Configura Turns 20
When the chief executive officer of Configura looks back at the last 20 years the space planning software company has been around, he feels his company and its products are at the beginning of their corporate journey, not two decades in.
Johan Lyreborn feels his company has just scratched the surface when it comes to helping dealers and their salespeople do what they do best --- sell office furniture and other goods with a minimum of headaches.
It has been a long journey for Lyreborn and Configura from its home base in Linkoping, Sweden to an emerging brand of space planning software that reaches around the world. It has also been frustrating at times. Lyreborn is convinced he has the best planning software in the world and he’s a bit frustrated that it hasn’t caught on more quickly, especially in the North American market.
That’s not to say the company isn’t making serious inroads against its established competitors. Configura counts Steelcase and Haworth as two of its major customers and is actively looking to add more. Still, Configura has nowhere near the established base of 20-20 Technologies. Configura feels a bit like Apple Computers in the 1980s -- the company believes it has a superior product, but is limited by a goliath competitor. The company also would like its market to play out just like Apple’s. By producing great products, it hopes customers will turn away from what they know and turn to what Configura believes they know is better.
“20-20 is still the dominant player in the market when it comes to number of users,” said Peter Brandinger, who runs the company’s US headquarters in Grand Rapids. “We don’t feel they are competing with us based on a technical basis. They haven’t done anything to improve their technology where the core base is. It is a captive audience.”
So for Configura, it isn’t a matter of coming up with a better product. It is simply a matter of getting its products in front of more potential clients to prove it. And that’s not easy in the North American market, where office furniture dealers effectively run companies independent of their manufacturers. In Europe, it is a much different system and one that’s easier to break into for a company like Configura, which prides itself on creating partnerships with its customers to customize its software instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Take Swedish furniture maker Kinnarps, for example. The company controls its sales operations so when Kinnarps decides to choose Configura as its space planning software provider, the sales team falls in line.
In the North American market, dealers are relatively autonomous. If a designer at a major office furniture dealer feels more comfortable using AutoCad driven 20-20 Technologies software, that’s what the dealership uses.
Still, Configura is determined to make its software the standard for the industry (and for other industries as well). Though it has become a major player in the space planning software world, the company started small. The company was formed on Sept. 26, 1990 by Sune Rydqvist, Göran Rydqvist and Lyreborn at the Rydqvist summer home on Sweden’s Lake Vättern. The company was originally named CadCal Design and the first customer was S-Line Office.
But it wasn’t until 1994 that the company got its first big break: a contract with Martela in Finland. Another breakthrough was the company’s signing of Kinnarps in 1996. In 2001 the company entered the North American market. Peter Brandinger, who leads the company’s North American operations from its Grand Rapids headquarters, said Configura has learned much since it arrived in the US a decade ago.
“What we learned and found interesting at the beginning was how manual and intensive the process (of buying furniture) was -- how much time was spent trying to sell the furniture, how much trouble it was to come up with the price. Over the last few years, clients are requiring more from their dealers. They want quicker responses and they want better proposals.
“The pace is just accelerating market demands. Clients want more service and they are not willing to pay for it the way they were before. Previously, dealers could charge hours or design time and there were ways to finance the quote process. That’s not true anymore.”
Despite the difficulties of breaking into the market, Configura has had success in North American. And the company has plans to increase its reach around the world. Configura has plans to open an office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to serve the Asian market. “We are very sure Asian companies want to implement technology to be more efficient,” Lyreborn said. “We are planning to be there when this starts.”
The company celebrated its anniversary in a very Swedish way. It booked a resort near the lake where the company was founded and invited its friends and business partners from around the world. It is an elegant resort, but one with few technological distractions. That’s how Lyreborn wanted it. Instead of tapping on iPhones and Blackberries, party guests enjoyed food, entertainment and dancing.
“When I traveled to Linkoping, I met Goran, Sune and Johan; the leadership of Configura and the company itself is solid,” said Larry Lee of Haworth. “Every employee seemed just as passionate about the company and the CET platform as the partners. That gave me confidence that Configura would deliver the solutions Haworth required. Moving into a working relationship, Configura has always been very easy to work / collaborate with and is very willing to develop any CET functionality required to support the North American Office furniture industry. I found Configura’s developers especially keen in their development approaches and innovative in their solutions to issues.”
Though much has changed at Configura over the last 20 years, the underlying bedrock of the company remains its commitment to innovation, Lyreborn said. “No matter where we came from, we never stopped innovating,” he said. “It is in the blood of Configura. We have to continue on that path and never stop innovating. Another thing that has been very important to us is our willingness to customize. There are many companies out there that don’t want to customize. They think standard is the solution. Companies are unique, products are unique, business intelligence is unique. If you want to have the right benefits there has to be a way to customize the solution. The benefits gained come from the fact that we customize.”