Episode 9

A World of Design: Meet Bolia

Born in Denmark, online B2C lifestyle business Bolia, celebrates New Scandinavian design interpreted by international designers. Two decades into global sales, Bolia introduces a multisensory retail experience complete with exclusive chocolate, playlists, and coffee, and introduces ‘resimercial’ offerings with a global Steelcase partnership.

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That's what I think is the fascinating part of this collaboration, is that we come from a residential place, so our products are created for residential use. But in this whole collaboration, we've seen to learn fast that all our products actually fit in to a contract setting as well. We test the durability to the higher standard in Europe. So, you can take a residential piece, put it into a work life, and it will completely transform itself. Mette Breindahl Nørremark, Bolia B2B Business Unit Manager


CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:00] Welcome to the ONEder podcast. It's CCB. Today we're bringing you an episode from our Maker Series from Marketplace on Maiden Lane. Let's get started.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:09] OK. You look like a bug. A cute bug, but a bug. OK, so I just have to think about... I'm not going to say your name.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:00:24] Mette.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:24] Mette. I'm here with Mette from Bolia. OK, so welcome to the ONEder podcast. This is CCB from One Workplace and I'm here with Mette from Bolia.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:00:42] You got it. Perfect.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:42] Excellent. And we're going to spend a little bit of time talking about your business model, your solutions that you are introducing into the marketplace, and some of the more exciting aspects of Bolia that that I know are our listeners would love to hear about. So first off, why don't you tell us a little bit about the Bolia brand.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:01:04] So Bolia is a Danish company. We're 19 years young as we call it and we center ourselves around what we call New Scandinavian Design. So, we're, of course, very proud of our Scandinavian heritage and that's what we focus a lot of bringing into our products in our stores. We have 60 stores in Europe that are run and operated by us. And so, we really center around how do you interpret Scandinavian design. You don't have to be Scandinavian to appreciate Scandinavian design. You can be from all over. So, we work with designers from all over the all over the world to create our collections. We have two collections every year that we bring to the market and sell through our stores and through partnerships with other design stores. And of course, our new and wonderful collaboration with Steelcase now entering the arts world.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:01:49] We think it's really fascinating. So, I jumped on the Bolia site and I thought, oh, that's interesting. It's so B2C. So coming from the retail background and working with the direct-to-the-customer, is there a shift that has to take place in your marketing or your messaging in any way?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:02:08] No, that's what I think is the fascinating part of this collaboration, is that we come from a residential place, so our products are created for residential use. But in this whole collaboration, we've seen to learn fast that all our products actually fit in to a contract setting as well. We test the durability to the higher standard in Europe. So, you can take a residential piece, put it into a work life, and it will completely transform itself. It works really well. And as working spaces are transforming, I think you will want to bring more of their home into the office, maybe just make it stay longer.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:02:43] Yeah, that's a big thing here in the United States.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:02:45] Us too. So, it's really funny for us to see how our products that were created for residential use, they work just as well in an office setting. We're talking about it here as we're walking around the Marketplace at Maiden Lane, that it's so great to see our products in different settings because they do so well. So, it makes us proud. But we're of course also listening to the market trends as our collaboration grows. So, we will start to see products that maybe can morph a little bit into the office space as well. So maybe a little bit more task chairs than we've seen before... we're going to stick to the core. We don't want to become a different brand.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:03:23] So the brand itself is an interesting model again. And in the conversation that we just had about where did it come from, and the idea of technology and furniture design marrying. So, could you talk a little bit about that?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:03:40] Yeah. I mean, Lars our CEO would say that we're half design, half tech because we come from an online background. All our sales are pretty much done online. If you walk into one of our stores, you won't see it but our sales staff they're actually selling off our website. So, our Web site is the heart of what we do. We put a lot of heart and soul into making that the platform that can access to everybody. So, whether it's Steelcase you can buy from our platform if it's our B2C customers or B2B customers. So that's really the heart of what we put a lot of energy into: How can we be creative on the technology aspect as well.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:04:16] Mm-hmm. So, when you talked about the designers can come from anywhere. Clearly there is a global appreciation for Scandinavian design. What impact does the influence or the contribution from people all over the world have to the brand and the philosophy or the values of Bolia?