At one time, after visiting the Milan furniture salon and famous Italian factories, the founder of the Varenycia Group, a carpenter-carver and furniture designer by profession Andriy Varenytsia was deeply impressed by the degree of patriotism in the attitude of Italians to their own product and cause. So much so that afterwards the thought did not leave him for a long time: how are we worse?
"Why can't the same or even better things be created in Ukraine? — recalls the entrepreneur's thoughts at that time. — I never doubted that Ukrainians are no less talented. If the product is made sincerely, with taste and in perfect proportions, then it will definitely be in demand at home and abroad and will work for the country's image."
The mentioned case happened a long time ago, at the beginning of the company's journey. The Ukrainian furniture brand Varenycia was founded in 2010, thirteen years ago. Since then, many things have happened, and from the small Varenycia Manufacture, which specialized exclusively in the manufacture of furniture and carpentry for individual projects, the brand has grown into the Varenycia Group of companies. With a powerful full-cycle production in Lviv, its own design office, an active representative office in Poland, serial production of furniture - a line of interior items produced under the Varenycia Design brand, and modular kitchens Prosta. The company has already passed all these steps and is moving on.
But the leitmotif remains the same: to create products that not only combine design and character, but also demonstrate Ukrainian identity. After all, this is one of the reasons why it is so important for the Varenycia Group to stay in Ukraine and make furniture in its native workshops, and not to move the facilities abroad - so that this connection with home is not lost.
In the social context, we usually perceive the diaspora as a united community of "our own" abroad, a kind of "droplet" of the homeland in a new unknown sea, although the people who form this community, as well as their migration stories, motives, and social activity are very different. With the business diaspora, i.e. Ukrainian brands and companies, manufacturers, crafters who currently work both at home and in other countries, or are completely relocated, the story is similar. They are united by their presence abroad, but they got there in different ways. Someone still at the stage of creation saw the movement to foreign markets as a desirable vector of development, others concentrated on Ukrainian clients and did not think about it at all until the moment X. For a certain number of manufacturers, designers and authors, the year 2022 became the source of global changes. The reasons are clear: the shock of war, economic and production challenges, including the virtual inability to manufacture products in combat or enemy-occupied territories, long-term changes in logistics and demand for finished goods or products. For some companies, relocation has become almost the only opportunity to protect themselves and their ideas from decline, to support the staff.
Andriy Varenytsia: "Opening a representative office in Warsaw turned out to be our best investment in the entire history of the Varenycia Group"
Against the background of the events of the full-scale war, the number of mentions of our country in the world media, the general recognition of Ukrainian symbols, increased rapidly. Returning to the peaceful topic of production and design, interest in Made in Ukraine products also increased, many of which pleasantly impressed consumers with their originality, absolute identity with modern world trends and requirements for the level of performance. Ukraine is much more often invited to participate in international exhibitions, art events, and biennials. In a broad sense, the world pays attention to us and tries to support us. However, this does not mean that this attention, loyalty, and demand will last forever and stay at a high level by themselves. Every company, brand and all of us are currently ambassadors of our country, regardless of how actively and how often we consciously broadcast it.
From the very beginning, from the moment of its foundation thirteen years ago, the sphere of interests of Varenycia Group was not limited exclusively to the Ukrainian market.
"This openness to the whole world was our main point of reference, which led the company to the West, encouraging us to go beyond the usual boundaries and explore new horizons every time," shares the opinion of the founder of the company.
As of now, the company has implemented more than 350 projects, their main geography is Poland, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands.
In 2017, the company opened a representative office in Poland for international projects. Andrii Varenytsia says: in modern realities, the main burden falls on him.
"It was probably our best investment in the entire history of the Varenycia Group," he adds. — Currently, the Polish office is 70-80% loaded with work and acts as a kind of guarantee for European clients. The first thing that almost all of our new customers ask is whether we have an office in the EU."
The office is located in Warsaw, but Ukrainians work there. The founder notes: the company plans to soon increase the number of employees in this department. Paperwork for customs clearance is currently being done by colleagues in Lviv.
For more than seven years, the manufacturer has been exporting custom-made furniture and carpentry abroad. As we have already mentioned, in recent years serial products have been added to them: the Prosta modular kitchen and the complementary Varenycia Design series of laconic solid oak furniture.
"After the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, we devoted almost all of our strength to not surrendering our position to the war, staying in Ukraine and doing what we do best," says Andriy. — Production, as it was, remains in Lviv, meanwhile, we are even more active than before, looking for sales of our product in Central Europe."
"Not stopping production and continuing to work is an extremely important and fundamental moment for me, because I, as a manager, am responsible for my employees. Not only have we managed to save all jobs, we have open positions. Therefore, if you are a furniture craftsman or a designer, we invite you to join the team!" he smiles.
Before the beginning of the great war, the share of Varenycia Group's orders for the manufacture of furniture for industrial projects in the percentage ratio was about 70/30, where the majority were Ukrainian objects, and the minority - foreign ones. After February 2022, this proportion was practically reversed.
"Today, 70% of our facilities are located outside of Ukraine," says Andriy Varenytsia. — Now there are eight large facilities in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France. Production is loaded with export orders."
The process and experience of receiving such orders is vividly and without bills depicted in the attachment of a two-week working trip to European countries, which Andriy Varenytsia and the brand director of the group of companies, Artem Zubkevich, made at the end of September last year.
12 days, 5200 km and eight European cities - sounds victorious, doesn't it?
Andrth Varenitsa: "The Ukrainian furniture maker is highly anticipated in Europe»
Having taken with them a camera and Varenycia Design chairs in a thin package, they visited the cities where Varenycia Manufacture's foreign facilities are located, which are currently in operation, met with customers and construction workers, took measurements themselves and... simultaneously received a number of orders.
"A Ukrainian furniture maker is highly anticipated in Europe, especially now," says Andrii Varenytsia confidently. — In Germany, some factories switch to a three-day work week to save resources, and for the same purpose, they turn off the heating during non-working hours. Other similar processes occur. How all this will affect the quality of products is unknown. We offer a Ukrainian product that is a sure challenge to well-known European brands. In addition, none of the European manufacturers provide their customers with such a range of services that we are used to offering. The main thing is to do business honestly, to have faith in your product, to talk about it, boldly and competently promoting it on the market. I repeat, for the Ukrainian manufacturer there is currently a very large potential for opportunities in Europe."
The entrepreneur shared recommendations that, in his opinion, can be useful to Ukrainian furniture makers who are looking for orders: "First, contact the Ukrainian Association of Furniture Makers and find out what opportunities they can offer you. The association organizes joint stands at European exhibitions, it can also be meetings with buyers and other events where potential customers can be found. Second, go study! For example, at the Smart People business school, where there is a Furniture Business Management School. Listen to people who openly share their experience on platforms such as, say, Kaizen Institute Ukraine. Third, tell everyone and everywhere about your business, about what you do. Write down stories, share information with your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. You can find a future client where you didn't even expect it, so it's important that they know about you."
Andriy Varenytsia: "The first thing that almost all of our new customers ask about is — do we have an office in the EU"
What can a large furniture manufacturer do at a time when the thoughts and activities of many businesses and citizens in the country are focused on winning and for winning? Quite a lot.
With the outbreak of full-scale war, the Varenycia Group team decided that they would help in their place and because of what they do best: design and manufacture furniture and carpentry.
Andriy Varenytsia says: "To some, the production process may seem purely creative or, on the contrary, technical. But each time it is primarily a solution to a specific life task, and not always a simple one. Furniture is not created for anyone, it is for people. When, in the first weeks of the invasion of the Russian Federation, we saw the injured compatriots arriving at the shelters from different regions, and the conditions in which they were forced to stay, we understood: we must do everything possible to help ensure a comfortable stay for them."
"The main goal was to make simple furniture for everyday needs," continues Andrii's story, "and to make it from available materials, which would ensure quick and inexpensive production. Firanka effectively solves the problem of equipping large spaces where IDPs are housed in an organized manner, for example, the same modular towns. The system includes sleeping modules, in fact, these are separate mini-rooms with a bed, their own "walls", shelves, built-in bedside tables, etc. We also designed sections for changing rooms, a common kitchen, compact furniture for rest areas and children's furniture."
The experience of working on the Firanka project came in handy when a new modular town was being built in the village of Khorosno in the Lviv Region. Together with Varenycia Group partners, they took part in equipping temporary homes for Ukrainians who lost their homes.
"This is functional furniture that does not degrade dignity and satisfies key household needs," says Andriy Varenytsia. — Practical bunk beds, wardrobes, chairs, tables. Some items are collapsible and have multiple uses. Work spaces and places for cooking are provided."
The Varenycia Group team was asked to make all these items from plywood or chipboard. Having joined the social initiative, the Austrian company FunderMax and its Ukrainian representative BUDZIRKA transferred 1700 square meters to the needs of the project. m chipboard, which reduced the cost of execution by 70%.
According to Andriy Varenytsia, solving such non-standard tasks is a challenge for the manufacturer - both in the professional sphere and in the field of creative solutions, but it is thanks to them that the projects reach another level: "We change and deepen the professional vision, new skills are acquired and pumped ".
Varenycia Group specialists also designed a series of furniture for the new specialized medical center for prosthetics and reconstruction Superhumans. The first phase of the center was opened in April this year on the basis of the Lviv Regional Hospital for war veterans and repressed people named after Yu. Lypa. The clinic helps to recover people who were injured and lost limbs due to the military aggression of the Russian Federation, so the key goal for the designers of the center - architectural bureau SavytskyyDesign - was to make the center as barrier-free as possible.
Andriy Varenytsia: "Through simple household items we can to improve the quality of stay in the treatment center, to speed up the recovery of defenders"
"And he is like that for 98%! - shares Andriy Varenytsia. — This is unprecedented for Ukraine, even in today's conditions. Our team faced the task of creating special furniture, in particular with a specific height, adapted to the hardness of the covering, to the support, etc. They should be comfortable for people who, for example, have prosthetic legs, so that it is comfortable to transfer from a wheelchair."
The construction of medical institutions is strictly regulated by the norms of the National Health Service, down to the color of the walls, and the designers of the Superhumans center assure: the norms stipulated in this project are even significantly exceeded.
"Participation in this project has become extremely important for Varenycia specialists," says Andriy Varenytsia. — We feel this as practical assistance to our military and other victims of hostilities. Through simple household items, we can improve the quality of stay in the treatment center, speed up recovery."
Tell about yourself
"I try to visit exhibitions regularly," says Andrii Varenytsia. - This year we introduced a new rule - to do it together, as a team, because you can talk a lot about trends, but it's always better to see them once. Another, more effective means of creating professional networking, sharing experiences, and most importantly, the opportunity to always be at the forefront of what is happening in the industry, next to the key players of the market, is no time to look for it."
«rosestell me yourself about what you can do, what works you best. ANDno one will know otherwise, that you can do it", Andriy Varenytsia
Actually, Varenycia Group itself has something to show to a foreign buyer, so the team is not limited to viewing stands. In early June, the company took part in the imm Spring Edition 2023 in Cologne, Germany. A new extended Varenycia Design series was presented to European consumers. The line includes a dining chair, tables, bar and semi-bar chairs, hangers, wall panels, coffee and bedside tables and a stool.
Andriy Varenytsia calls the June stand a training or "test drive" before the main imm session, which will take place in January 2024.
"We took into account all the nuances regarding the construction of the stand, the selection of the pavilion and logistics, the peculiarities of the presentation, and also developed new packaging according to European standards. Now we are 100% ready for next January and we know for sure that we are capable of creating strong competition for top European brands, - shares Andriy. — At the exhibition on June 4-7, we received positive feedback about our collection from foreign colleagues and designers. There was a pleasant feeling that we are moving in the right direction."
«The essence of the brandу, imprinted in physical form, and is what finds a response and attracts the buyer. Тthat he subconsciously "reads" by looking at the object» — Andriy Varenytsia
Be Made in Ukraine
"It doesn't matter whose production is Chinese, Polish or Ukrainian. The main thing is whose brand!" Andriy Varenytsia heard this phrase seven years ago at an exhibition in Cologne. It came from a man who was standing next to a stand with a large "Made in Denmark" sign.
The entrepreneur recalls: then the Dane's statement seemed to him completely far from reality, and he could not agree with it.
"Then I believed that the first place should be a high-quality product, because that's what the consumer values, and good production - because otherwise you can't make a decent product. Later, a trip to Copenhagen opened my eyes, Varenytsia admits. — Furniture is not products, productions or carpentry. Furniture is brands. The client wants exactly his brand! The essence of the brand, imprinted in physical form, is what finds a response and attracts the buyer. What he subconsciously "reads" by looking at the object. Agree, you and I unmistakably distinguish Italian furniture from things of, say, Scandinavian design precisely by the subtle character and nuances they contain."
According to Andriy Varenytsia, the formation of an authentic, recognizable brand, one that would be strongly associated with our country, the indomitable spirit of its inhabitants, saying "Made in Ukraine" in every detail, is a super-task, the main goal for the Varenycia Group, on which they continue to work.
To develop production and participate in social initiatives in a frankly difficult time, to cover thousands of kilometers in search of new orders and for brand presentations — all this requires unshakable faith in one's own business, considerable energy for moving forward, and courage. The Varenycia Group is certainly aware of this.