Better by design: Innovation and new product development in Denmark

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Jette Egelund - Chairman - Vipp, Homeware manufacturer, Denmark

Vipp is known the world over for its elegant, practical homewares, which are the essence of Scandinavian style, but it’s a success story built on – of all things – a bin.  Holger Nielsen was a metal worker by trade, and produced a special pedal bin for his wife Marie’s hair salon, as a side-line to his main business processing steel.

When Holger died, his daughter Jette Egelund took over the company, specifically to explore the commercial potential of the bin design. As she says herself, “I thought if I make a failure of it, it’s my own risk.”

Jette started working in the factory, learning the art of metal pressing: “I needed that knowledge to develop the product, and to identify the best manufacturing partner for us.”  This hands-on experience was supplemented with business theory, acquired at the Copenhagen Business School. And about that time Jette’s children, son Kasper and daughter Sophie, joined her in the firm, bringing with them expertise in marketing and graphic design: “Suddenly there were a lot of skills which complemented the business.”

From then, the Vipp range went from strength to strength, adding a toilet brush and laundry bin to the original pedal bin. Throughout, innovation, new product development, and clean Danish design are key to Vipp’s success: “Everything has a purpose,” Jette says. “And there is a clear ‘Danish-ness’ to the brand.” This was recognised in 2009, when the pedal bin was included in the architecture and design permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Jette Egelund - Chairman - Vipp, Denmark

Jette Egelund - Chairman - Vipp, Denmark

One of the keys to Vipp’s success has been its Design Group, which includes Jette, the chief designer Morten Bo Jensen, Kasper, who is now the CEO, and their Chief Engineer. This “very strategic” foursome explore ideas for new products and markets, while a Board of six – the Design Group plus an accountant and a lawyer “to keep the peace” - ratifies the overall strategy.

The firm’s most recent new product is the Vipp Shelter – a 55m2 prefabricated structure launched in 2014, designed to give people their own instant ‘getaway’. “We were manufacturing all the things to go in to a building; we just needed the building”.  The family still  consider themselves to be manufacturers at heart, but now have an end-to-end offering from concept to product development and through to consumer sales. “You get an idea, and then you go and make it happen – that’s the family way.”

The Vipp Shelter

The Vipp Shelter

These days, 70% of Vipp’s turnover is outside Denmark. Jette’s daughter Sophie is running the New York City operation from a showroom in Tribeca where she works with interior designers and architects.  A sales director has recently been appointed in Australia to develop the Asian and Australian markets, and high-end Vipp kitchens – a key focus for increasing their market share - are being sold in South Africa, Israel, Germany, Switzerland, and the US.

There are now 40 people in the company including engineers, product development experts, marketing, PR and design specialists. Jette frequently sources talent from other industries: “they bring new ways of doing things and experience of using different materials.” Their chief designer, who’s been with the company for 10 years, was previously at a bicycle manufacturer, and one of the engineers developed hearing aids, which involved working with micro technology and materials, like silicones, which have since become part of the Vipp range.

At 66, Jette is not at all interested in retiring full time: “I love the company so much, and I love working with our clients.”

She and her children have discussed succession and she’s taken legal advice to ensure the company can keep going. Company shares are currently in three equal parts but when Jette is no longer around, Kasper will have then the majority share, to ensure the management of the company can continue and decisions can be made, avoiding a deadlock situation.

And Jette’s favourite Vipp product?  “It has to be the bin. That’s where it all started.”

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