“I had to beg for help”

When entrepreneur Peter Erlandsson and his partner bought a shelving and storage company, they didn’t expect so many knock-backs.

When Peter Erlandsson and his business partner took over String Furniture in 2005, it was a company in administration and a brand that was a shadow of its former self. While they weren’t expecting an easy ride, they could have done without the spiral of calamities that followed. The Swedish business owner shares his fight to bring his shelving and storage company back from the brink.

I studied to be a dentist for half a year, but my grandmother knew that it wasn’t for me. She asked me what I was doing, and encouraged me to leave and study business. It was the best move I ever made.

String came into my life by chance. I’ve worked with my business partner, Pär Josefsson, for a long time. Back in the early 2000s, we had just sold a business and didn’t really have anything to do. At that time, my wife had a little design store in Malmo. She told me someone had come in asking for a String shelf and asked me to source one for her. I finally got hold of the producer and found that they had gone bankrupt the week before.

I knew the brand – everyone in Sweden did. String had had massive success in the 50s and 60s, but the design was a little tired. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and thought it was a business my partner and I could grow. We contacted the original designer – who was 86 then – and started working together in 2005.

It was a tough start. The designer died shortly after and we struggled to find a decent producer at the right price, but eventually found one in Lithuania and struck a deal.

Sadly, one of the levels in their factory collapsed and they were unable to fulfil our order. Unbeknown to us, they subcontracted our work elsewhere. When we started getting our shelving systems through, the quality was really poor. They hadn’t followed our designs and of the few orders we were able to fulfil, many were delayed or returned. Our tough start had become even tougher.

I had to beg a Swedish factory to help us out. I’m happy to say that the owner of the factory agreed, invested in new machinery and supported us in rebuilding the String brand.

Sales started to take off and we also got a break, because we attended a big exhibition that was full of journalists and got lots of publicity. They were interested in what we were doing and we showed them how we had updated the designs for a fresher, more contemporary look. They wrote about us in the press and the retailers started to come on board. We were building momentum.

At one point we were so overloaded I had to call my neighbour, who worked in recruitment. I told them I needed some help right away and two hours later our first member of staff arrived. Today, the team is a big part of our success.

Our turnover grew from around €75,000 in the first year to around €430,000 in the second and we were on a similar trajectory for quite a few years after that. It was great, but we were pretty overloaded – the bigger you get the tougher it gets. That said, our growth is now at around 15%, which is just where we want to be. It’s healthy, manageable and we have the capacity to ramp things up if needs be.

Japan’s our toughest market. They don’t like to drill holes in their walls.

Over the years, we have had various people propose that we should diversify into producing lamps, tables and other items of furniture. It was tempting at one stage, but one of our friends reminded us that shelving systems and storage are what we’re known for and what we do best. It was good advice and it helped us to become global.

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/