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The tables are turning - Furniture - How To Spend It


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Luis De Oliveira – the garrulous co-owner of London-based De La Espada, the woodworking specialist furniture outfit – credits his failures and successes to date to two books. Book number one is called Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevantby W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. The other is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. Reading the former, says the Portuguese engineer who first brought his wife’s company De La Espada to London from Madrid in 1995, nearly crippled his business. The second could be his mission statement for today.

It’s a business model on a scale without precedent in the design industry – based on that second book The Long Tail’s theory that you can make as much money selling small amounts of more stuff as selling large amounts of less stuff. The result? De La Espada could provide a business model capable of seriously challenging Italy’s supremacy in furniture design manufacturing – a model that tends to favour the company over the designer-to-hire.

“There hasn’t been another way of doing it before,” says the seasoned Matthew Hilton. “It’s either the Italian way, or you become a designer-maker and run your own business and sell your own work.”

Thanks to De Oliveira’s diverse choice of designers, the project could be one of the design world’s biggest triumphs to date. But, he adds, “I’m incredibly aware of failure.” Indeed, the past half-decade has been a rocky road and then some for De La Espada. For which De Oliveira puts the blame firmly at the door of the Blue Ocean philosophy he wholeheartedly bought into (“I hate that book,” he laughs bitterly). The book says that you should ignore competition, finding an uncontested market where your business can thrive.

Great story.

But you missed the punchline, which is that this style of business is wearing him out.

How De Oliveira himself sees it working is not entirely clear. He admits that “the business is spread very thin” and he spent 26 weeks of last year on the road away from his Chelsea home. But he hasn’t got this far into running his own company to not see it unfold the way he wants if he can help it. His aim is “that you will not fail to come across De La Espada in the near future wherever you are. But you might not realise you have.”

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