separated from each other and given clearer profiles, and group coordination was improved. Eventually, some of the Board members felt that the time had come for Rune to take on a more clearly defined ownership role. Wahr-Hansen remembers well a conversation that he and Stein Verle had with Rune Stokke in 2003 when they encouraged him to make a final decision about the road ahead for Stokke AS. Rune and the group management had been slowly deliberating about this decision over a period of several years, but Wahr-Hansen and Verle's well-intentioned “kick up the backside” was probably decisive for a decision being made and new plans for the company being drawn up in 2003. At this time the Board was also heavily involved in a debate relating to new premises for Fora Form in Ørsta. Chairman of the Board Wahr-Hansen was critical about Fora Form's potential for growth in a tight and pressurised contract market. CEO Kjell Storeide, however, was fully convinced that a new building was needed in order to facilitate rational production. He argued that Stokke would benefit, regardless of whether or not they kept Fora Form or found someone else to take over the business. This was the only time that there was outspoken verbal disagreement between the Board and the administration of the Stokke group. Another process in which the Board was heavily involved, and may have had a decisive influence on, was the development of Xplory. For several years, the Board had been calling for genuine innovations for Stokke. A long time has passed since 1972 when the group's main model, the Tripp Trapp chair, was put into
production. Not even the Tripp Trapp chair could last forever, reiterated Chairman of the Board, Even Wahr-Hansen, in his impatience for something that could catch up with, and eventually perhaps even take over from the Tripp Trapp. Finally, in 2001, a prototype of the Xplory buggy was presented to the Board; a genuinely innovative product in the niche of child transportation. Kristine Landmark presented the product, and according to WahrHansen, no-one in the Stokke system has the ability to charm the Board like Kristine Landmark. “The board was very positive, no, not just positive. The administration was given clear instructions to realise the buggy.” In hindsight he realises that the Board's handling of this demanding development project, was not managed exactly in accordance with procedures. The Board said “go for it” without demanding detailed cost estimates of the development work, without knowing if the prototype would be suitable for mass production, without knowing which margins could realistically be expected and w ithout any apprehensions whatsoever about Stokke's transition from children's chairs and beds to transportation equipment. The Board learned from its error and has now implemented project management and accounts reporting procedures which will follow each product from cradle to grave. A more active board like the one that Stokke AS has had during the last decade, requires board members with wide and varied skills in the group's specialist areas. The recruitment of board members is therefore dependent on the company's situation at the time. In order to improve customer focus, during the spring of 2005, Rune Stokke brought in Barbara Thoralfsson, who had previously been working for Netcom and Midelfart. Over the last few years there has also been a need to improve the company's commitment in r espect of asset developments, strategy and leadership, and Wilhelm Mohn, a Board member since the spring of 2005, has made a substantial contribution in this field. He possesses extensive international business experience and has previously headed the consultancy business McKinsey in Norway. In 2007, he is currently the CEO of Credo Partners, the majority shareholder of Variér and Fora Form. Wilhelm Mohn and Rune Stoke have been good friends since 1981 when they both started studying at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen. Another asset to the board since 2007 is Øyvind Eriksen. Since 1998, Eriksen has been Stokke's main contact at the BAHR firm of lawyers. His work has provided him with considerable experience relating to board and reorganisation work at a number of major companies. The Board Secretary over the past 10 years, Geir Løseth, says that Stokke devotes a great deal of time to board work compared to similar-sized companies. The Board usually has six meetings a year.
Consumer focus A recurrent theme in the development of Stokke over the past 10 years is the term consumer focus. Companies with consumer focus are concerned with the consumer's needs and do not start product development until these needs have been thoroughly analysed. This has been Stokke's goal with regards to product development since 1997 when the Board, based on advice given by the Swedish economist and Board member Jan Erik Vahlne, started the process of discontinuing all production which did not focus on the end user. Consumer focus is the opposite of product and production focus, at least in theory. A production-focused company has an idea which it turns into a product, and it is then up to the company to make consumers interested in the idea by engaging in various forms of consumer contact. This was how Stokke operated prior to 1997. This description, however, requires some modification. It was consumer and market orientation which caused Georg Stokke to latch on to the growing interest in and need for adjustable reclining chairs in 1958. No formal market surveys were carried out prior to production of the company's Star recliners. However, both Georg and Kåre Stokke were aware that people had more leisure time and new media habits and were placing greater priority on home comfort. They thus realised that reclining chairs probably had commercial potential and their assumptions proved to be correct. So when, in the mid-1980s, Stokke provided the market with furniture that could be adjusted to alternative reclining positions, many customers in those parts of the world, where chairs are commonly used, were very keen to try out the new chair. Peter Opsvik and Stokke knew that back ailments constituted health problem number one in the Western world and that sitting was becoming a threat to public health. The company's major investment in furniture for movement and variation was the result of the fact that it had listened to the customers' needs. The Assistant Managing Director of Stokke in 1983, Kjell Storeide, also pointed out the need for market and customer orientated company development. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned successes of Stokke before 1990 can hardly be said to be the result of consistent, systematic consumer focus. In a customer-focused company, every function should be directed towards the customer, and every product should be based on the consumer's analysed needs. With this model in mind, not even the company's investment in its Balans products was consistently customer-based. Stokke's more consistent customer focus since 1997, resulted in considerable attention being paid to distribution channels and the opportunities offered to consumers by such channels. Stokke found that consumer channels were undergoing major reorganisation p rior to 2000. Large, partly international chains were becoming larger. Considerable resources were required in order to make contact
with the various retailers. The large chains were also demanding a lot from their producers. They expected the producers to invest a lot of money on direct consumer contact through various media. Stokke Children was and still is largely b ased on sales made through smaller chains and independent retailers. In 2004, the formation of chains helped to further the focus on one particular product area, Children, which Stokke finally ended up with in 2006. This reorganisation was necessary to enable Stokke to move quickly enough in relation to the market and distribution. Barbara Thoralfsson joined Stokke's Board in 2005. She was chosen to strengthen the Board's collective level of expertise with regard to consumer focus. In an interview published in Stokke's 2005 annual rapport, Thoralfsson mentions another important aspect which helped Stokke to settle on one final narrower focus: the vast resources that consumer-orientated product development, marketing and sales require, particularly for an international company. When Stokke launches a finished product on the market, the company has probably invested many millions of Norwegian k roner on product development. The company therefore needs to be fairly certain that the product will meet the needs of customers in the actual focus group. It would be hard for a family-owned company of Stokke's size to carry out such product development, mapping, marketing and sales work in several different product areas. The children's furniture field is extensive and demanding enough as it is, without also having to engage in satisfactory preparation and market follow-up, and according to Thoralffson, Stokke had a potential for improvement in 2005: “… I think we can improve our consumer focus in a very early phase of the product development process. We must be more thorough in the analysis stage.”252 Rune Stokke and Kristine Landmark have made use of Barbara Thoralfsson as a sparring partner and consultant over the last couple of years. Thoralfsson has made important contributions to the strong marketing campaign that Stokke is about to launch in the US.
Company and society in transformation For many decades, the Stokke group was an important part of society in Sunnmøre and several other regions. Stokke created companies that provided good, safe workplaces, often in areas where such jobs were hard to find. The relationship between the company and local communities was close-knit. Even if creating new jobs was not a goal in itself, it certainly gave Stokke's owners extra satisfaction knowing that the company was making a positive contribution to the development of the municipality.
