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Sofa Talks with Benny Nilsson

See the opportunities

The secret is seeing opportunities.

Sofa Talks with Benny Nilsson, the founder of Furninova.

At Furninova, we think that a sofa is a natural place for conversation. Here, stories, thoughts, feelings, experiences, inspiration and much more are shared. In our Sofa Talks with Benny Nilsson, we want to focus on the people, and that’s why we sat down with our founder and asked him to share his story.

What was it that made you start Furninova?

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t me that started Furninova. I was a football player, and let my sporting career decide where I lived. From Husqvarna FF I went off to IFK Hässleholm. There I came into contact with the furniture company Br. Gustafsson. It was my first job in the business. After a while, I changed job and became a key account manager at one of Europe’s largest furniture companies, Schieder. During that period I spent a lot of time at furniture factories across Poland. I then came across the former Deputy MD of Br. Gustafsson who by now had started the trading company, Furninova. So we joined forces, this was back in 1990.

Do you have any memories from that time?

My colleague and I started trading in all kinds of furniture. I remember one time especially when we bought a couple of thousand armchairs, which we sent to Bratells furniture store. They managed to sell 1,200 in an hour, an amazing accomplishment! The problem was that about 600 were returned with complaints within a few days, so it ended up being bad business for everyone involved. A couple of years later I bought my business partner out and became the sole owner of Furninova, and also turned it into a limited company.

Why do you have your own furniture factory?

Business started taking off. A lot of production was taking place in Poland, where I’d built up some good contacts. At one factory where we made sofas for MIO, IKEA was a big customer too. When they increased production with that supplier, there was no longer any room for us, and Mio gave me three months to secure production another way. And I did. About the same time, my old employer Schieder’s business started declining, and their Polish supplier had less and less to do. This led me into a partnership with the supplier so we could keep producing furniture for MIO.

What do you think is behind Furninova’s success?

Furninova’s business has constantly grown, apart from a few short blips along the way. One of the keys to our success is all our skilled, dedicated colleagues. They’re really passionate about what they do, and they’ve been a crucial part of our journey over the years. And of course my family, I couldn’t have done it without them. Today, my wife and three adult children also work in the company. Over the years, we’ve built up a culture in the company that’s hard to emulate. That’s also an important reason behind our success. We stand by what we do and follow our set path. My attitude has always been to see opportunities, to be positive and believe in people. That attitude guides our entire organisation today.

Over the years, we’ve built up a culture in the company that’s hard to emulate. That’s also an important reason behind our success. We stand by what we do and follow our set path. My attitude has always been to see opportunities, to be positive and believe in people. That attitude guides our entire organisation today.

Do you remember any critical events for furninova?

Well, this was early on in our journey. Our factory in Poland wasn’t as flexible as it is today, and MIO weren’t as streamlined as they are now. In one meeting with them, I outlined my strategy on a chart. It basically boiled down to the end consumer being able to choose one of our models, one of our 250 different fabrics and which leg colour they wanted. That way the store could order and buy a truckload of sofas that had already been sold when they reached the warehouse. The MIO rep’s spontaneous response was, ‘That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard… But let’s do it! The concept was a major success both for the stores and for us. I won the customer’s trust there and then, and it has meant a lot to me and to the development of Furninova as a whole.

What is typically Furninova to you?

I would say it’s our flexibility. Partly how we greet and treat our customers, but above all in how we develop our sofas as products. No one else has as many models, modules or fabrics to choose from. This has become something of a hallmark for Furninova, and something customers request.

How do you see the future of the furniture industry?

I think that what’s already happening in other retail will happen with furniture too. Fewer people are likely to buy their furniture from a traditional furniture store. The retail chains will survive, but only the strongest ones. Online sales are already growing strongly, and they will take more market share moving forward.

What acquisitions have you made over the years?

Our first one was a small part of Conform, but as of 2018 we own 100 per cent. It’s a real success and delivers good results year after year. In 2008 we acquired 50 per cent of a former business partner, Ambiente, a Danish company that specialises in building trade fairs and retail stores. We also bought Affari, which makes beautiful home decorations from exciting materials, as well as Romanian wooden furniture-maker Dekorame, in which we own 55 per cent (sold 2023). In 2015 we also bought Brafab, Swedens largest outdoor furniture company. There’s a bit of a story behind the acquisition of Brafab. They actually received higher bids from other prospective buyers, but former owner Rolf Brorsson wanted to sell to us. Today, it’s amazing to think that Brafab started out selling wicker baskets on market squares around Sweden. In 2011 we started Soul, which sells lamps, rugs and modern furniture, and that same year we founded Furnigroup (now Stommen Group) to be the parent company of all our businesses.

How are you dealing with changes in the market?

We’re following the trend of increased online sales, and looking at how this can be an opportunity for us and in what way. Additionally, we have an excellent collaboration with our customers today and don’t want to disrupt their business. Working more internationally is another possibility. We can already be found in many places in Europe, as well as in China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Dubai… and there is potential in many other places around the world too. But of course, we must never forget to maintain our skill and feeling for developing the right models, details and fabrics… and being ready when trends come along.

What’s happening with the big trade fairs?

We’re continuing to invest in trade fairs around the world. IMM Cologne is our main one, but Stockholm, Shanghai, M.O.W. and Brussels are important too. It’s mainly the ability to present the entire breadth of our range that’s important. And of course all the meetings and contacts over the intensive days of the fair. I think that trade fairs will remain important for many years to come, although possibly in other forms. All the opportunities of digital technology will of course have an impact. Just imagine putting on a pair of VR goggles and walking around in different digital environments.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Working alongside genuinely dedicated, inquisitive people, as I have done for many years now. Having said that, I’ve never really thought of my job as a job, it’s been more of a lifestyle. But when I finished as MD and started as CEO, I suddenly had more free time. So I use a lot of that time to train and exercise. I even had the time to climb one of the worlds most famous mountains, The Matterhorn. It is located on the border between Switzerland and Italy, and its peak is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. It’s a long time since I was this fit…

And finally, what sofa do you have at home?

An Amaya. It’s a luxurious sofa with
outstanding seat comfort.

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The Nilssons