BoF: Maars Living Walls Hires Industry Vet Craven; Sets Sights on North American Market

Robert Craven, the industry veteran who was tapped to be the managing director of Maars Living Walls in North America, jokes about his living arrangements when he talks about building the brand for the Dutch demountable wall maker that has its sights set on growing here.

“New York? Yeah, I have an apartment there,” he said, noting much of the last few weeks have been spent relentlessly on the road, working with dealers, promoting the company’s outstanding line of products and meeting with the company’s management in the Netherlands.

To be clear, it is not a complaint from the executive, who previously worked as vice president of sales for Wilkhahn, where he helped expand the company’s U.S. presence by establishing an independent rep group network and managing key global accounts. Prior to Wilkhahn, he held sales positions at Interface, Knoll and Steve Maturo & Associates. He has experience building brands in the U.S. market. Craven said he is excited about the prospect of leading the brand in North America and introducing it to an ever-growing number of interested designers, dealers and customers.

“I think we are just at beginning phases of what architectural walls can look like in the U.S.,” he said. “When you look at history of the Maars brand ... it has a rich heritage, and the breadth of its portfolio was interesting to me.”

Craven researched the company throughly and talked to designers. He found a lot of dealers and designers have to use multiple companies for their demountable wall needs. He also found Maars has a robust portfolio that ranges from entry level product to some of the top-of-the-line wall systems in the world. That, he said, opens up a range of possibilities for its customers.

Craven has known the Maars Living Walls brand for some time. He is friends with Ricardo Costa, who was Maars Living Walls’ national sales director and had previously worked with Steelcase and DIRTT (he now works for Herman Miller). While at Wilkhahn, the company had a need for demountable walls in its New York showroom and turned to Maars, which is how Craven learned about the brand.

Since he worked in areas that included lighting, textiles and furniture, Craven decided to add architectural wall products to his experience and joined Maars. He will manage the sales and marketing efforts for North America. With several new products and systems launching in 2016, Craven joins Maars at a pivotal time.

“I think it’s a great company with tremendous potential in North America,” he said. “Maars produces innovative, relevant and beautifully designed products every day, and our portfolio is unlike anything else on the market. This is a unique opportunity for me to leverage my experience and work directly with the growing Maars team to increase brand awareness and distribution in the U.S. market and beyond.”

It has 70 years of experience in Europe, where modular architecture has been around a lot longer than North America. 

Maars definitely has the products to succeed in North America, which are notable for their design, quality and especially for sound and fireproofing capabilities. Yet the company faces a similar challenge as a European brand coming to North America: Customers worry about price and lead times. Speed to market is critical, and Craven knows sometimes dealers need something “off the shelf” for projects happening right now. “How you address fast-moving projects helps you open doors to larger projects in the future, and Maars is addressing how we can best serve our customers here,” he said, noting Maars is working on a stocking program that will keep product on hand in the U.S. to make sure customers have the pieces they want when they want them.

Also important is the company’s connection to its dealers in North America. Part of Craven’s job is education, he said. Since Maars’ products are so robust, there is no need for the drywall/glass storefront structure. The entire office structure can be built from Maars, he said. That takes a deeper discussion of architecture and construction.

To that end, Maars is deeply committed to its success in North America. The company has the resources in place to help, including project management, design and salespeople on the ground along with dealer partners who have showrooms. The company also has a powerful ally in Configura, which is working with Maars on a space configuration tool for its products.

Discussions have been had about building Maars products in the U.S., though Craven said that would likely be implemented in 2017. Planning is also being done for a Maars showroom in the U.S., probably in New York.

“My focus right now is to get dealer partners on board and to get our team up and running,” Craven said. “I want to add three to four people this year and three or four next year. Looking at what the U.S. market has and what we can bring to the table, it is hard not to be excited. I think Maars has made an impact the last 70 years in Europe and the new product pipeline is robust. Our dealers are excited about what they’ve seen.”

Maars Living Walls is different than most that compete in the fast-growing, demountable wall category because of the build quality and innovation. The company makes wall panels that actually function as speakers — not just speakers embedded in the product. The seams on its panels can act as air vents, making actual vents unnecessary. And my, are they quiet.

That portfolio of integrated solutions Maars calls its “Living Options” make the company’s product lines special. Living Options include add-ons like media walls, sound panels, privacy glass, blinds, lighting, storage, organizers, Maars Magnetics, sound absorption walls and panels, “breathing” walls, whiteboards and SmartElements. Impressions create unique environments with designs and added materials. Custom digital prints are available on wood and steel panels. Film and sand-blasting designs can be added on glass modules.

Maars Fashion options include an extensive range of unique materials like fabrics, leathers, skai, felts and exotic veneers. SmartElements include items like seating with magnetic, sound absorbing backrests that designers can use to create their own look.

The family owned company is based in Harderwijk, the geographical center of The Netherlands. It has 70 years of experience in Europe, where modular architecture has been around a lot longer than North America. Making panels that are acoustically quiet and structurally sound is a hallmark of the company.

The company’s quality makes it easier for designers to take its products and run with them, doing radical things with the walls like building them up to 40-feet high. Maars is the largest demountable wall maker in Europe, and it has made serious inroads in the Middle East and Asia. Will North America be next? BoF

This article first published in the April 27, 2016 issue of The Business of Furniture >