Bolon Transformed from Weaving Mill to International Brand
Founded in 1949, Bolon is a Swedish design company with one hundred employees, offering innovative flooring solutions for the contract industry. Helen Emanuelsson, their award winning CMO tells us how the company operates.
Bolon is managed by sisters Annica and Marie Eklund, the third generation of the family to own the company. Under their leadership, Bolon has transformed from a traditional weaving mill into an international design brand with a list of clientele that includes Armani, Google, Volvo Cars, Adidas, Skype, Missoni and Radisson Red. Bolon has a very strong commitment to sustainability, and we design and manufacture all of our products at our facility in Ulricehamn, Sweden. The company is recognised worldwide for our award winning flooring and our collaborations with some of the world’s most acclaimed innovators and creatives, such as Cappellini, Jean Nouvel and Doshi Levien. In 2015, Bolon’s turnover was 278 million SEK (32.5 million USD).
Helen Emanuelsson, CMO of the month, explains the ongoing business strategy for Bolon and how it is just as important tell this story as it is to talk about any Bolon product for all sales people, brand ambassadors and global employees.
“Bolon is a premium brand in the high-end contract industry. Our products are 100% made in Sweden. Our export is 95% to 55 countries worldwide. We work very closely with ca twenty-five partners (exclusive distributors) in the local markets, where USA, UK, France and Japan are the biggest. Scandinavia and Germany are direct market, where we have our own sales people. A very important part of the brand is the Bolon story. Bolon is a family company with the 3rd generation running it. The grandfather founded the company in 1949. The Eklund sisters, who own the company today, took it from being a traditional flooring industry to an international design brand in only a few years. They have more than tripled the turnover since they took over in 2003.
“One of our core principles is also to work with great innovators and well-known architects and designers, to exchange knowledge and experience. We have a collaboration with Jean Nouvel right now, and we will launch a new flooring collection together in 2017, with a pre-launch in Paris this October. During the years we have worked with Giulio Cappellini, the Campana brothers, Ilse Crawford, Paul Smith, Tom Dixon, Missoni, Doshi-Levien and many more.”
When approaching a new project or client, Bolon believe that personal relations with clients are still very important. They have a rather complex sales process and has to build relations with several different segments in the buying chain.
“Architects and designers are, besides the end-users, our most important target group since they specify our products in their projects – mainly offices, hotels and retail. The buying client is either a flooring contractor or the end-user. It can also be a real estate developer. Besides regular A&D and client visits in the local markets, we have international guests coming to Sweden every week. A very high service and a personal treatment is in Bolon’s DNA and we see direct effects on the business from our international architect and client visits to the factory. With Bolon’s three guest houses in Ulricehamn; The Lake House, The Urban House and the Farm House, we can give visitors and clients a fantastic experience, far beyond their expectations. Together with the Eklund owned La Villa Madonna vineyard in Piemonte, Italy, this has been developed into a hospitality concept, to support our core business.”
On being a successful CMO, Helen describes how she has managed to motivate herself with the help of her colleagues, as well as the challenges she has had to overcome.
“I could never be successful without my team and my colleagues. If they are motivated and engaged, then I am. It’s my responsibility to give the team the right prerequisites to make a good job and reach the targets. My strategy as a leader is delegation and management by objectives, and at the same time being supportive in the daily work. I believe in involving the team as much as possible along the journey, it’s so important to make middle management and employees grow and feel motivated.
“Leadership is about leading yourself, then leading others and then leading the business. All three are equally important and dependent on each other. As a leader, you are working with human beings and you have to learn to understand how your own behaviour affects your team, and how this, in turn, actually affects the business result. This is a learning process and it’s nothing you do perfectly from day 1. This is an important insight and I try to be observant and humble to this fact.
“To be able to do my job, I have to spend time out in the local markets, meeting partners and clients, so I travel quite a lot. Also, I strongly believe that it’s important to constantly challenge yourself and not get stuck in old patterns.”
According to Helen, digitisation has transformed the communication landscape, therefore Bolon has had to adapt to the changes in marketing over the years.
“I have had a background in brand development and communication strategy for many years. When I started in the business, brand building was seen only as something that was taken care of in the marketing department. Today, companies see the importance of implementing a brand platform that involves everybody and permeates the whole organisation.
