End of year, unbelievably, is rapidly approaching. It’s been a momentous 12 months for many of our clients. Some have increased sales, others have successfully moved into new markets, a few have opened new showrooms and one or two have even opened state-of-the-art production facilities. Orangebox, uniquely, have achieved all of the above.
In fact, to say that Orangebox has opened a new showroom is a massive understatement. This isn’t a showroom. This is much, much more – as the company’s Marketing Manager, Liz Walker, is only too happy to explain. ‘Smartworking is a living lab, it is a co-working environment,’ Liz tells us. ‘Smartworking is really important to us. It has become part of our DNA, part of our research.’
We were already big fans of the previous Orangebox Clerkenwell home, so why the need to move away – albeit a stone’s throw away? ‘We’d been on Bowling Green Lane, successfully, for nearly six years,’ Liz continues. ‘We didn’t expect to move for at least another 10 years. It was a fantastic space for us, with great views of the City. We didn’t think we’d ever want to be on the 4th floor, but it really worked for us and we quickly realised that we didn’t need a street presence.
‘Not long into our first year there, having visibility of the developments that were coming through in the area and having an insight into the new designs that were coming through, our Managing Director Mino (Vernaschi) asked me to keep my eyes open for anything interesting.
‘It’s very hard to find suitable space – especially with cost being such a driver in these things – but we found out, through the landlords in Bowling Green Lane of one of their new developments in Northampton Road, just around the corner.’
‘I went along to an early consultation – where they invite local businesses to comment on forthcoming planning applications. We thought ‘That’s interesting!’ We then got some advice from a property agent and started talking about how expensive per square foot property was likely to become in 2014/15 and the lack of suitable space that was available in this area.
‘By this time we were launching so many new product lines – and these were large collections of large products that would require a lot of space to show properly. So the decision was made that we’d go for the building – this was the tail end of 2012.
‘To start with we didn’t think we’d occupy the entire space – we thought we’d potentially share the space with likeminded partners.’
This was now 2013 and, working with Ben Adams Architects, the Orangebox team forged ahead, getting involved in both the building itself and how it would work for the business. ‘At this point we realised that we had enough product for the space, we had enough drive and we had enough future developments in the pipeline,’ Liz recalls. ‘Furthermore, we realised that we didn’t want to share the space – we wanted our own massive showspace.
‘We started to change the internal architecture to suit us – to make it our own. From previous experience, we were very clear about what we wanted from the space and how we wanted it to work – how the space would flow and connect people. So we put in a circular staircase – and, since we have moved in, we have found that this has made a huge difference. You can hear people and sounds between floors and you’re aware of activity. We didn’t want this to be a sterile environment.
‘We’ve been able to introduce a lot of new things into the space – such as sound masking. Acoustics products are fundamental to offer and we were introduced to sound masking through one of our clients and felt it was important to integrate it into what we have here.’
The new space on Northampton Road is approximately three times the size of the company’s former premises, spanning five dynamic floors. ‘The way that we’ve been able to work the layout and the format of the space makes it feel even bigger,’ Liz grins. ‘I think we have more ‘selling’ space now. We’ve spent literally months, in-house, working on the layout and on the specifications. It has to be the optimum visitor experience.
‘We’ve been open five or so weeks now – and we’ve already had a lot of international visitors. We’ve had clients from South Africa, from America, from Israel…I’d say we’re probably getting twice as many visitors as we did at Bowling Green Lane. It’s great – it feels like home already.’
As well as being a great showcase for Orangebox’s products and a unique visitor experience, Smartworking is also a working home for the London team of course. ‘For our own teams we have very few static work positions,’ Liz reveals. ‘This is about working where you want. We don’t supply desks – we provide team working, individual and private work areas. We’re very much living and breathing what we sell. We’ve been careful not to create individual ‘product zones’ throughout and there is also some humour in the graphics we’ve installed – we wanted to show that this is also a fun space. You can even burn a few calories as you head between floors!’
Although we’re sat high above the Orangebox team on the mezzanine here at Smartworking, we don’t want to just talk about this space – we also want to ask about the new production facility in south Wales. ‘Nantgarw (and yes, Liz did have to spell that for us!) is another monumental change in how we do business with people,’ Liz explains. ‘As the business has grown we’ve realised that we needed to expand our manufacturing – and that doesn’t have to be hidden away. This is something to show off and something to be proud of. We’ve been able to empower the workforce down there. The sewers, for example, who were hidden away in a fairly dark part of the factory, are now right at the front, with daylight streaming in. It’s a much better place to work. Not only has this changed the way we all look at one another – and how we’re all able to work, in much nicer spaces – it changes how our clients perceive us. A factory tour is now a very different experience. This is not just driven by a need for expansion, but also a need to be different – to make a difference. People aren’t hidden away – again it’s a very open, collaborative way of working. It’s very exposed. It’s about practicing what we preach.’
Liz is keen to credit the many people who have helped create these two brilliant facilities. ‘Change isn’t easy and relocation isn’t easy,’ she admits, ‘but I’d like to think this has given us an insight into what our clients are going through. We’re lucky that the business continues to grow and expand and allow us to do this. It all takes a lot of hard work and lot of input from management to drive that change. Also, we’re a non-hierarchical business – and that is key to driving that change.
‘I hope Northampton Road will be the benchmark for other sights. This can’t be the definitive stop – we do have to keep moving forward and we’re going to take Smartworking to our Huddersfield showroom this month. Again, this is big investment. Investment in product is key – but we also need to continue to invest in our own people.
‘These schemes have come about through a lot of hard work – our management team, our sales people, our procurement team and the guys in our factory. Everyone’s been involved.’
‘When people walk into one of our spaces I want them to really feel it, to know that they are in one of ours but that it is also theirs – that’s really important to me.’