DESIGNER DAVID Bartlett’s contact book reads like Who’s Who – and soon you could be in there with the great and good given he’s asking printers interested in getting involved with his new project, Brandit Furniture, to get in touch. This design guru, who has done everything from designing headwear with Philip Treacy for Lady Gaga to acclaimed ceramic tile interiors at five-star The G Hotel in Galway, will use Drupa to launch a range of paperbased furniture ready for wide-format printers to bespoke print and sell at sizeable margin. In this Talking Point we asked him to explain his plans.
David, anyone who knows anything about design will recognise your name - though not in relation to wideformat print. But it seems that is about to change with your latest venture, Brandit Furniture. What is this in essence?
Brandit Furniture is a stylish and very professional range of lightweight, paper-based products that I’ve designed to furnish exhibition stands - from chairs and tables to display units. The point is that all this furniture can be liveried up with the customer’s own graphics, logos and images without the high costs normally associated with doing that because they can be printed using wideformat flatbed printers and thus do not need to be ordered in vast quantities. Print companies with such print equipment can buy the blanks of the furniture products ready for printing and can sell them as their own offering.
In the past you have done a lot of work based around cardboard engineering, including designing the famous Millennium paper furniture for Habitat. Was this the catalyst to Brantit Furniture?
Well it started a lot earlier than the Habitat project. I designed my very first paper-based chair in the Sixties and it was used by the designer Emanuel Ungaro in Paris for one of his fashion shows. In those days it had to be produced in large quantities - you were looking at a production run of 5000. So the chairs were sold at about £2 each - and now sell at auction for around a £1000! They were supposed to be disposable but some people had them for 20 years and more. The chair was made of a solid board formulated and produced with a polythene surface by a subsidiary of Unilever. That chair became an overnight success and Unilever decided to back it, so I had the resources to go on and design a range of disposable furniture, which included children’s furniture. I then went on to produce paper sculpture books with Godley and Crème. Then, back on the furniture front I started a solid wooden furniture manufacturer and produced for companies such as Habitat. Its then creative director Tom Dixon asked me to produce a new range of paper furniture, hence the Millennium chair. Shortly after this I was commissioned by the late fashonista Isabella Blow to design and produce a paper dining table and chairs for her homes in London and Paris. At the same time the fashion designer Rifat Ozbek used 200 of my paper chairs for a fashion show in Milan, and the following year they ordered more. When wide-format inkjet printers and flatbed XY cutters came along and fine flute board became available, the economics of starting a company such as Brantit Furniture began to make sense as it had become possible to design and produce a whole new range of bespoke printed furniture at little cost. My first target market was the computer games market with a promotional games chair. But that’s a tough market to get into and is still an ongoing project. But then the idea developed in my mind that I could produce a whole range of products for the exhibition market which is desperate for economical, easily transportable, temporary yet durable stand furniture with style and which is easy to brand. With the economy as it is and with budgets as tight as they are, it all adds up to the right time to launch.
Why should wide-format print producers then take particular interest in Brandit Furniture?
Because Brantit Furniture offers a very simple and cost effective way for wide-format printers to increase their product range and revenue. They can draw from Brandit’s relatively low-cost stocks of stylish die cut exhibition furniture blanks as required and print them up to bespoke customer specifications. We will also offer a Web-to-print franchise solution if required.
Can you throw me a bit more on how the Web-to-print franchise idea will work?
We will offer a Web-to-print service through a print company’s own website. The products will be on their website and offered by them in the same way they would offer any printed exhibition product. We have a manufacturer who will be producing the blanks and will hold stock. The print company will buy the furniture blanks and there will be a monthly franchise fee. And we can supply throughout Europe!
What should printers do if they want to get involved?
How have you chosen your ‘working partners’ so far?
We’ve worked long and hard to find reliable and flexible manufacturers with on site fulfillment capability. That was our first priority.
What kind of timeframe are we looking at in terms of this venture going live?
The main furniture designs are ready and tested. The first stage of manufacture, which is to produce and supply the blanks, is set up and ready to go. Final pricing is being worked out now. The launch will probably be at Drupa, where we will be working with FFEI on its stand to promote its 3D packaging software which has been a really useful design tool for me in working on the furniture designs for the Brandit range. Indeed, some of the furniture will be on the FFEI stand at the show. So hopefully it will spring from there.
Initially, Brandit Furniture will be targeted to the exhibitions market as you say, but there must be huge potential in other markets. Have you thought beyond the exhibitions sector and where the Brandit concept may take you?
This range of furniture is lightweight, easily handled, packs flat and can be assembled and dismantled very quickly. Two people could carry a whole exhibition stand and erect it, so that’s an obvious market. But yes, we see other possibilities. The market for seminar seating is a large area - one where the attendee could take their liveried promotional chair home with them. The computer games market, where manufacturers could offer a promotional games chair to all customers buying a certain new game is still one I’m working on. And the children’s furniture retail market has a huge potential via such outlets as Toy R Us and Early Learning. Furniture printed with board games, stories and the potential for children to paint and decorate the furniture themselves seems very appealing. I've talked to companies like Benson and Hedges where there was interest in a little shooting stick like perch for use at its sponsored golf tournaments but it didn't want the volume that I originally had to start with when it was die cut and printed in a conventional way. Similarly I’ve spoken with Ford in regards to tables and chairs for promotions in one of its showrooms. But again the volumes weren’t as high as I needed at the time. But now it’s all possible using wide-format print technology – volumes from from 1 to 100 should be no problem.
I know of a few print companies already printing onto furniture – paper based and traditional materials – but the problem in growing sales has been route to market. What do you think needs to happen to increase the market for bespoke branded/printed furniture?
People need to know it’s possible! We’ll be doing our own promotional campaign to the exhibition market. Wide-format printers need to understand that they can get involved in this type of print and then put in place a plan to promote them to potential customers.
Where do you think Brandit will be this time next year?
I am hoping that with the right exposure to the wideformat print industry the franchise business will be Europe-wide. I don't think we'll be in America by then but that will be a goal as we aim on being worldwide.