Ekstrem. Design: Terje Ekstrøm. The Ekstrem chair was one of the models in Stokke's furniture for movement and variation range. It is presented here by Widar Halén, Senior Curator at The National Museum, and the designer himself.
Barbara Thoralfsson joined Stokke's Board in 2005. She has been a spokesperson for systematic consumer focus.
Today, Stokke no longer has any extensive production activities in Sunnmøre. The only remaining functions, apart from laminates production in Tennfjord, are administrative and commercial functions. A high percentage of the company's production of finished goods and components is carried out in other countries where costs are lower than in Norway. Does this mean that 2007 will see a company which exercises less social responsibility than it used to? Has its passionate community spirit, which made company leaders and mayors stand together and rejoice at the positive results of their “own” companies, disappeared? Firstly, modern companies operate in a different competitive climate compared to the one which existed in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, even in Sunnmøre. What enabled Stokke to continue producing chairs and armchairs in different materials and with different designs well into the 1980s, was the fact that they produced furniture for a local market that was relatively unexposed to competition from low-cost companies. However, the emergence of large furniture chains in the 80s forced prices down, including the prices charged for high-volume products in the furniture market, and this was partly due to more systematic imports from low-cost countries. In the 80s, Stokke turned increasingly towards international niche markets and eventually became a pure export company. The company therefore became fully exposed to international competition in the niche areas in which it had invested. A family-
owned company the size of Stokke is dependant on constantly making relatively high profits in order to supply the market with products that are in demand in its chosen niche. Consumer- orientated product development on a global scale is expensive, and it is also expensive to establish and maintain a company in a market. International industrialists, especially those in high-cost countries like Norway, therefore need to ensure higher levels of cost-efficiency and cost-control than previously. For Stokke, this has meant reducing local production of finished goods and components in Norway. This trend also applies to social developments. Stokke still has a significant number of employees based at its head office in N orway, at Håhjem in the municipality of Skodje, where there are 40 employees responsible for key functions relating to product development, information and communications technology, logistics, marketing, law and administration. These positions are f illed by people with high qualifications; jobs which the company has not wanted to move abroad. Rune Stokke admits that it is difficult to predict the future in this respect: “There is no guarantee that Stokke's head office will remain in Norway if the political situation indicates that it would be wise to move it abroad. We are constantly having to evaluate market proximity and external conditions against the importance of our Norwegian/Scandinavian origins. However, we currently have no plans to move any other departments, apart from our Sales Department, out of Norway.”
Kåre Stokke and his father Georg were traditionalists. They enjoyed being able to create companies that provided workplaces in small communities in North-West Norway. Unlike their predecessors, members of the third generation involved in the family company have been forced to focus more heavily on profits.
The owners of Stokke have always placed great emphasis on making working conditions as good as possible for their employees. Modern suction equipment eventually helped to make the air in the company's production premises as clean as the air in its offices. This photo shows part of the production process at Stokke Fabrikker, with Harald Brevik operating a polishing machine.
Even Wahr-Hansen has followed Stokke closely over the last 20 years, and believes that he has witnessed an unusual sense of community spirit at the company, even in recent years. Since the year 2000, the company has severed its ties with several companies which over the course of the years have enjoyed the security provided by the Stokke family. While trying to find new owners for these companies, both Kåre and Rune sought managers who would defend their ideas and employees by running the businesses in a
roper manner. They both agreed that they would be prepared to p accept a lower price for a business if this would ensure that the new owners would do their best to preserve what they had created. Even Wahr Hansen believes that this attitude is not common in the world of business today. Either way, Stokke in 2007 is c ompletely different to the business that it was in, for example, 1957. If things had been different, we would not have been writing a book about its 75-year long history.
Today Dynamics rather than control Today there is not one single family-owned business left of the furniture companies that were established in Sunnmøre during the 1930s. These businesses have either been closed down, merged with other companies or now have different owners. The exception is Stokke AS. Georg Stokke started this business with Bjarne Møller. Today his grandson Rune is taking the family business to new heights. The big question is therefore, what is it about Stokke that has given it the ability to survive and adapt.
One thing which has characterised Stokke throughout the history of the company, is its ability to attract talented and creative employees who have been given responsibility and allowed the freedom to develop. For example, Stokke was the first furniture factory in Sunnmøre to have its own full-time designer, Arnt Lande. Later on it was the company's contact with the highly innovative designer Peter Opsvik that provided the company with the right product advantages during its crucial stages of t ransformation. The testimony of key associates of Stokke, both n ationally and inter nationally, confirms the liberating – and commercial – power of
Stokke's principles relating to the delegation of responsibility. The driving force behind building Stokke's team of retailers in Germany, Wolfgang Krüssmann, was convinced that the trust and freedom he was given served to fuel his long-term loyalty to the company. Stokke's face in Sweden for a number of years, Ingmar Almgren, is another example of the value of passionate and independent key employees. New phases in a company's development demand new solutions. Flexibility issues will often arise in companies which traditionally have not sought new external impulses. Stokke has managed to avoid stagnation and recession by being willing to bring in the most up-to-date skills in various areas at the relevant times. This was the situation in 1985 when Board member Nils Høegh-Krohn attended a marketing conference in Barcelona, where he met the Swedish economists Kjell Nordstrøm and Jan Erik Vahlne. Roar Hauge-Nilsen was the administrator who applied the company's new strategy to employees at different levels. Kjell Storeide, who has been primarily responsible for strategy, leadership and development work at Stokke since 1977, believes that the main explanation for Stokke's success has been its ability to adapt. “Not only has thinking in new and different ways been allowed, it has been encouraged”, says Kjell Storeide, adding that this became the norm for the staff development programme that he developed when he returned and became Group Managing Director in 1990. “We want to create an open environment within the company. We brought in the best people from their various fields and also recruited Board members with specialist know ledge. The family has never been interested in having majority control of the Board. Dynamics and creative development have always been more important to the family than having personal control.”
One group The ability to utilise the knowledge and enthusiasm of the company's employees has released a lot of positive energy, but it has also demanded a high degree of loyalty to common guidelines. One basic guideline involves having balanced and healthy financial development. Stokke had two major advantages over many other companies in the furniture industry: two products and production areas which over the years have provided a stable income and solid profits – the children's Tripp Trapp chair and mattress production at Westnofa. The cash flow from these products provided Stokke with the opportunity to experiment and be creative on a different scale to that permitted at many other companies. However, there was a limit to these experiments, and the road to stricter group management began in 1990 with the
return of Kjell Storeide who became responsible for the group's operations. He believed that the group should not be controlled by its subdivisions, and that what was best for the company as a whole had to form the basis for running and managing the values of the various subdivisions and production areas. Different ideas about what was best for the group as a whole were behind the conflict that arose between the CEO of Stokke Fabrikker AS, Roar Hauge-Nilsen, on the one hand, and the Group Manager and owner, Kåre Stokke, on the other. This disagreement revolved around o pinions about the added value that was derived from Stokke Fabrikker's different product areas. In order to supply the market with products that were in demand, Storeide and Stokke believed that it was necessary to disclose market and profit developments right down to production level. And this is what happened. This discussion concerned more than just technical accounting principles. Basically it concerned having the opportunity to introduce corporate governance in order to ensure healthy business developments. The organisational overhaul was initiated in 1990, and first became manifest in 1998. Jan Erik Vahlne was back in an advisory capacity and once again he maintained that consumer focus should be decisive for the organisation of the company. He thought that Stokke should only concentrate on products that were consumer-orientated and that it should be split up into divisions based on production areas. In 1998, only Stokke Fabrikker AS became divisionalised. In 2000, the whole group was organised in line with this model and the management group, which consisted of the leaders of each division and key group personnel, became a new driving force, capable of achieving synergic effects in a completely different way than previously. As already mentioned, this coordination also revealed the difficulties and challenges involved in running a group like Stokke. Stokke had not been designed to conform to a unified plan with effect from day 1. Very few companies develop in such a manner. Things evolve as time goes by, and new areas are added. In 2000, Stokke was a diversified group. Its various fields of mattress production, contract work, children's furniture and furniture for movement and variation required separate expertise and distribution channels in order to stay ahead in a global market. At one time running such a diverse family business seemed to be an impossible task. The owner felt the need for reorganisation and clarification. In Stokke's case this occurred in 2004. It was not a dramatic split. Some of the restructuring that was undertaken in order to commence the process of turning Stokke into a dedicated producer of children's equipment, had already been started back in 1990 when Kjell Storeide, and the former owner, Kåre Stokke, commenced the laborious task of fusing all parts of the conglomerate into a fully cooperative organisation.
