A Company Expands Overseas
In Grand Rapids

February 11, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — A Swedish software company, Configura Inc., which set up shop here two years ago, is adding to its client list and its employee roster.

"We just hired a new person today," said Peter Brandinger last week, which brings the total number of Configura employees in Grand Rapids to 18. Six are Swedish citizens; the other 12 are Americans. In Sweden, the company employs about 70 people.

Configura was founded in 1990 in Linkoping, Sweden. The privately held company got its start developing business software for European office furniture and cabinet manufacturers, and today is one of the leading software developers of its type in Europe.

Configura net sales in 2006 were approximately 48 million SEK (Swedish krona), equal to about $6 million, according to Brandinger, who is vice president of business development and head of Configura Inc.’s U.S. headquarters in Grand Rapids. Fifty-five percent of sales that year were in Sweden, 21 percent in other European countries and 24 percent in North America

The year just ended was a good one for Configura. Brandinger said net sales are expected to equal about $7.8 million.

The newest Configura product is CET Designer, design/specification software that allows an office furniture dealership to complete every step of a sales proposal in one program, including final pricing.

Because of the inherent complications in office systems today, ordering even just a couple of workstations is no snap. A potential office layout usually includes combinations of products from different manufacturers, which means different sources for prices and product information.

Brandinger said the design/specification and pricing of an office furniture order takes up to 80 percent of the time required to make the sale, and the sales process is "very costly."

"It's two things," said Brandinger. "The customer wants to know how much it's going to cost, and what it looks like."

He said the time required to prepare just one design, including all the information the customer would need to make a decision, often discourages a dealer from offering an alternate proposal. "But with CET Designer you can easily do that," he said.

The software also is "intelligent" in that it automatically factors in "rules" for each product, determining whether or not a given combination of products will work. Configura calls it "parametric graphical configuration" and explains it at length in a booklet the company published in 2006.

Configura CEO Johan Lyreborn, who was in Grand Rapids last week, said parametric graphical configuration is "a philosophy on how you can improve your business."

Configura develops software for four industries: kitchens and bathrooms; industrial machinery and equipment; material handling products; and contract office furniture, which accounted for 58 percent of net sales in 2006.

Marbodal, a major Swedish manufacturer of kitchen furnishings, became the first client for CET Designer in 2004. Client companies pay a fee to become an "extension" of CET Designer; the client dealerships subscribe to the software for use by their designers and sales staff.

In 2001, Configura established a presence in Chicago to build relationships with American manufacturers of storage products and office furniture. A major breakthrough came in 2005 when it signed Haworth as a client. Today about 80 percent of the 600 Haworth dealers subscribe to CET Designer.

This month, Configura will announce another North American client: Teknion, a Toronto-based manufacturer of office systems and furniture.

In May, Configura will launch its collaboration with Steelcase and its dealers. Configura will also launch CET Designer version 2.0 in time for Neocon in June.

Configura plans to have a 50 percent share of the U.S. market for licensed drawing/design software and specifications tools by 2011.

The economic slowdown that began to be felt in the U.S. office furniture industry after 2001 also slowed down Configura plans for expanding in the U.S.

"It has taken quite a long period to get to Grand Rapids," said Lyreborn. "It takes time to develop this kind of software."

Lyreborn said the European business community is concerned about the uncertainty in the U.S. economy, but there is a silver lining. The dollar has been dropping in value compared to the euro, which makes the U.S. a lower cost producer, and consequently, U.S. exports to Europe are increasing. U.S. labor costs are dropping, too, relative to Europe. Lyreborn said Grand Rapids is a good place to recruit new employees — and Configura plans to do that as it collaborates with more U.S. manufacturers.

The Right Place Inc. CEO Birgit Klohs assisted Configura with establishing its U.S. headquarters, which is at

100 Grandville Ave. SW
, in a renovated warehouse that stands only a few feet from the U.S. 131 S-curve.    

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