“Steelcase has its infrastructure ready to make a foray into the Nepali market”

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Established in 1912, Steelcase is a US-based manufacturer of cutting-edge furniture having a global presence with 800 dealers across the world. The company recently appointed Golchha Organisation as its authorised dealer for Nepal. Zulfikar Bhutto, Business Head Channel (Dealership) Strategy & Development, India and SAARC Region of Steelcase, was in Nepal for a business visit. Bhutto sat down with Manisha Balami of New Business Age to talk about the brand, opportunities in the Nepali market, and expansion plans. Excerpts:

Tell us about Steelcase.
Steelcase is a global company and it has been in India for the last 16 years; it is the world’s no 1 office furniture company. Among its 16 manufacturing facilities, three are in the Asia-Pacific region including India, Malaysia and China. We have 14,000 employees and 4,000 product patents. There are almost 16 Steelcase brands including Designtex, Orangebox, Polyvision, Turnstone, Coalesse, etc. So, our dealership here in Nepal will represent all these brands.

We are a ‘design thinking’ company and our main objective is to help organisations resolve problems. It has been seen that design of offices impacts on the productivity of the workforce. Our research has found that 70 percent people in any organisation are engaged and productive while the other 30 percent are not. In our study, we found that those 30 percent employees do not feel that they belong to the workplace, hence they are less engaged and productive. So we help organisations design their workplaces, so that people can build a sense of belongingness and dedicate fully in their work.

We have partnered with universities like MIT, Harvard and Michigan State University and tech giants like Microsoft, Dell, IBM and Intel, among many others, to conduct studies and come up with products based on the findings.   

What types and how many products do you have in your product portfolio? What are the unique selling propositions (USPs) of Steelcase products?
We have products in different segments. We manufacture furniture for office spaces and for the ‘resimercial’ spaces that look more like residential but basically are commercial workplaces. We have products specifically for banks and IT companies. Likewise, we have products for education; there is a separate vertical for educational institutions. Besides, we also manufacture home furniture as well. We have thousands of products in our portfolio but in Nepal, our focus is on three major verticals – office, education and hospitality segments.

All Steelcase products are designed keeping the requirements of people in mind; it is one of the USPs of our products. Product quality is another USP. Some of our products come with 8 years and 12 years warranty which indicates the quality. Above all, the main USP of Steelcase is sustainability. We care for the environment. We are the first ‘carbon neutral’ office furniture company in the world. By 2030, our vision is to become a ‘carbon negative’ company.

With many people across the world making homes their workplaces due to the Covid-19 pandemic, how has this affected Steelcase? How has your company adapted to the ‘new normal’?
The ‘new normal’ is something which was unprecedented for us. The situation has led us to change our strategy. It created difficulties for us to work as new workplaces could not come into existence because of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Existing offices also have to be redesigned because of the disturbances created by the pandemic. Now new workplaces are coming up slowly with work restarting as restrictions are being lifted gradually. The situation has impacted us more in terms of office spaces. But the good thing that has happened is that people working from home needed the right type of work desks and sitting arrangements so that they could work comfortably and be more productive. So we stepped into ‘work from home’ solutions. In fact, we also launched our OHOH (one home one hand) scheme and it has been fairly successful.

We have also launched an e-commerce platform enabling people from anywhere to buy our products. It was totally new for us because primarily our business has remained B2B (business to business); now we have adopted B2C (business to consumer) and B2B2C (business to business to consumer) models as well. So there are multiple business opportunities that have emerged and we as a company are adapting to the changing scenario.

How do you think Steelcase products will be received in Nepal?
Our launch is just happening in Nepal and the first thing for us in this regard is to create readiness. It took us 16 years to come to Nepal. We needed the right products, pricing, supply chain, solutions and relationship because Nepal is different than other markets. So we had to prepare everything before coming here. We have chosen Golchha Organisation as our local partner and they will be our exclusive dealer for Nepal. Soon we will open our showroom which we call ‘Worklife’.

We are hopeful that our products will be received very well here as we already have some orders and customers and the initial response has been tremendous. Most of our customers here are primarily from Europe and US who already are using Steelcase products.

How do you observe the office furniture market in Nepal? How is the competition for Steelcase?
The market for office spaces is still at a very nascent stage in Nepal. But it is growing gradually and you can see the development happening all around. I’m very hopeful that in the next five to 10 years, there will be very different workplace requirements in Nepal. The youth are the largest populace in the country and they are the future employees. They are attracted towards outside influences and want such things here. So there is a growing demand and this is why brands like Steelcase are investing in Nepal.

The market is very fragmented in Nepal at present. We can see a couple of Indian brands selling their products here there are also a lot of Chinese imports. There are also a couple of global brands that compete with us. However, no office furniture brand has created a channel footprint. The market cannot be created by just launching products; there is a need to create infrastructure and supply chain. Steelcase has its infrastructure ready to make a foray into the Nepali market.

What types of office furniture are in high demand in Nepal?
The most demanded furniture here is chairs which is the most important requirement for any workstation. Besides, the demand for collaborative furniture and sofas is also growing in demand.

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