The new management group in the Stokke group following reorganisation in 2000. From the left; Kristine Landmark, Geir O. Løseth (in front), Gunnar Hareide, Kjell Storeide, Jørn Nes, Ivar Sandnes, Rune Stokke and Steinar Loe.
Thanks to the Xplory buggy, Stokke has established itself as a world class innovative producer of children's equipment.
Children come first
thing on one card; furniture and equipment for the parents of toddlers and older children. This solution was fairly easy to implement because of the way in which the company was organised. A decision was made to proceed with one division and work towards disposing of the others. Once this had been c larified, Kjell Storeide felt that his days as the company CEO were numbered. He had paved the way for the new owner to realise his vision of developing a tailored brand. The work on defining the family's role in the companies that were released from the group, continued right up until the company's 75th anniversary. However, Stokke's image as an innovative supplier of children's products has provided the group with the focus, drive, profitability and growth that are required in order to succeed in a competitive international market.
The third generation of Stokke, Rune, took over as the owner of the family business in 1997. Back then, Stokke was in the middle of a reorganisation process that was supported by a proactive board, which included Jan Erik Vahlne and Even Wahr-Hansen among its members. Rune Stokke himself had a consumer-orientated attitude and was pleased that the Board and the CEO were supporting increased consumer focus. In 2003/2004, Rune Stokke started to realise that the company's focus on having fewer areas of commitment which had been initiated during the 1980s, needed to be completed. Rune Stokke, who himself had participated in and had faith in Stokke's commitment to its furniture for movement and variation, decided with the support of the Board to stake every
Epilogue by Rune Stokke
A new generation emerges M
y time at Stokke began when I first started working at Vatne Møbler AS as their General Manager in 1991. Back then, I had just spent two years studying for an MBA at the IESE in Barcelona, and prior to that I had spent 4 years working in the finance industry, so I was able to view Stokke's companies from this angle. After I completed my studies at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in 1985, I worked first for Nevi Finance and subsequently for Storebrand's Investment Department arranging loans for business customers all over Norway up until 1989. My time at Vatne from 1991 to 1994 was challenging and marked by substantial losses, excess capacity and many problems. However, it was also an educational and interesting time. Kjell kept a close eye on me and taught me a lot. There was a great sense of friendship between everyone at Vatne, despite the hardships. I also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time working with high-quality up holstered furniture and I learnt a lot about this subject. I still feel that upholstered furniture is one of the most interesting areas of the trade – exciting products that have the potential to stand out from their competitors. This is where my grandfather and I share a common interest – and we often become carried away in our dreams about this subject, or we discuss new designs that we have
come across. Yet the furniture upholstery business is also the toughest, with many international suppliers and relatively low margins. However, the most exciting businesses are not always the most profitable ones. We started to see Vatne turn around in 1994, and by then it was time for the company and myself to make the next move. We merged with Møremøbler and I took over as the Head of Sales and Marketing. This was a larger, yet more limited field. I was still able to contribute to production and design, and this was important to me. Once again I was involved with a good, knowledgeable team, and we worked really well together. We restructured the company's sales and marketing operations and this, combined with an improved market, enabled us to experience good growth. In 1997, in cooperation with Arild Bakke and Steinar Gjertsen, we launched the company's new name, Fora Form, after having worked on this for a while with Anisdal, Sand & Partnere. In 1997, the Stokke group experienced its best year ever with record-breaking profits, but there had also been many signs of hard times ahead and things that needed to be changed within the organisation. I am impatient by nature – mostly because I want to get started on jobs that I feel need to be done – I can live with problems and challenges as long as we are on top of them and are working on them. I was impatient to get going and I probably
Father and son on a sunny day at Tennfjorden.
h assled Kjell quite a bit before I was formally appointed as the main owner. I am sure that this was frustrating for both of us. I came to a point during the spring of 1997 where I either wanted to become the owner or find something else to do. After discussing this with my father, we decided that I would buy him out of the company and take over the role of owner on behalf of the family with my siblings as minority shareholders. In return, they were given majority ownership of the company's operations at Moa. For Kjell, who had worked so closely with my father for almost 20 years, the fact that I became the majority owner was probably not the easiest thing to handle. I had been his subordinate for 6 years and I probably still had a lot to learn about the business. I was also different from my father, with different views and a stronger urge to become involved on Kjell's turf. However, I definitely had no d esigns on the position of Group Manager. It was my ambition to become an active owner. There are many things I know nothing about and I am not someone who thinks that they can do everything on their own. But I am not bad at obtaining feedback and good advices from others – this is perhaps something I have got from my father. I realise that I need challenges – and I like to be challenged as an owner and as a person. I seek out people who tell me the truth – not what they think I want to hear. This is hopefully beneficial to both the development of the company and myself. It can be unpleasant (and this is often the case), but it is always educational. I have never been interested in personal prestige. To avoid ending up with a double role, I left Fora Form during the autumn of 1997 to take over full-time as the Chairman of the Board. Kjell and I struggled to find a sensible way to job share and the following year was quite hard for both of us. We both wanted what was best for the company but it wasn't easy to divide our work so that we both had room to manoeuvre. After a Board meeting in June 1998 we agreed to reflect on the situation over the summer. When we met in August we were well rested and positive and we created a platform we could both accept with regards to strategy and division of work. Later on during the autumn, Even Wahr-Hansen was elected as the new Chairman of the Board, I became a Board member and at the same time I became the responsible manager of Stokke's Movement Division. At that time Stokke was possibly experiencing one of its greatest challenges as a result of the losses it had made and dissatisfied customers in Europe. A demanding job with an uncertain outcome – but at least it was an advantage to have the Stokke name … Kjell continued as the Group CEO in a more operational role than previously. We now started working on the establishment of Stokke Gruppen AS. Kjell became the operational leader and started to work on the establishment of a professional organisation. We were also given the opportunity to establish functions which
the companies had not had time to consider separately before. The establishment of Stokke Gruppen AS and the boost this gave to our individual business areas, helped considerably when Stokke AS subsequently sought to focus on children's furniture. In addition, our organisational collaboration with Åge Sørsveen and Ingeborg Baustad was important. Movement's main problem was related to sales, and turning around a business to make it profitable is especially challenging. Movement's products had an advantage thanks to their unique design and functions, and they consequently acquired good margins in a global niche market. The challenge and the problem were more or less the same – the fact that these products were special also resulted in limited interest and sales. My aim was to try and preserve the special, first-rate aspects of these products, but also attempt to make their design more attractive to a wider audience. I feel we were largely successful with products like Peel, Date and Tok. Unfortunately, we underestimated the decline in sales of our old products, and the time it took to get the new distribution which we sorely needed up and running. Making Movement profitable was a slow process. Kjell and I sometimes discussed the possibility of selling Movement, but realistically we realised that we had no chance of doing so while it was struggling with such great challenges and low profits. In the spring of 2002, I handed my job in Movement over to Wenche Kjerstad in order to take over the new position of Head of Business Development for the group. The plan was that I would contribute new ideas to all the different aspects of the business. The following year was interesting, and several specific ideas which emerged then were realised either at the time or at a later date, but I also spent a lot of time thinking about the future. We were struggling to increase our growth. Kjell and I have always talked about the future, structures and strategies – often while hiking in the mountains. We had also discussed edging the business more towards Children, but we also considered this to be a risky strategy. It became increasingly obvious that the potential for growth was within the children's market, but I thought that it would be difficult to devote enough focus to this while we still, in practice, had four areas with s eparate products and distribution networks. There was little synergy to be gained on the sales and marketing side. It was also becoming more obvious that structural changes were needed in the mattress market. The whole trade in the Nordic region was open and ready for this. We either had to get in the driving seat and take the initiative in Norway, or we had to work actively to become part of someone else's set up. With limited resources we tried to both sell to an international player and to initiate a major merger of Norwegian companies between 2001 and 2003. We almost succeeded in selling, but at the last minute the
Three generations of the Stokke family – in 1997 when Rune took over the company.
