Business Review has launched a new campaign called #makeithappen. Every day, for a month, we will present 30 inspirational entrepreneurial stories of Romanians who turned passion, hobbies and knowledge into a business. We will present the stories of entrepreneurial initiatives of all sizes in all economic fields, underlining the diversity and creativity of the local business environment. By starting this campaign, Business Review is strengthening its commitment to be the the go-to source for inspiring stories of Romanian entrepreneurship.
While working in the furniture industry for more than 15 years, Dorina Codarin (44) noticed that imports were flooding Romanians’ homes, as most couches, beds and chairs being sold were ‘Made elsewhere.’ Building on the comprehensive experience she gathered in several positions such as sales representative and roles in companies that provided raw materials for the wood industry or offered design services, she took a leap of faith and started making her own furniture using local talent and materials.
Having launched Disofa this year, the Brasov-based entrepreneur already makes products poised for export. By year-end, the furniture created exclusively by local designers will enter homes in the UK and the Nordic countries. Funded via a mix of personal savings and funds provided by the Start-up Nation program, the business aims high and expects to bring an EUR 250,000 turnover in its first year of operation.
In the case of Dorina, it is the entrepreneurial vision that saw her take a risk and turn experience into a business opportunity, as well as the determination to launch her products early on established foreign markets that inspired us to tell her story.
The factor that weighed the heaviest on the decision to open her own furniture business is the strong belief that you can make very good furniture with local talent and resources. “I’ve been in the field for 15 years,” she says. “During this period I collaborated with providers of sofas, beds, armchairs from Italy. Given the passion I had for upholstery, I believed we can make upholstered furniture here in Romania, with the same materials and while maintaining the level of quality of imported products”, she explains. That is why, “Disofa is a brand that was born out of a personal passion for upholstery,” she adds.
“I think upholstery is an art, because it involves manual work, lots of work overall and total dedication,” Codarin says. “I discovered this art at an international furniture exhibition and since then I have started doing research, learning and laying the foundations for this business,” she adds.
A case for using local materials and talent
“Our vision is to make a significant contribution to improving the quality of our customers’ lives by offering comfortable, functional, perfectly tailored furniture customised to their lifestyle and business,” the entrepreneur says, adding that “this concept means adapting natural, ecological and ergonomic shapes to fulfil aesthetic and use functions.”
Whenever possible, Disofa sources materials and collaborates with designers in the Brasov area. “Structure materials are made of wood and we work with suppliers in the Brasov area.” However, not all are available locally, she notes. “Tools, fabrics and special materials are imported from different countries, such as Italy, Germany, Belgium.” “The designers with whom we have collaborations are from Brasov, but we want to develop a network of collaborations with designers and architects from all over the country,” she says.
The company currently employs 12 people, namely engineers, designers, carpenters, tailors, upholsterers and sales agents. By the end of the year it plans to expand its team by adding other 4 staff.
Funding for setting up the business came from a mix of sources. “We applied for the Startup Nation 2017 program for the acquisition of professional equipment worth RON 200,000, and from our own sources we have invested up to EUR 60, 000 so far for equipments and financing of current activity,” she says. “But given that we started producing this year in March, we still have to invest,” she notes.
The best thing about working in this field, the entrepreneur says, is “customer’s satisfaction when it receives our products,” Codarin says. “I always say: ‘a piece of every team member’s soul is in every home of our clients’ where we have delivered products, and it will stay for long and good, as we sell long-lasting products.”
Educating the market in the importance of ergonomics
According to Codarin, the local furniture market still needs to be educated to look beyond the price criterion and praise quality. Local manufacturers are mostly addressing low-cost and mass production, she argues. “In addition, there is no variety of products that can be found in markets such as Italy, France, England, or Germany. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in imports of luxury upholstered products.”
“Unfortunately, only the lowest price is promoted, without taking into account the quality of the materials in the composition,” she says. “There is no real emphasis on educating the public to understanding its real needs. To buy a sofa you have to give yourself time, understand the experience you have with the product, what emotions you are feeling when you take a sit, whether it fits your stature or not. Nobody takes into account ergonomics, the comfort a product must offer. The materials that make your sofa, the bed, or the armchair can influence our health.”
As for Disofa, their view was shaped by a serendipitous meeting with a Canadian client. “Fortunately, we had the pleasure of working for a lady from Canada who taught us that the experience your need to have with your couch needs to be special, because this piece of furniture is the central part of a home. On the couch you relax, talk to your friends, drink a glass of wine, and you need to have the comfort to make better plans. That’s how you should decide on the right couch.”
Navigating the lack of qualified staff in the industry
According to Codarin, her company is facing the effects of the lack of qualified staff in the sector. In particular, the lack of workers trained in upholstery is small, she says. “The biggest difficulty encountered was and is the lack of qualified staff, and unfortunately there is no form of education for the specialization in the field of upholstery, so we ended up learning by ourselves and by asking from assistance from abroad.”
“Another difficulty we have is the lack of funding available for emerging businesses,” Codarin said, adding that “from our own funds, things move quite slowly.”
As a fresh entrepreneur, Codarin says mistakes are inevitable. “Mistakes … there are many, but the worst thing is that we did not correctly estimate the estimated budget to business self-sustainability,” she says.
Preparing to tackle foreign markets
Currently, Disofa’s clients are mainly from Brasov. Next, the company is planning its expansion at a national level and, by year-end aims to export to the UK and the Nordic markets. “Our customers are mostly designers and architects who need custom-made products for each project. We have the flexibility to make customised products and we have started to integrate hightech elements into our products, such as sound systems, wifi chargers for phones, motion sensor lights and more,” she says. Participation in international events is also a priority for the company, the entrepreneur adds.
As far as the future opportunities on the market are concerned, the furniture production field has wide possibilities, the entrepreneur believes. “Given the increase in the average income of the population, expansion of the domain of residential and commercial constructions, the orientation towards expressing the personal and commercial brand identity, the possibilities are endless,” she says.
Read our other stories in the series: