Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

10 February 2014

We get a lot of invitations through the door at Monocle but the call to become part of one of Europe’s most-loved design companies is certainly rare. Yet just before Christmas, a pink document landed on my desk asking me to do just that. It was sent to me by Vitsoe, the manufacturer of Dieter Rams’s 606 Universal Shelving System, and I have until Thursday to get involved.

Vitsoe’s proposition was this. Invest anything between £5,000 and £5m in a five-year fixed term bond, which will offer 6.06 per cent gross interest per annum, and become part of Vitsoe’s future. My money will help fund construction of a new production building for the company, whose current site next to the railway track in Camden Town, London, is vastly inadequate for a company of Vitsoe’s scale. The new wood-and-steel home has been designed by London-based architecture studio dRMM, and will be built in the West Midlands – with a little help from me.

The document came with a note from the owner and managing director Mark Adams, the man who oversaw Vitsoe’s transition from being a German company to one headquartered and manufactured in the UK in the 1990s. He called upon those who have, over the years, offered to help out the company by offering them a “front seat” in Vitsoe’s future. He implores, “We are asking you to lend money that we will invest in an asset: land and a building. Instead of paying rent, we will pay interest to you, our community.” He gives out his personal email address, his mobile phone number, and reassures the invited that the “self-funded growing business” will never be made public. It’s actually very touching.

Vitsoe’s choice to keep it in the proverbial family is an interesting and utterly charming decision in an industry that’s increasingly becoming like the fashion and luxury-goods markets in being dominated by groups and mergers. Late last week it was announced that US furniture company Haworth Inc would acquire a majority stake in the Poltrona Frau Group in a $270m deal. Last year, Finnish establishment Artek was purchased by Swiss manufacturer Vitra, proving that even companies of Artek’s clout need a leg up from time to time in order to project forward and grow – just like Vitsoe.

And yet where those two developments were big business chess moves, Vitsoe’s invitation for investment feels like parents helping out on the deposit for their child’s first home. It’s not charity: it’s staking a claim in the future of something important. It’s heartwarming. Mark Adams’ personal approach – the invitation was sent out only to customers and suppliers (and press: I’m sad to say its Dieter Rams shelving systems don’t support my books) – was charming, persuasive and considered. Bond certificates have already been issued, helping Vitsoe creep towards its £5m target. And I hope many more follow before the deadline of 13 February (which would have been founder Niels Vitsoe’s 101st birthday). A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Tom Morris is Monocle's design editor.

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