Carl Hansen & Son, from the small Denmark to the new world

Which is the soul of Carl Hansen & Son?
Carl Hansen & Son is a family business, that have been operating since 1900 and its changes in generations have of course changed the company, but respecting the people who have been there before and therefore, the continuity of the company, the quality, the proudness of what has been achieved in the past, is brought forward up to 2017. For a company like ours it is very important to maintain that stability, to send a message of constancy in time, towards the future. If we worked like, can you say, a big stock exchange or register of companies, we would be talking differently, but this is not the case, we’re working in a family company, where you take very long-term view and long-term decisions.

Considering turnover, how are the percentages between trade and projects divided? And for the future?
At the moment we have 70% retail and 30% contract, but for the future there will be much more contract. The products we produce fit into private homes but more and more often we see them in hotels and even offices, if you desire to feel at home when you are away Carl Hansen & Son is the perfect solution. The success of our Ch88 by Wegner, originally conceived for residential projects, in the restaurant industry is an important example of this trend.

All the world proceeds towards the contract market…
Exactly, there’s an enormous competition in the project’s market, competitors are more and more numerous and there a lot of fakes. Though it’s not easy for architects and buyers to choose correctly. We have to spend a lot of time explaining the differences between a product that is and one that looks genuine to architects.

Which are the countries where you are well known and those in which you would like to improve?
We are relatively strong in Europe and we would like to have a much firmer position in the United States. We are aware of the way Americans think, it’s a different culture, where everything goes so fast. We want to grow but also keep our quality. So we are developing products suitable for the American and the Asian market. In Asia, specially in China more and more people appreciate Carl Hansen & Son. For us China is a positive market: the Chinese public knows our products, they covet the best in every sector including furniture. But it is a difficult market we need capable people and local managers. And we are constantly looking new partners for our business.

About 35% of contract projects go through London and now Brexit is a reality, what do you think of this?
London is a very big market and at the current moment Brexit is not affecting the contract market, of course nothing has happened yet, but the people that we cater for in Carl Hansen & Son perhaps are not as affected by, can you say, the negativity of Brexit. We are looking at it in a naïf way, I’m always optimistic and I think it takes more than a few politicians to spoil business; and business people normally find a way to keep working together. Money is power, and if it moves companies will understand the trend adapting to it. If you’re not a member of the EU you don’t have certain privileges, but trade and freedom will continue to set out the market rules.

Usually, Carl Hansen & Son chooses its designers in northern Europe, will it always be like this?
We have a tradition in Denmark, but we are also realistic. At the moment we are working with Austrian designers and are also looking for American talents. The contract markets needs international influences, both in the product conception and the production.

Changes in production then?
We have planed investments in machinery for more than 50 million euros and we’re also planning to  produce some articles outside Denmark: if we want to enter the international contract market we need to follow different rhythms and there are items that can not be produced in Denmark, because competition is really strong, we need to find solutions outside the national borders. If it was just for me, from a personal point of view I mean, I just want to forget what’s happening in the rest of the world and focus on my little Denmark, which has 5 million inhabitants. But I can’t do that, Denmark is not enough for our business.


From the world to the South Europe and Italy: Ottorino Castegnaro – South Europe Area Manager of Carl Hansen & Son – tells us about the trade, the power of contract and the rule of web 

Knud Hansen has talked a lot about contract, but what signals does the trade in Italy and south of Europe send?
In recent years, trade has worked really slow. This fact has played an important role in psychological conditioning that operators have suffered: over the last 7 years there has been a negative climate that has stolen propositional energies from store managers, there has been resignation and propulsive energy has come to an end.
Last year, especially in metropolitan areas (Milan, Barcelona and Madrid above all), there has been a reaction from customers and operators: in all the market slots many dealers eliminated themselves, this has produced a clean-up in the industry and who remained reacted by coming out of the traditional dynamics of the industry. And the contract sector, in our opinion, has also helped the revival of trade.

How did design world welcome you?
Hospitality is paying us more attention, basically for two reasons. The first is linked to international placement in large studios that work only on projects. We devoted much time and information to them.
Carl Hansen & Son’s second feature can be found in the international technical certifications that have opened up numerous markets where there are specific obligations when it comes to contract projects. For example, those certifications that determine the sustainability of the products: lacquers, paints, oils and packaging. High end hospitality customers love design, but they also seek for sustainability. Hospitality customers are nomads, they travel and find our seats anywhere: the Wishbone Chair for example has had a great success in catering. This gives Carl Hansen & Son an important degree of international recognition.

Everyone consider online world as a sales tool of a certain type of design, what do you think?
We are tempted and cautious, we must pay attention to fakes. There are countries like Spain that unfortunately offer many copies and even some dealers in southern Europe have been drawn by this opportunity. Not in Italy, fortunately. There is no international protection and the legislation is still inadequate. We are therefore very attentive, with very few reliable and well-prepared dealers, we implement online trading, but only in special occasions. From a corporate point of view, we haven’t made our minds yet.