sale fell through. Looking back this may have been just as well, as the price we were discussing was not particularly high compared to what we achieved a few years later. Personally, I was challenged to engage in a thought process concerning the future of the company and myself around the spring of 2003 and onwards. Chairman of the Board Even Wahr-Hansen and Board member Stein Verle contributed strongly to this process, and I spent a lot of time coming up with a sort of “10-year plan for myself and what I wanted to accomplish as owner”. I was left with a vision of a focused Stokke based on Children. This meant that Stokke Gruppen AS would have to be wound up and the business areas of Wonderland and Fora Form would have to find all-new or partly new ownership. Kjell made a definite contribution to this process and his ideas were important for the outcome. The excellent work that we had undertaken on making our business areas, systems and management more professional, placed us in a position whereby it became possible to implement this process, something that would not have been possible in 1998. The idea was to create a focused company where knowledge about customers and users, product development, marketing and sales would serve as the main pillars for making Stokke a global brand. Movement was still making a loss, but I strongly believed in the concept following the changes over the recent years and I wanted us to follow up to see if we could get through this rough spot. Movement was also a large and important client for Tennfjord – which needed the work in order to be able to run properly. By the summer of 2003 I suddenly felt I was very busy. Perhaps I had 10 years left with the energy it would take to reach these goals? In the mutual process between Kjell and myself during the autumn of 2003, this was cultivated brilliantly. Kjell supported me and participated in developing thoughts and ideas, but he also realised that his time was coming to an end. Together we resolved our contractual relationships in a positive way and laid the foundations for a lasting friendship and collaboration in other areas. This constructive dialogue was confirmed partly by the fact that Kjell chose to continue his ownership role in Wonderland and Fora Form in order to find good solutions for Stokke and its c ompanies. Kjell was actively involved in finding a new owner for Wonderland, which we succeeded in doing in the summer of 2004 when Foinco bought out Stokke. Kjell continued at Wonderland as Chairman of the Board and as a co-owner along with the management for some more years. The solution for Fora Form AS was that the company's e mployees and management purchased a 31 % stake, Kjell increased his stake from 9 % to 17 % and at the same time took over as the Chairman of the Board, and the Stokke family took over a 52 % stake through Single Holding AS. In addition Stokke AS provided a subordinated
loan of NOK 22.5 million. Fora Form was to be turned around from running at a loss to standing on its own two feet. Things were not looking good up until the summer holidays in 2005, but after i ntense work the results started to improve during the autumn. In 2006, for the first time in 10 years, Fora Form posted a profit! One important isolated incident in 2006 was the successful sale of our table factory at Stranda and the outsourcing of table production to another Norwegian supplier. For a long time we had struggled with low volumes and production that was too specialised to enable us to run the factory profitably. The Board is important to me and in o rder to take the next few steps in developing Stokke AS, we required additional expertise. During the spring of 2005 Barbara Thoralfsson and Wilhelm Mohn joined the Board in addition to Even Wahr-Hansen and Stein Verle. Even has a broad background as a business lawyer and Stein is a highly experienced international COO. Barbara has been involved in marketing, brand-building and management at several large companies, all skills that are required by our Board in order to realise its goals. Wilhelm is the Manager of Credo Partners, a small consultancy and private equity firm. Prior to this he was the CEO of McKinsey & Co. in Norway and is among other things trained to diagnose, but also implement, processes of change. I will probably not be doing anyone any injustices when I say that the entire Board is focused on the proper implementation and prioritisation of our resources. In 2004 we also succeeded in selling our old factory at Vatne and in 2005 we sold our old factory at Ørsta. These may not have represented major assets but both buildings required considerable maintenance and they also needed to be heated during the winter. This is very expensive and made huge demands on my time and that of our Administration Department. From 2005 onwards it became obvious that Movement was too demanding on Stokke's resources and the Board was calling for the implementation of measures. Again, several solutions were tested. The final solution came during the spring of 2006 when a deal was struck with Credo Partners relating to the establishment of a new company, Variér, who purchased Movement from Stokke. Through Single Holding, the Stokke family still owns a 39 % stake in Variér, and considerable resources have been injected into the management side of this company. During the second half of 2006, Variér ran at a profit. There is still a lot to do with respect to sales and development, but when profits are being made, this is still doable if not necessarily easy. In 2006, Tennfjord Laminering AS was also separated out as an independent limited liability company owned by Stokke AS. This company is now being developed into an independent subcontractor and Stokke only purchases part of its turnover.
Rune and his most important partner, Maria. They got married in 1990. Maria began working for Stokke in 1992 and was the Sales Manager for Stokke Norge from 1994 to 1997 – with very good results. The children (from the left) are Alejandra, Sara and Ole Igor.
In 2002, Stokke started producing the Tripp Trapp chair in Romania. Egil Hanken is depicted here checking the sides of a seat and foot plate as they are being cut.
The CEO of Stokke AS, Kristine Landmark, is just like Rune Stokke, i.e. a consumer-focused leader. Here she has found her balance in a Balans Variable.
Kjell Storeide was Rune Stokke's technical mentor. They have also worked closely together after he left Stokke in 2004. This picture shows Kjell Storeide at “The Award for Design Excellence” presentations during the autumn of 2003, with TV presenter Hilde Hummelvoll and designer Olav Eldøy. Stokke received four awards for design excellence at this event.