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:04:40] Well, I think it really gives us an edge. We get so many different perspectives on what is Scandinavian design. And that's why we call it New Scandinavian Design, is that you can come with... We have a lot of German designers, I feel this year, in our current collection. So, they come with their perspective on what constitutes Scandinavian heritage. I think it brings a lot of variety into it with all that same theme going throughout the whole collection. But it gives a lot of diversity and a lot of creativity into the into the mix. I think you were using the same Scandinavian designers all over it would be very much monotone and the same, whereas we get so many different variations on… and get to play around with Scandinavian design.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:05:19] Ok, so speaking of play, the idea of your competition, I think is just spectacular.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:05:26] Thank you.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:05:27] Especially bringing that whole nature of new thinking.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:05:31] I mean, we're very proud of it. It's called the Bolia Design Awards. We host it every year. And anybody who wants to can put a bid into it. So, it's a way in which that we can find creative talent. And again, circling back to creativity, which is so important to us that we get to see what's out there, who has new perspectives on things. And then we'll choose 10 different designs and make that sort of the winning core and then from that, we choose a winner. And sometimes the products are so good and there's a commerciality to it that you can actually put it into production. We have actually one of our accessories—we do accessories as well—a base that came about from the clothing firemen wear. So, you would create a bag from that, put glass into it, and then it becomes this beautiful base with a little texture from the fabric on it. And it was put into production. It's one of our best-selling accessories now. So that was... we would never have found him, I think—it's Fabio Vogel, a German designer—if we hadn't had that competition. So, it's a really great way of getting new and upcoming talent.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:06:33] We have those vases here in the Marketplace on Maiden Lane. And so, if anyone hasn't been here, you might want to run over and check. They're beautiful.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:06:39] Ok. I just was going to ask a question about the difference between selling massively, as opposed to the more individualized aspect of focused selling to the customer. So, we’re going into more mass production and broader distribution, what challenges does that bring to a Danish company?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:07:03] So one of the funny things some people probably don't know is that we don't carry anything stock. Everything is made to order. I know in contract that's sometimes a little bit different when it is in retail. But we have… We sort of offer the range to people and we give them the choice of fabric and color and materiality and then we create it for them. So, we have a broad range of designs. We have what we call 800 design families, and you put all the variations together and get more than nine hundred thousand combinations. So, you really offer people the opportunity to create what they want. And we see in our stores we have designs that we would call maybe safer choices, and then you also have the very stand-out iconic pieces. But because we don't have anything in stock, we're not sort of under pressure to sell something out. You know, we can have a broad variety and so we have something that's maybe a little bit more safe. And then we have the very iconic pieces as well.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:07:56] So along with that breadth of offering, you also have a very broad scope when it comes to interests, I would say.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:08:06] Yeah.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:08:06] And we were laughing with the wonderful deejay that you had here last night playing amazing music and how important music is to Bolia. So, talk about the senses and the intentionality between.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:08:21] So an important part of visiting a Bolia store... and if you haven't done, I encourage you to do so, although we don't have any in the US... But for us, it's important when people come into a store that we try to tickle all five senses. One of the ways we do that is we've created a Bolia scent. So, what does a brand smell like? And we created that scent for Bolia. So, you walk into the store, you get our little flowery scent. You can actually buy it in the store as well. We also have the smell of nice coffee. We just launched a new partnership with La Cabra, which is a Danish coffee brand. They do Michelin star quality coffee. So, when people come in, we offer them a cup of coffee so they can smell the coffee, smell the Bolia scent, taste the coffee, get a piece of chocolate, then we invite them in to sit in the furniture and feel at home. And then of course, they can touch the materiality, touch the fabrics. We have samples out that they can look and feel. And then, of course, for the eyes, we have the beautiful products that they can take a look at. So, we really it's like a full experience, because once you're there, then you also hear the brand as we have what we call the Bolia's mix tape. It's available on SoundCloud or on Spotify. We have our CEO who's a former deejay, so music is at his heart. So, it's again, creativity. How do we bring it into the mix? And he'll create a mix tape for every season. It's curated by him. And then we play it in the stores. And it's also why we had a house deejay almost. She's been deejaying three events for us because she was just so good. And Lars really liked her, she picked up on Bolia right away. So, it's just such an important part of what we do as I was saying to you. For me, I've been at Bolia for four years and I almost forget when I walk into the office that I'm smelling the brand. I'm hearing the brand. But it's just such an integral part of what we do.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:10:08] So it's such a... In my experience, just briefly watching the people interact with Bolia and understanding a little bit more about it, it kind of puts smiles on people's faces. I mean, there's like a happiness that comes along with it. And so, it leans towards a bit of a lifestyle intention. But I wonder, what does that look like inside the office? What are people like?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:10:35] So I think you'd actually see the same, I hope. I mean, that's what I hear from people when they visit our office, that people are so happy and sort of smiling. And it is… we are happy company. The office is decorated with Bolia products. We're sort of living the brand. We have a disco ball in our kitchen.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:10:52] I'm going to make a note of that in our suggestion box. OK.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:10:58] So there's a really nice vibe and atmosphere. But I think, you know, you walk in and you hear the music playing and you can smell the nice coffee and the Bolia scent and... I love the people that I work with. So, we're a happy company. I think either you fit in and you really live the brand.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:11:15] We've been talking a lot about brand and culture and the purpose behind organizations and how the retention of employees is hugely impacted by making that right fit. So, when you find people, you find the place and you can stay longer. So, I was going to ask a question about if there was an installation... We talked about what percentage is business sales right now and what percentage is direct to the customer. So, it's fairly small, but growing.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:11:41] Yeah. I mean, retail is still the biggest thing that we do, and I think it will probably continue because we were born out of out of retail. But the business-to-business part of Bolia is growing and it's growing fast largely due to this great collaboration we have with Steelcase because it's taken us to a place where we wouldn't have got ourselves. We wouldn't have thought, OK, let's go to the contract market. It's not something where we would have our focus. So, it's interesting to see that we can really explore these two avenues of business-to-business and still working in retail.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:12:11] I was going to ask you if there was an installation that you've experienced yet for any particular company or organization that really resonated.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:12:22] I mean, we've done a lot of fun projects. We've done something for Microsoft in Amsterdam where I've seen the pictures and it just looks really great. The furniture really fits in still and it looks like Bolia, but it's in a in an office setting. We've sold some of our chairs to Fidelity. And I think there are a lot of… We see the orders that come through and it's nice... You would call it vignettes almost? And so, it's the whole atmosphere that they're buying into, which I think is great. And I'm sure we can have some other people in Steelcase in Grand Rapids to share images and feedback of where we've done these great installations.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:13:04] People just love to hear the stories. So, you've been there for four years. What's your favorite story about Bolia?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:13:11] Well, we have a saying at Bolia that what happens at Bolia stays in Bolia.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:13:16] I love that.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:13:17] We'll start the Christmas party every year with that phrase. Everybody says it. I think for me, my favorite part is probably it's going to sound cheesy, but it's the everyday life. You know, I really enjoy working with the team that I work with. So, you come into the office, you see a smile on people's face or a high five on the way in. And it's really, you know, if we had a good order come in, we'll go get some cake or something. So, we really were good at celebrating our victories. So, it's like a team effort and I really enjoy that. And then getting to travel and work with beautiful furniture is just a perk.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:13:50] Well we're really, really happy to have met you and have you join us here at Marketplace on Maiden Lane. Is there anything about Bolia that you want people to know that you don't think that they would know?

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:14:01] Actually, I think a lot of people don't know that we do business-to-business because they see us as a retail brand. So, I think that's important to know. And it's also important to know that for us, the key element is creativity, quality is also a big part, and then sustainability. We're really trying to emphasize the sustainability story and I don't know if everybody knows how much effort we put into that.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:14:21] I loved reading about some of that on the Web site. There's a lot of... And they're great stories on the website and it's something that I think people should go look at.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:14:29] Yes. There's so much content and imagery to share.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:14:32] And those great playlists. Now we know where to find them.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:14:34] Yes, you do.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:14:35] All right. Thank you so much for spending time with us.

Mette Breindahl Nørremark (Bolia): [00:14:38] It was my pleasure. Thank you.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:14:39] That wraps up today's podcast. I'd like to remind you that we have a number of other maker interviews that we'd love for you to check out. Enjoy them.