MATERIALS – ‘When Vescom started operations in 1971 as a manufacturer of wallcoverings for the Benelux market, we noticed that despite a high international demand for quality products, the only way to get these products to the market was by our own salespeople visiting the architects, designers, and end users,’ says Arno Beurskens, marketing and sales director at Vescom. ‘So from the very beginning, we knew that having a presence in the local market was important and vital to the success of the company.’
Beurskens and Christiane Müller, the Vescom design director, are discussing how their worldwide presence facilitates open communication between supply and demand.
ARNO BEURSKENS: ‘We have sales offices in the main markets of Europe, North America, and Asia: 16 dedicated sales offices around the globe and exclusive distributors in roughly 80 countries, completely focused on the customer. The main task of these sales offices is to get to know the customer – that is, designers and architects – because they are the starting point for the specifications of our products.’
‘We try to inspire designers and architects with our collections, and we give them as much information as possible on the technical capabilities of our products. Of course different countries have different measurements and requirements. That’s where our service facilities come in.’
Vescom takes pride in providing high-quality customer service, made possible by local offices and distributors around the world. Each customer is assigned a personal sales contact to provide them with A4-sized sampling material, technical datasheets, and anything else they might require. Creating personal relationships based on trust with clients is a priority for Vescom, as this allows for an exchange of information that puts the company ahead of market demand and industry trends.
AB: ‘Meanwhile, all the logistic and production facilities are based in the Netherlands and the US, and we hold stock of wallcoverings in Asia, so we can supply products to these three main markets in the shortest possible period of time.’
‘We have a very flexible production process that allows us to offer a very wide range of products with very short lead times. We invested in machinery that makes it possible for us to produce in small quantities as required. Other manufacturers go for the industrial model, whereas we focus on the customer’s model.’
‘Our customers are part of the creative process. Designers inform us on market trends; products they would like to see; colours they would like to use. And we invite them to our factories and design studios in return.’
‘We value their opinions, and we take them into account in our product development and services. We are not manufacturing for ourselves – we are manufacturing for our customers.’
‘We provide a lot of services in terms of sampling and making pilot rooms. It’s a long way from customer interest in a product and getting an order for the product. And we try to create a situation where everybody is happy with the outcome.’
‘When people order our materials, we offer them assistance on-site to ensure that the installation is done correctly. Because we may have beautiful products, but these products will only be regarded as beautiful if they are installed the way they are meant to be.’
‘We make the entire journey hand-in-hand with our customer so he gets the genuine feeling that it’s not only a quality product, but also a quality organization that stands for its values. When we promise a thing, we live up to it.’
‘So we have an interest in training upholsterers and installation companies in order to show the product as it’s meant to be. If the installation is bad, the product looks bad, and people are disappointed in Vescom as a company.’
‘We have good relationships with the installation companies: we offer to train their staff, or to go to the site when they are hanging the materials or producing the fabrics. That’s what makes Vescom a full-service company. We give the customer as much technical aid as we can – even if it’s just to get them started – because it’s a common interest.’
Vescom's customer-focused production model provides designers and architects with a valuable collaborative partner in the creation of unique interior spaces. As customers, their needs and ideas are integrated into every aspect of Vescom's products and services.
AB: ‘Going back to gathering market knowledge, on my desk I have incredibly thick folders of the technical research that went into developing the acoustic curtains. Now the curtains do not stop the noise of street traffic, but they absorb enough sound to improve a room’s acoustical value. They were tested in a Swiss institute, and the science says you have to hang them 15 cm in front of a window or wall, so the sound waves that go through the curtain get partly absorbed; it will then bounce back against the window or wall surface, and get absorbed again.’
‘So instead of showing people technical reports, we demonstrate the real-world effectiveness by having people open these curtains in a room, tell them to make a lot of noise, pull the curtains, and tell them to do it again. And they immediately experience an enormous difference in the acoustics.’
‘We just had a huge order for these curtains by a well-known international supermarket brand, because they couldn’t communicate in their open-plan corporate offices with the ambient noise from all the hard surfaces.’
‘At the same time, the healthcare market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. With aging populations, more and more hospitals, care centres, and homes for the elderly are needed. Many institutions are state-owned, so budget is always a bit of a problem – which is why people are interested in using our wallcoverings, which have superior longevity.’
With an average lifespan of ten to fifteen years, vinyl wallcoverings are hygienic, scratchproof, flame retardant and impact resistant, require minimum care, and are safe and odourless – all highly preferable in the healthcare industry.
CHRISTIANE MÜLLER: ‘There’s so much more to the healthcare industry than hospitals. There are places that offer beauty treatments and luxury experiences, not just medical care. So the material choices that architects and designers are making are also shifting towards richness and exclusivity.’
AB: ‘Hospitals are becoming more hospitality oriented, too.’
CM: ‘Yes – we may divide our products into these markets, but people want to feel at home whether in an office, hotel room, or hospital. So whereas before we could say something was for that market because it answers a specific need, now it’s all merging and influencing each other. This is the case when it comes to materials and colours; there used to be specific palettes for healthcare, but you can’t say that anymore.’
Innovation is a response to changing industry trends and different market needs.
‘The differentiating factor in healthcare has become the high standard of functionality. That it’s a safe, non-toxic, anti-bacterial, easy-to-clean material. And it doesn’t sound sexy to say it, but that a curtain can be washed at 70 °C repeatedly without falling apart and while retaining its structure and colour. That’s what makes it a healthcare product – not so much in looks anymore.’
‘Then there’s a whole market when it comes to the luxury end of retail. These spaces see really hard use, so you need really strong products. If you have a painted or papered wall, it shows damage quickly and easily. Wall surfaces need to be heavy-duty in spaces such as changing rooms.’
‘I think there is a big future in finishings. Finishings determine how a product looks and how it performs. Finishings have the power to make a product cleanable, to create matte or sheen visual effects, and to serve a function in the space.’
According to Müller, the technical function of a product doesn't have to compromise its aesthetics. With Vescom products, even functional spaces like hospitals can be imbued with a comforting and inviting atmosphere.
This is the third in a series of four in-depth articles featuring Vescom. Next week, we look to the future of the brand's innovation and sustainability practices. And in case you missed the previous articles, we had a behind-the-scenes visit of Vescom's production facility in the Netherlands, and an interview with Christiane Müller on her design process from her studio in Amsterdam.