During the spring of 2007, Credo Partners purchased the m ajority of the shares in Fora Form AS, as they did in Movement. They saw the company's potential and the excellent collaboration we had enjoyed with regard to the challenges at Variér made them e ager to expand our cooperation. 2007 looks set to become another successful year for Fora Form AS. During the spring of 2004, I took over as Chairman of the Board and left my job as the Head of Business Development. Three years on, Stokke AS has now achieved its basic structure and is synonymous with Children. Profitability has suffered as a result of restructuring costs and it will improve in time. The long-awaited growth is now starting to materialise and in 2007, Stokke AS will have a turnover of NOK 550–600 million in children's products. The brand has been significantly strengthened globally over the past few years.
s tructural changes introduced. I would have been rather helpless without Geir. Production and Outsourcing Manager Ivar Sandnes has also c ontributed a lot – and so have many others. I have not done this on my own! My grandfather probably had a few misgivings about my decisions. He collected and developed companies and factory buildings – I have spent a lot of time selling them to pave the way for the Stokke of the future. But we have always had and still have a close, strong and wonderful relationship. He might sometimes disagree but he always respects my choices. His mind is still young and at the age of 96 he is very switched on and he does not shy away from a real discussion. This still happens on a more or less weekly basis. He keeps well up to date by reading the newspapers – and has a passion for chairs – especially reclining chairs and upholstered furniture – just like me. But he worries less about profitability than I do – and focuses more on the vision. We are a good team – pretty dynamic (i.e. heated) at times.
A few important change-makers In many ways we have pursued a risky strategy and Stokke AS is obviously more vulnerable than before now that it just has one leg to stand on. We need to try to counteract this by having a solid parent company with available liquid assets – a healthy bank balance. Sometimes you wonder whether you did the right thing, but such is life. Being supported on all sides has helped the process. The positive attitude displayed by my father and siblings has been important, but the back-up and challenges provided by Maria have meant most to me. Kjell has already been mentioned several times. He has been a co-owner for many years, and also my most important mentor on the business side during the 13 years we have worked together; he provided me with a sound further education. We have had and still have a very good relationship. He has been far more loyal towards the company and the family than is fair to expect, and can take a lot of credit for the fact that the company managed to get through the tough times in the 70s and 80s. In close collaboration with my father and myself he has also been the driving force behind the company for 20 years and has contributed much to its development and the fact that we can celebrate our 75th a nniversary this year. Many people from the management and the rest of company have also made extremely favourable contributions to the company's transformation processes. Kristine Landmark was responsible for developing the Children's Division which today constitutes Stokke AS. Kristine, in her capacity as CEO, and I in my role as Chairman of the Board, have shared our work well, and this has enabled fast-paced processes. She has taken care of Stokke AS and all of its operations; I have worked on restructuring. The Finance Manager Geir Løseth has undertaken the work of two people (Kristine and myself) each year over the last 3 years. He has been responsible for the practical implementation of many of the
The future – now what? The family still has investments in Variér AS and Fora Form AS and I am a member of both boards and involved in their work, but in a different way than before. Despite the fact that we still carry children's furniture, Stokke AS is in many ways no longer involved in the furniture business. We are in the process of becoming a children's equipment brand, and we are portrayed as being focused and sophisticated. We need to “deliver the goods” if we are to achieve our new goals; strong growth and good profits! In 2006 we succeeded in achieving 18 % growth and so far this year (as of May) growth stands at 33 %. Our profitability is acceptable, but our ambitions are higher. It is important to grow and maintain the dynamics. These are the conditions necessary for attracting the best people and moving on – in addition to developing our existing employees and giving them the freedom to have a go. Without growth, you eventually become uninteresting. One of Stokke's endearing features has been its considerable latitude and the fact that failure in order to find new good products and solutions can be permitted. This is im portant to explain why we are where we are today. Being a furniture company is not a goal in itself, but one of our goals involves exploiting the opportunities we have secured in the best possible way. We are on schedule to reach the NOK 2 billion sales mark in 2015, – a good goal! However, satisfactory profits are a proviso for m aintaining ownership in a family business. If the business is to continue as a family-owned business, it must make the profits needed in order to develop and grow. In this respect short-term profitability is the only viable strategy in the longer term. Markets are becoming increasingly advanced and the pace is much faster. In the past it was possible to focus on diversity and still
The oldest and the youngest; great-grandfather Georg with tiny Tiril on his arm in 2002. Tiril is Kristin's daughter.
succeed. I believe that those companies – or business areas in larger companies – that will be most successful in the future will be those which focus on a more limited area than previously. This is also important to maximise invest ments. Stokke distributes its products all over the world and has been very successful in gaining access to those shops in which it wants to sell its products. The challenge is to deliver products and innovations that will allow the company to retain and expand on the floor space allocated to its products. This is the critical factor and it is only possible to achieve this if c ustomers like the m erchandise, what they associate with the merchandise and what they want to buy both for themselves and their children. Achieving this on a global scale requires total f ocus. Creating jobs is obviously important and desirable but first and foremost this is a positive consequence of success in the marketplace. We used to have many employees in Norway and numbers will probably increase again but perhaps we will have more p eople working on development, marketing, procurement, logistics and sales. Stokke still employs several hundred people in production, but products that used to be manufactured in our factories are now being produced by subcontractors both at home and abroad. There is nothing wrong or bad about that. It enables us and our suppliers to enjoy a greater degree of flexibility and we can also utilise technology and materials that we would not be able to handle on our own. In addition, the jobs are still there at
Wonderland, Fora Form and Variér, and I dare say they are safer today than they were in 2004. The Stokke family is a long-term owner of Stokke AS although this has not been defined in terms of numbers of years. We have never defined it like that. Our thinking, investments and the way we run our businesses is long-term. Selling Stokke AS or finding a different ownership structure is not currently an issue. But basically I believe that if you yourself are unable to give the company what it needs quickly enough, you should evaluate whether or not you are still the right owner. You must not become a hindrance to the company, the employees and the potential that lies within the company. In this light, changes in the ownership structure are often the result of success – and a condition for further success. A company which becomes big and often complex may need injections of both c apital and ideas in order to step up into the next division. Changes in ownership structure definitely do not have to be negative. However, even though we have growth and development goals – and dare to adopt new solutions – we must not lose sight of the humbleness that has characterised the company and its management. There is a proverb that says: he who has s erved his apprenticeship is never fully qualified, but ready ... We can always do something better and there are many resourceful competitors around with ambitious goals. Many of these also work at a quicker
Geir, Knut, Kristin and Rune holding a speech for Kåre at his 70th birthday party in April 2007. Rune and his three siblings are joint owners of the main company Single Holding AS.
pace than what we are used to. We cannot afford to spend as much time on developing new solutions as we used to. We must work faster and test as we go along. There is less room for mistakes than before and there are fewer opportunities to correct errors in the market than before. If a product had a bad start it might already be too late. Previously, you could try and fail for years until you found the right solution for the market.
The future of Norwegian furniture Where will the Norwegian furniture industry be in 10 years time? You should always be careful about predicting anything. I think it will be tougher and harder to earn money if you do not stand out in the crowd. The business consists of people who are used to competing and they do not give up easily, but generally speaking it looks like the trade is heading towards higher levels of concen tration all over the world. The manufacturers are fewer and larger, and there are fewer and larger mergers taking place on the distribution/shop front. Perhaps the Norwegian furniture industry will look like this?