“An important change now is that we are going from outbound to inbound marketing. The technical development brings about a transparency where brands and commercial interests are perused and eyed-up in a completely new way, which gives the consumer increased power. Peer-to-peer and word-of-mouth recommendations are by far the strongest powers in marketing today. Networks of people create new, disruptive businesses. To stay relevant and engage consumers meaningfully, brands will need to be clear about their identity and values, and develop collaborative platforms that let people play the role of co-creators. The communication is not from company to consumer – it is peer-to-peer, and people-to-people.”
In general business-to-business buyer behaviour is changing. Helen explains that Bolon has had to respond to the changes in the industry, mainly adjusting to clients’ needs.
“Potential customers are readily turning to their personal networks and publicly available information online to self-diagnose their problems and form opinions about solutions. The average customer has completed up to 70% of the purchase decision-making process prior to engaging a supplier sales rep directly, and more and more B2B purchases take place online. As a company, if we fail to “show up strong” in this context we are underserving potential customers and at risk of losing clients and sales opportunities. We have to be responsive, have a nimble organisation and improve knowledge in buyer understanding.
“Sustainability is extremely important – I think the design industry have turned, where people today are much more interested in the production process and material; some years ago it could be enough with a cool label or a famous designer. To have all our manufacturing in Sweden gives us control and the possibility to constantly challenge ourselves with new thinking and development with sustainability as a lead star. Bolon invested 150 million SEK (17.5 million USD) over the last 5 years to be able to offer a product that is recyclable and with no added phthalates, just to mention a few of our initiatives. We do not only want to be trailblazing in our own industry, but also lead the development from a sustainable perspective.”
Technology is extremely important to Bolon, as Helen describes, “As John Chambers, chairman of Cisco Systems put it: “Digitisation will change all companies equally brutal”. Bolon has so far built the brand very successfully through differentiated marketing and communication, but we have to follow the technical development very carefully or competitors will be faster in embracing new digital tools and strategies.
“We have created a digital team and are working in different projects across the organisation, to ensure we are moving along – or even moving ahead - the extremely fast development of technology and are absolutely up to date within social media and digital tools for our different target groups.”
To ensure the continued success of the company, sustainability and digitisation are two very important areas to follow,
“The climate anxiety has matured and has gone from denial and passivity to action. We see a much broader questioning of lifestyles and consumption. To the new generation of conscious consumers, the future life of a product is important; can it be inherited, recycled, shared or reused? Younger generations’ adaptive behaviour to the new digital business models like Spotify and Netflix means that we move from owning and using things, towards having access to them when we need them. Companies will own the products to a greater extent – maintain and update them, repack and resale them, rent them out or provide new services around the product.
“The exponential growth of digital development and sustainability consciousness will lead to new strategies and disruptive business models. Not only does the brand have to permeate the whole organisation; so does innovation and sustainability. If the consumer’s demand is: reuse, recycle, reduce – then I believe the answer for the company is: redefine, rethink and remodel.”
Helen is aware that change in the industry can happen very quickly and is not naïve to future challenges the company may have. However, she plans to continue with Bolon to explore these changes head on.
“Hopefully I am still with Bolon! But by then a lot will have probably happened in the way we work with our brand building and marketing. With the exciting changes in our surrounding world, not the least when it comes to sustainability and digitisation, I hope to work even more with management and development of business strategy. I believe we have a very exciting future ahead of us where we will have to cope with an increasingly complex environment. Being an international certified future strategist, I have a great interest in a holistic view on strategy, through the whole chain from external environment and trend analysis, to development of robust and sustainable future strategies.
“I am fortunate to work for a company where the owners have a very strong vision and a lot of courage. Bolon always has a lot of projects in the pipeline, and we never stand still. If some companies might have a lack of ideas for the future, our problem is the other way around; we have so many ideas that we want to realise, that it’s sometimes difficult to prioritise and ‘kill your darlings’. We are currently developing our next 5-year business plan, which will be implemented in the beginning of next year, and we see a very exciting future ahead of us that will take Bolon to the next level.”
Name: Helen Emanuelsson
Web Address: www.bolon.com
Address: Industrivagen 12, SE-52390 Ulricehamn, Sweden
Telephone: 46 321 530 400.
Mobile: 46 702 099 575