The story of one of the biggest office furniture producers in Europe starts with a man and a van. The man is Adam Krzanowski, the van belonged to Whyte, an American furniture producer. In 1990, when Poland was in the process of switching to a free market economy, Mr Krzanowski decided to leave the country for the US to get a taste of life there. He did taste it, but not necessarily in the way he planned.

First, for a long time he struggled to find a job, then when he finally did, working for a construction firm, his employer refused to pay him. Finally, after contemplating calling it quits, Mr Krzanowski landed a job at Whyte. The task was simple: unloading vans transporting chairs made by Whyte. The ambitious Pole did not have to perform his initial role for long, as he quickly moved up the company ladder, eventually becoming one of its top managers.

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But instead of working for someone else, Mr Krzanowski wanted to try his luck launching a similar firm in Poland. He took a couple of photos of Whyte chairs and sent them home to his brother, Jerzy, so he could check whether or not Polish customers would take the bait. They did. “Come back, there is business to be done here,” Mr Krzanowski’s brother wrote to him.

His instinct proved to be right. Since its launch, Nowy Styl Group (NSG) has been on a constant growth trajectory. The company started in 1992 with seven staff. Now it employs more than 6000 and its annual sales exceed $327m. “Our sales are big, but we do not want to stop there. We believe that in the next three years we can increase the volume of our sales threefold,” says Mr Krzanowski. How? Mr Krzanowski’s answer is brief: “International expansion.”

Turning westwards

Global markets are nothing new for the company. Chairs produced by NSG can be found in London's Leicester Square Theatre as well as the German Chancellery. The company's most recent high-profile customer is Olympique Lyonnais, a Lyon-based football club that chose NSG to fit chairs at its new stadium, which opened in January in the wake of the Euro 2016 Championships, which are being held in France. “We already sell products to more than 100 countries on six continents and we have sales offices and showrooms in 18 countries,” says Mr Krzanowski. “We also have production facilities in Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, which we operate as joint ventures with our local partners,” he adds.

NSG may not be a stranger to global expansion, but what is new is NSG’s increasing push into markets in western Europe and its takeovers of furniture brands there. “For the past five years we have been focusing on the German market and now one-third of all the furniture we produce is sold there,” says Mr Krzanowski. NSG gained a foothold in Germany by acquiring two furniture brands – Grammer Office in 2011 and Rohde & Grahl in 2013. The past year brought another market and another brand to the company’s portfolio as in August NSG acquired Sitag, a Swiss company that employs 150 people in its facility close to the German and Austrian borders.

As the company already has production facilities in places where wages are much lower than in Switzerland, the question arises whether NSG bought the facility or just a brand with a plan to move production to Poland or Turkey. Shortly after announcing the acquisition, Rafal Chwast, the company’s chief financial officer, told local press that this was not the company's strategy. “By taking over companies in markets that are better developed than ours, we speed up our learning process,” he said, adding: “Swiss people want to buy Swiss products.” 

Acquisition strategy

As economic nationalism gains momentum across Europe, NSG is planning more acquisitions. “We are on a constant lookout for healthy acquisition targets that will help us tap into new markets, distribution channels and trade networks,” says Mr Krzanowski. Asked for the biggest challenges when expanding abroad, Mr Krzanowski points to knowledge of the local market. “We can succeed in a new place only by being adaptable to local conditions. In order to do so, we need people who know all the ins and outs of the new market. Hence our preference for acquisitions [over greenfield investments],” says Mr Krzanowski.

And it turns out that the company is embarking upon this strategy in an unorthodox way. “Most of our competitors are family-run firms established in the 1950s and 1960s. The people who founded them are in their 70s and in many cases their families have no plan to manage them in the future. This is where we can step in,” Mr Krzanowski said in an interview with Polish logistics and transportation website Log24.

However, NSG will not move its production facilities from Switzerland, according to Mr Chwast, but what about Krosno, a tiny Polish city by the Ukrainian border, where the company was established in 1992. Is its status as NSG's base under threat because production costs in Poland are much higher now than they were two decades ago? What is more, NSG's strategy is to expand westwards, not to nearby eastern markets. “Our company was born here and we are here to stay,” says Mr Krzanowski. Indeed, the company opened a new €24m plant in Jaslo, a city close to Krosno, in 2014. “We would not build it if we were going to move out of here,” says Mr Krzanowski.

This picturesque but tiny city might be an odd match for a company with such global ambitions. Then again, a man who built a multimillion-dollar company on the back of hauling chairs from one place to another has probably gained enough business acumen to know what he is doing.