Very few furniture makers in the world can claim 156 years in business. Ligne Roset has survived and thrived that long because while always celebrating its history, the company is not afraid to change and adapt.
It’s not afraid to try something new either. The venerable French furniture maker launched a new website last month that will include an innovative hybrid selling model — part Internet driven, part dealer driven — that makes its furniture available to anyone, not just the well-heeled in major cities where most of its retail locations are found.
“It is an entirely new digital platform for us that gives our customer better access to our products and our company better access to our customers,” says Antoine Roset, one of the fifth-generation company leaders who lives in New York and has helped develop the company’s presence in North America. “It isn’t super fancy, but the design is clean and straight to the point.”
By the end of the summer, the company will launch its new eCommerce platform on the website, which is virtually unheard of for a high end furniture maker. Ligne Roset is not only jumping into eCommerce, it is doing it with both feet. The website will include a 3-D configuration tool that will show your sofa with the correct fabric, grain and feel for the product. This isn’t a fake looking 3-D configuration tool, but one that will give buyers a perfect understanding of how the finished product will look.
Though Ligne Roset is probably known best as a residential furniture maker, its roots are in hospitality furniture, and Roset says he believes there are opportunities in that space still, along with the office market. Trends in the workplace have helped. Offices are becoming more residential, softer and more inviting. That fits perfectly with Ligne Roset’s offering. The company’s furniture, which is tested to contract specifications, works well in areas where a show-stopping piece of furniture is needed.
That ability to subtly shift is one of the reasons the company has been around since 1860. It has always embraced contemporary, design-forward furniture. Still, Ligne Roset has come a long way since it was founded.
Antoine Roset opened a wood processing factory in Montagnieu, in the Ain province of France. Very quickly he and his son Emile began producing wooden umbrellas, walking sticks and, perhaps foretelling, chair frames. In post-war 1950, Antoine’s grandson, Jean, shifted the focus of the company, which at the time employed 50 people, to contract furniture. Tables, chairs and beds were produced for commercial use and were used in a variety of institutions, including schools, universities, hospitals and retirement homes.
Intense growth followed as France and the rest of Europe picked up the pieces after the war. Ten years later Jean Roset entered the domestic market. Jean’s sons Pierre and Michel joined the family business during an explosion of creativity in the 1960s and 1970s, which presented a timely opportunity to revitalize the company by working with interior architects and designers such as Michel Ducaroy.
The Ligne Roset brand became official in 1973 with the very first store opening, alongside the launch of Ducaroy’s Togo, a timeless, iconic piece that continues to be sold today.
The business has continued to work with some of the best furniture designers in the world. Past, present and ongoing collaborators include the award-winning Didier Gomez, Pascal Mourgue, Peter Maly, Pierre Paulin, Inga Sempé and the Bouroullec brothers, among others.
The brand has grown and now has 200 Ligne Roset stores worldwide, along with 750 retail distributors and a presence in dozens of countries. Ligne Roset’s products are made at its Briord, France, factory. The company’s headquarters have been located in Briord since 1973 and have evolved considerably since that time. The belief of Jean Roset, shared by Pierre and Michel, was that the corporate office should be preserved in honor of the Roset family history, and of all those who shared in the evolution of the company.
Creativity is a key value of the Ligne Roset brand. If a new product demands new materials or production methods, the company will simply acquire them. Seats, pieces of furniture, lighting, textiles, rugs or bed linens: the idea precedes and the technique follows, the company believes.
The company still counts most of its business in the residential furniture market, but there has been a natural move to include commercial furniture in Europe — and now in North America. Ligne Roset has its own commercial collection and also does custom work for commercial projects.
“In today’s office, you need a desk and a chair for the main work area,” Roset says. “That office part is not our area of expertise. But then you want a sofa, you want some rugs, lighting that is cool and a space that you can relax in. That’s what we are trying to bring. The office from the 1980s, that’s not what people want anymore. Most people can easily work from a sofa when they want to get away from their desks.”
Roset expects the Internet retail model to add to the bottom line. Web retailing is nothing new, but the way Ligne Roset is taking its products online certainly is unique for a high-end furniture maker. Furniture is, well, big, and it takes a lot of floor space to show it off properly. Ligne Roset can’t possibly show all of its products everywhere it would like.
So Roset came up with an idea: Why not support its retail locations with a strong eCommerce platform? Here’s a fictitious example of how it might work. A Ligne Roset fan is visiting New York from rural Pennsylvania and sees a sofa she loves in the company’s retail location in the Big Apple. She heads home, but can’t get the sofa out of her mind. So she fires up her laptop and buys the sofa online. The nearest Ligne Roset retail partner handles the transaction, which means the customer’s sofa is delivered by someone who understands the product, not simply dumped on her porch by an anonymous delivery service.
Effectively, it blends the white-glove service of a retail store with the power of opening up the market for Ligne Roset products to the world. When someone spends $5,000 on a new sofa, they expect a point of contact and assurances about delivery.
“The Internet is one of the most important tools for our brand,” Roset said. “We would need a 10,000 or 15,000 square foot store everywhere we wanted to sell. In the past, we would just print a catalog, but when you print it, that’s it. It’s done. We have products that are moving and changing with new finishes coming up. Print is a nice tool, but it is static.”
Ligne Roset has 35 stores in the U.S., most on the East and West Coasts, which means there are wide swaths of the country that don’t know the brand or can’t easily buy its furniture. A market like St. Louis, for example, might not be large enough for a Ligne Roset store, but there might be a number of people there still interested in buying from the brand.
What would the founders of Ligne Roset think of the company they founded? In many ways, it is the same: a company whose leaders adapt to the market and times. Ligne Roset is just the way they would want it. BoF