Only five brands/independent producers left that still have full
Those unable to create their own brands will have closed
or partial production taking place in Norway. down, moved, or simply become subcontractors for the distribution chains' own brands. ■ Ekornes will probably be one of the five independent manufac turers left. ■ T here will most likely be an increase in the number of c ompanies focusing more on handicrafts, with a turnover of NOK 10–15 million in local or niche markets, but it will not be easy for any of them to achieve international success or to earn the money that are required for investment. They will be dependent on the enthusiasm of their owners! ■ T here will possibly be a few companies who will manage to acquire reasonable distribution in a few market areas via the Internet. ■ I still believe that good individual products (i.e. FORM) will continue to exist, and that these will determine whether or not small businesses manage to expand to a certain size. But copies are appearing faster than before and it is harder to be left alone with an idea long enough to succeed.
STOKKE Company history ■
Established in 1932 by Georg Stokke and Bjarne Møller as Møller and Stokke.
Stokke was one of the first Norwegian producers to use professional designers and they even hired their own architect in the early 1950s.
The company's name is changed to Stokke Fabrikker AS in 1956 when Georg Stokke buys out his partner.
Co-owner of the export organisation Westnofa Ltd. 1955.
The second generation, Kåre Stokke, takes over management and ownership in 1964, at the age of 27.
Vågå Bruk AS is established in 1965, with production commencing in early 1966.
Westnofa Industrier is established as a joint venture with 5 partners in 1968.
Stokke Fabrikker AS purchases 70 % of Tennfjord Møbelfabrikk AS from Ole Bolle in 1969, and the remainder is purchased during the 1980s.
Stokke AB – Sweden is established in 1969, the company's first independent export venture.
Tripp Trapp® is designed by Peter Opsvik – launched in 1972.
The Movement Collection is created with the Balans Variable in 1979.
1986: Stokke Fabrikker AS focuses its operations on functional furniture for movement and variation.
1987: Stokke GmbH is established in Lübeck, Germany, with Wolfgang Krüssmann as Manager.
1989: Stokke purchases Vatne Møbler AS.
1990: Kjell Storeide takes over as Group Manager and purchases 9 % of the shares in Stokke Industri AS (the holding company).
1990: Joint venture with Matsuya Co. Ltd. Scandex is established in order to import and sell Stokke's furniture (and other Scandinavian design articles) in Japan.
During the 90s Stokke established a distribution network via fully-owned and majority-owned subsidiaries all over Europe for the import and sale of Stokke's merchandise.
1992–94: Stokke purchases Møremøbler AS, which is renamed Fora Form AS in 1997. Vatne is merged with Møremøbler AS in 1994/95.
1994: Vågå Bruk AS is sold to Talgø.
1994: Stokke Industri AS is demerged into Moa Syd AS (the property at Moa) and Stokke Industri AS (the industry part).
1996: Moa Syd changes its name to Stokke AS.
1996: Stokke sells part of the shopping centre at Moa.
1997: Third generation, Rune Stokke, 36, takes over as the main shareholder of Stokke Industri AS through his majority ownership stake in Single Holding AS.
1998: Stokke Fabrikker is split in two collections; Children and Movement which are assigned independent strategies. Stokke Industri AS changes its name to Stokke Gruppen AS.
1999/2000: Stokke Sleepi is launched in the Children's Division.
2000: Stokke enters the US market by establishing itself in Atlanta with its own subsidiary Stokke LLC, owned by Stokke Amerika AS.
2000: Stokke sells Westnofa Industrier AS (its industrial foam business) and simultaneously establishes Wonderland AS as a subsidiary of Stokke Gruppen AS. Stokke Fabrikker AS and Fora Form AS are merged with Stokke Gruppen AS and become the Children's and Movement divisions and Fora Form.
2001: Peel is launched by the Movement Division.
2003: Stokke Xplory is launched by the Children's Division.
2003: Fora Form moves into a new factory at Mosflatene at Ørsta.
2004: Kjell Storeide leaves and is bought out by the company after 15 years as the leading executive of Stokke's companies. Kristine Landmark takes over as the new maanger of Stokke AS, which becomes the company's new name.
2004: Rune Stokke takes over as the Chairman of the Board of Stokke AS from Even Wahr-Hansen, and reorganisation of the Board is initiated.
2004: Wonderland is sold to Foinco. Kjell Storeide and the management become joint shareholders.
2004: Fora Form AS is separated out as an independent company. Single Holding retains 52 % of the shares, Kjell Storeide purchases 17 % and the employees and management purchase the rest.
2005: The factory property at Vatne is sold.
2005: The old Fora Form factory in the heart of Ørsta is sold.
2006: Movement is sold to a newly established company, Variér AS, which is controlled by Credo Partners AS. Single Holding AS retains 39 % and the employees and management own the rest.
2006: Tennfjord Laminering AS is separated out as a separate company, 100 % owned by Stokke AS. This company is given a new management and a separate board.
2007: The majority of Fora Form AS is sold to Credo Partners. Single Holding AS reduces its ownership stake to 19 %. Kjell Storeide continues to own the same number of shares as previously. The management and employees own the rest.
Stokke® Xplory®. Design: Bjørn Refsum / Hilde Angelfoss Øxseth. Design development in cooperation with K8 Industridesign AS. Product development in cooperation with Bård Eker Industrial Design AS.
Bibliography Ola Skjåk Bræk: Hva brast så høyt? Ålesund 1990. Galen Crantz: The Chair. Rethinking culture, body, and design. New York 2000. Harald Grytten: Slik jeg husker det. Georg Stokke forteller til Harald Grytten. 2nd edition. Ålesund 2004. Harald Grytten: Hjemsted og by. Ålesund 1948 – 1998. Ålesund 1998. Eldar Høidal: HovDokka – en Riise i norsk møbelindustri. Sykkylven 1997. Eldar Høidal: Et liv i form – hedersskrift for Inge Langlo. Sykkylven 2000. Eldar Høidal: Periferien som ble sentrum. Norsk Treindustriarbeiderforbund 100 år. Oslo 2004. Birgit Jevnaker: Den skjulte formuen. Industridesign som kreativ konkurransefaktor. SNF/Norsk Designråd 1995. Kjell A. Nordstrøm: The internationalization Process of the Firm. Stockholm 1991. Peter Opsvik: Some thoughts about sitting in general, and about my products at Stokke – in particular. Not dated. Stokke. Jon Tvinnereim og Oddbjørn Melle: Fjordbygder i forandring. Sparebanken Volda Ørsta. Ørsta 2003
Printed sources Annual reports and accounts from Stokke Industri AS / Stokke Gruppen / Stokke AS 1983 – 2006. Stokke AS's archives. Binder: correspondence/Board cases Westnofa 1968 – 1973. NMFS's archives. The furniture paper Møbelavisa 1964 – 1986. Stokke Internt 1987 – 2006. Furniture catalogues/brochures Stokke 1932 – 2007. The regional newspapers Sunnmørsposten and Møre-Nytt.
Interviewees Ingemar Almgren, Sweden Audun Bondevik, Ålesund, Norway Bjørn Gjerde, Ålesund, Norway Svein Gusrud, Oslo, Norway Roar Hauge-Nilsen, Ålesund, Norway Kjell Heggdal, Sykkylven, Norway Terje Klauseth, Åndalsnes, Norway Nils Høegh-Krohn, Ålesund, Norway Wolfgang Krüssmann, Germany Kristine Landmark, Skodje, Norway Inge Langlo, Stranda, Norway Steinar Loe, Ålesund, Norway Geir Løseth, Sykkylven, Norway Lars Olausen, Ålesund, Norway Peter Opsvik, Oslo, Norway Per Natvig, Oslo, Norway Lai Ryste, Stranda, Norway Paul Gerh. Røsvik, Ålesund, Norway Kristian Røvreit, Haram, Norway Ivar Sandnes, Ålesund, Norway
Arne Seljeflot, Ålesund, Norway Odd Slettaøyen, Åndalsnes, Norway Kjell Stokka, Stavanger, Norway Georg Stokke, Ålesund, Norway Kåre Stokke, Ålesund, Norway Rune Stokke, Oslo, Norway Turid Stokke, Ålesund, Norway Kjell Storeide, Ålesund, Norway Lasse Thorset, Oslo, Norway Herleif Ulstein, Herøy, Norway Malvin Vegsund, Ålesund, Norway
1 Interview with Georg Stokke 21.3.1997. 2 Grytten 2004, p. 45. 3 Grytten 2004, s 97. 4 Board minutes 10.1.1956. 5 Skjåk Bræk 1990, p. 95. 6 Høidal 1997, p. 33. 7 Møbelavisa no. 1. 1966. 8 Møbelavisa no. 2 1964. 9 Møbelavisa no. 2 1966. 10 Møbelavisa no. 4 1964. 11 Møbelavisa no. 4. 1966. 12 Note from Gerhard Berg, 23.8.2007. NMFS's archives. 13 Møbelavisa no. 3 1964. 14 Grytten 2004. p. 122. 15 Møbelavisa no. 1 1964. 16 Agreement between Malvin Vegsund and Blindheim Møbelfabrikk AS and Stokke Fabrikker AS 15 October 1968. 17 Møbelavisa no. 2 1968 18 Skjåk Bræk 1990, p. 99 and interview with Lai Ryste, Stranda 29.11.06. 19 Note from Inge Langlo 28.8.07. 20 Interview with Per Natvig 22.5.2005. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. Møbelavisa no. 1 1972. 21 Møbelavisa no. 4 1965. 22 Møbelavisa no. 1 1972. 23 Høidal 2000, p. 132. 24 Høidal 2000, p. 132. 25 Høidal 2000, p. 128. 26 IRAS: General plan for developing the facilities. 16.10.1963, p.17. 27 IRAS 1963, pp. 12-13. 28 Møbelavisa no. 4 1964. 29 Stokke Internt, July 1998. 30 Sunnmørsposten 4.1.1964. 31 Sunnmørsposten 5.5.1965. 32 Møbelavisa no. 3 1968. 33 Interview with Kristian Røvreit, Hildre, 10.4.2007. 34 Stokke Internt, July 2000. 35 Stokke Internt, July 1998. 36 Tre og Møbler no. 5, 1972. 37 Sunnmørsposten 15.4.1972. 38 Sunnmørsposten 21.1.1976. 39 Sunnmørsposten 25.11.1967. 40 Sunnmørsposten 16.10.1982. 41 Møbelavisa no. 3 1967. 42 Widar Halén: De første norske plastmøblene ... I Høidal 2000, p. 57. 43 Op.cit. p. 63. Møbelavisa no. 2 1968. 44 Pressemelding fra Westnofa Industrier. Not dated. (March 1968) 45 Grytten 2004 p. 140. 46 Stokke Internt, December 2000, p. 4. 47 Letter from Stokke Fabrikker to Westnofa Industrier 13.1.1970. 48 Board minutes Westnofa Industrier 10.12.1969. 49 Press release from Westnofa Industrier. Not dated. (March 1968) 50 Letter to Bergen Privatbank AS from Paul Brautaset about milder credit terms 29.9.1969. 51 Reports following a company visit by Knut Dønsett in 1968/69, in Board binder from Chairman of the Board Inge Langlo, Stranda. NMFS's archives. 52 Letter from Westnofa Industrier to Distriktenes utbyggingsfond 30.9.1969. 53 Board minutes Westnofa Industrier AS 3.11.1969. 54 Print-out from extraordinary general assembly 19.3.1968. 55 Sunnmørsposten 22.10.1970. 56 Interview with Terje Klauseth, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. 57 Møbelavisa no. 1 1971. 58 Møbelavisa no. 2 1971. 59 Note from Paul Brautaset to Operational Manager Knut Dønsett 18.11.1971. 60 Letter from Paul Brautaset to the Development Department in Molde 16.11.1971. 61 Interview with former Chairman of the Board in Westnofa Industrier, Inge Langlo, 14.10.06.
62 Interview with Odd Slettaøyen, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. 63 Board minutes 12.1.1972. 64 Board minutes 14.1.1972. 65 Sunnmørsposten 14.3.1972. 66 Interview with Terje Klauseth, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. 67 Interview with Paul Gerh. Røsvik, Ålesund 22.9.2006. 68 Sunnmørsposten 26.4.1978. 69 Møbelavisa no. 2 1969. 70 Sunnmørsposten 16.2.1972. 71 Møbelavisa no. 1 1974. 72 Møbelavisa no. 2 1971. 73 Peter Opsvik: Balans Seating – the story of its discovery. Westnofa, p. 1. Not dated. 74 Møbelavisa no. 1 1973. 75 Møbelavisa no. 2 1975. 76 Interview with Kjell Stokka, Stavanger, January 2003. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. 77 Interview with Lasse Thorset, Oslo, May 2005. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. 78 Letter from Ingemar Almgren to Swedish retailers. Not dated. (1977) 79 Møbelavisa no. 1 1974. 80 Møbelavisa no. 1 1974. 81 Møbelavisa no. 2 1973. 82 Møbelavisa no. 1. 1978. 83 Møbelavisa no. 2 1973. 84 Interview with Jens Petter Ekornes, Sykkylven 5.6. 2007. 85 Sunnmørsposten 17.12.1975. 86 Sunnmørsposten 26.4.1978. 87 Møbelavisa no. 4 1976. 88 SSB. Historical statistics. Commodity table 19.1. 89 Stokke Industri AP. Annual accounts 1983. 90 Stokke Industri AP. Annual accounts 1983, p. 8. 91 Møbelavisa no. 1 1980. 92 Sunnmørsposten 16.10.1982. 93 Sunnmørsposten 16.10.1982. 94 Interview with Svein Gusrud, Oslo 18.9.1996. NMFS's archives. 95 Peter Opsvik: Balans Seating. The story of its discovery. Westnofa, p. 2. 96 Peter Opsvik: Balans Seating. The story of its discovery. Westnofa, p. 4. 97 Interview with Svein Gusrud, Oslo 18.9.1996. 98 Interview with Alf Midtbust, Oslo 2.11.1995. 99 Sunnmørsposten 2.6.1981. 100 Sunnmørsposten 22.9.1982. 101 Sunnmørsposten 11.1.1983. 102 Møbelavisa no. 1 1982. 103 Statistics from Stolick KCJ SI, Slovenia 13.1.2004. Kåre Stokke's archives. 104 Customer notification 2 1978. Tripp Trapp information. Not dated. Stokke Fabriker AB. Stokke AS's archives. 105 Interview with Ingemar Almgren, Sweden 4.6.2004. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. Tripp Trapp information. Not dated (1977). Stokke AS's archives. 106 Interview with Ingemar Almgren, Sweden 4.6.2004. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. 107 Sunnmørsposten 29.3.1983. 108 Møbelavisa no. 2 and 3 1982. 109 Stokke Industri AS. Annual accounts 1983, p. 4. 110 Sunnmørsposten 7.6.1984. 111 Sunnmørsposten 15.6.1985. 112 Sunnmørsposten 15.6.1985. 113 Sunnmørsposten 27.8.1985. 114 Møbelavisa no. 2 1985. 115 Jevnaker 1995, p. 289. 116 Interview with Jan-Erik Vahlne 3.6.2004. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives. 117 Møbelavisa no. 2 1968. 118 Møbelavisa no. 2 1986. 119 Interview with Roar Hauge-Nilsen 11.7.2006. NMFS's archives. 120 Op.cit. 121 Interview with Wolfgang Krüssmann, April 2003. By Lars Olausen. NMFS's archives.
122 Stokke Internal life, September 1996, p. 2. 123 Crantz 2000, p. 116. 124 Stokke Industri AS. Annual report and accounts 1986. 125 Stokke Industri AS. Annual report and accounts 1987. 126 Interview with Roar Hauge-Nilsen, Ålesund 5.7.2007. 127 Stokke Industri AS. Annual report 1993. 128 Stokke Industri AP. Annual accounts 1988, p. 4. 129 Jevnaker 1995, p. 301. 130 Interview with Kristine Landmark, Skodje 14.12.2006. 131 Jevnaker 1995, p. 307. 132 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1989. 133 Interview with Odd Slettaøyen and Steinar Loe, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. Møbelavisa no. 1 1980. 134 Stokke Internt, December 2000, p. 5. 135 Møbelavisa no. 1 1980. 136 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report and accounts 1983, p. 5. 137 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report and accounts 1984, p. 6. 138 Møbelavisa no. 2 1984. 139 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1988, p. 4. 140 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1990, p. 6. 141 Stokke Internal Life November/December 1995, p. 3. 142 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1990. 143 Interview with Roar Hauge-Nilsen 11.7.2006. 144 Jevnaker 1995, p. 309. 145 Note from Even Wahr-Hansen 19.6.2007. NMFS's archives. 146 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1993, p. 8. 147 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1994, p. 7. 148 Jevnaker 1995, p. 305. 149 Trearbeideren no. 1 2003. Interview with Kjell Storeide. Also in Høidal 2004, p. 241. 150 NæringsNytt October 1997, p. 39. 151 Sunnmørsposten 17.4.1996. 152 Interview with Kjell Storeide, Ålesund 18.8.2006. 153 Jevnaker 1995, p. 305. 154 Jevnaker 1995, p. 304. 155 Board minutes Stokke Fabrikker AS 26.8.1998. 156 Interview with Ingemar Almgren, Tranås 4.6.2004. By Lars Olausen. 157 Interview with Kjell Storeide, Ålesund 18.8.2006. 158 Jevnaker 1995, p. 306. 159 Stokke Internal Life, February 1997, p. 5. 160 Interview with Bjørn Gjerde, Ålesund 18.8.2006. 161 Stokke Industri. Annual report 1988, p. 5. 162 Stokke Industri AS. Annual report 1989, p. 5. 163 Stokke Industri AS. Annual report 1993, p. 8. 164 Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen 5.3.1998. 165 Vågå Municpality's website. Print-out 15.11.2002. NMFS's archives. Scrapbook. 166 Stokke Industri AS. Annual accounts 1983, p. 6. 167 Stokke Internt, December 1997, p. 4. 168 Sunnmørsposten 21.12.1988. 169 Sunnmørsposten 13.6.1990. 170 Sunnmørsposten 21.12.1988. 171 Sunnmørsposten 27.10.1990. 172 Stokke Industri annual report 1990, p. 6. 173 Interview with Rune Stokke, 21.11.06. 174 Interview with Kjell Storeide, Ålesund 18.8.2006. 175 Høidal 2000, p. 206. 176 Sunnmørsposten 8.5.1998. 177 Interview with Rune Stokke, Ålesund 21.11.2006. NMFS's archives. 178 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1997, p. 13. 179 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1998, p. 13. 180 Møre-Nytt 10.1.1998. 181 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1991, p. 6. 182 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1992, p. 8 183 Stokke Internt, July 1998, p. 5. 184 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1996, p. 13. 185 Stokke Internt, June 1997, p. 5. 186 Åndalsnes Avis 24.1.1998. The newspaper wrongly states that the number of employees in 1997 was 183. This should be 173 according to the annual report for 1997.
187 Sunnmørsposten 14.10.1997. 188 Stokke Internt, December 1997, p. 5. 189 Grytten 1998, p. 347. 190 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report and accounts 1984, p. 3. 191 Fylket 5.10.1989. 192 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1989, p. 5. 193 Stokke Industri AP. Annual report 1991, p. 6. 194 Grytten 1998, p. 353. 195 Sunnmørsposten 14.12.2006. 196 Note from Kjell Storeide 22.5.2007. NMFS's archives. 197 Stokke Internt, February 2000. 198 Note from Even Wahr-Hansen 19.6.2007. 199 Interview with Odd Slettaøyen and Steinar Loe, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. 200 Production statistics, LIK Stolik, Kocevje. 14.4.2004. 201 Division Children – Presentation to the Board of Stokke Gruppen April 2001. 202 Division Children – Presentation to the Board of Stokke Gruppen April 2001. 203 Sunnmørsposten 15.6.1985. 204 Note from Kjell Storeide 1.8.2007. 205 Stokke Internt, July 1998, p. 7. 206 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1999, p. 4. 207 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2001, p. 12. 208 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1998, p. 10. 209 Interview with Rune Stokke, Ålesund 21.11.06. 210 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1998, p. 13. 211 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2001, p. 12. 212 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2001, p. 12. 213 Internal Life Magazine, March 2002, p. 5. 214 Internal Life Magazine, March 2002, p. 4. 215 Internal Life Magazine, July 2002, p. 1. 216 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2003, p. 12. 217 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2004, p. 6. 218 www.sanz.no/index – Variér. 26.1.2007. 219 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1999, p. 13. 220 Stokke Internt December 1997, p. 5. 221 Møre-Nytt 17.1.1998. 222 Møre-Nytt 17.10.1998 223 Stokke Internt, December 2001, p. 12. 224 Stokke Internt, May 2002, p. 3. 225 Note from former Group CEO Kjell Storeide 16.1.2007. 226 Møre-Nytt 11.09.2004. 227 Møre-Nytt 30.9.2004. 228 Møre-Nytt 11.12.2004. 229 Møre-Nytt 10.8.2004. 230 Sunnmøringen 28.1.2006. 231 Sunnmørsposten 28.12.2005. 232 Romsdals Budstikke 4.9.1998. 233 Stokke Internt, July 1998, p. 4. 234 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 1999, p. 13. 235 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2000, p. 13. 236 Stokke Internt, December 2000, p.4. 237 Stokke Internt, December 2000, p. 4. 238 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2001, p. 13. 239 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2002, p. 3. 240 Stokke Internt, July 1998, p. 5. 241 Interview with Odd Slettaøyen and Steinar Loe, Åndalsnes 21.2.2007. 242 Interview with Rune Stokke, Ålesund 21.11.2006. 243 Internal Life Magazine, May 2004, p. 9. 244 Verdens Gang 17.6. 2006. 245 Internal Life Magazine, December 2003, p. 16. 246 Internal Life Magazine, June 2005, p. 4. 247 Interview with Keld Korsager, Ålesund 14.10.2006. 248 Internal Life Magazine, December 2002, p. 14. 249 Internal Life Magazine, May 2004, p. 8. 250 Stokke Gruppen. Annual report 2000, p. 13. 251 Stokke Internt, no. 4 2001, p. 2. 252 Annual report 2005, Stokke AS, p. 6.
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