GIR – Furniture made in Kraljevo that took over the world

GIR furniture factory was founded in Kraljevo over two decades ago as a small family company with lots of enthusiasm and work drive. Today, GIR employs almost 600 people, and their furniture decorates homes all around the world and the wheels of production are in full throttle.

Bojan Radovic, whose parents started this whole venture, represents a fresh strength which brought a variety of new ideas and helped this business expand and continue to grow.

MF: How was GIR founded?

Bojan: My parents started the firm “GIR” back in 1993, and two years later they started manufacturing furniture. It was their own production intended for local market. In that time, GIR mostly produced bathroom furniture and bathroom elements. The firm did business in this way for a few years, until we came into contact with the Belgian company Ethnicraft. That happened in 2000, and from that moment on things started to change and grow.

MF: How did you realize that collaboration?

Bojan: Ethnicraft came to Serbia searching for suppliers, someone who will manufacture pieces of furniture which they have already tested on the market and were aware that, in that moment in time, were in demand in Belgium, France and Western European countries. On few occasions they tried to find what they wanted in Serbia, but failed to do so. Then they heard of GIR and got in touch with us. They gave us a sample and asked whether we can produce that.
Basically, although it was a simple piece, it wasn’t easy to make considering it had to be solid wood. They gave us a deadline of a couple of months to manufacture and deliver it to them. However, we managed to do it in a couple of days. They liked that and said: “How about you make a truck of those”.

MF: How long did it take to make that first order?

Bojan: It took us about a month. Only fifteen people worked in GIR back then, but we were all hard-working and wanted to succeed. The things then started with its course. They asked us to make two trucks worth of products, then three, and the scope of the business grew because we respected the deadlines that had been set and provided the required quality.

MF: What did the Belgians expect from you, and what did they offer?

Bojan: Ethnicraft took charge of the sales and market supplying entirely. On the other hand, we were, and still are, in charge of manufacturing for their brand as one of their three manufacturers. From that moment on, GIR started to grow exponentially. All we have built is owing to that collaboration. Through the Belgians and their brand, our product gained access to the global market.

We have come to the point where this process is completely developed and now we got the opportunity to do other stuff, such as GIR Store in Belgrade.

MF: How do you find associates and partners for your type of production?

Bojan: We were lucky that my uncle, who is to this day the leading technologist in the firm, knew how to successfully make those first few pieces of furniture in the beginning. Then we made an original core of people who were very skilled in their jobs and who were excellent carpenters and craftsmen.
The selection of the people and building a team is a lengthy and very important process which ensures that there are no problems in the future. Only after a couple of years did we felt that we had a strong team that is capable of handling everything, even the new stuff. The most important thing we figured out is the learning itself. In the beginning, we practically knew nothing, and today we do some of the most complicated things when it comes to manufacturing solid wood furniture.
There are, for example, chairs that have organic shapes and they are manufactured with the CNC machines which, in turn, have to be programmed before the production starts. People working in the GIR factory are not just carpenters anymore, they are engineers-carpenters.
Seeing as the business is growing, it creates a necessity for new people who we have to train, which takes anywhere between 3 months and 2 years, depending on the position for which a man is being trained. The ability and will to learn are the most important qualities our future employee has to have. That’s what we value the most.

MF: Today GIR takes up quite a space and, you practically cover the entire process of manufacturing. How did that come to pass?

Bojan: In the very beginning, we didn’t even dry our wood, and we got readymade elements with which we assembled furniture. As the scope of our production grew we came to the conclusion that the more we are dependant of other companies and suppliers, the more problems we could have, and we had to have continual production.
The final decision to close the whole process was made a couple of years ago, when we had to buy dried up raw material. We had a problem with that whole series, and complaints from the entire European market that the furniture cracked and broke. Then we realized that we had to start working independently so we could get a product of ultimate quality, which is a prerequisite if you want to get out on the global market and be competitive. In order to accomplish that, we had to cover the whole process of production from the beginning to the end – from logs and their procurement, processing and drying, to the final product.

It all starts in the forest and the logs that have been cut.

MF: How does the whole process in your production look like?

Bojan: It all starts in the forest and the logs that have been cut. The log then goes to a sawmill to be cut into planks, which we saw into prisms. That way we get the elements for further processing. Even though that process looks easy, in fact it’s not very simple to accomplish that those elements be exact to the tenth of a millimeter and that every angle is precisely 90 degrees. If done otherwise, later it will not be possible to install this element properly. Even the smallest mistake can lead to a faulty product. After that, the boards and the elements go to machine sector where they are processed into shapes that are not exactly right. In the end, there is assembling and surface treatment with the human touch and finishing process, and then there is packing. It’s all backed up by documentation and development.

MF: You are an owner of a large production. It’s not possible that all this works properly without the appropriate standardization. How do you handle that issue?

Bojan: We have standardization office which is focused only on standardizing all the processes. Firstly we recognized the logic that all things had to be automatized and standardized and that every part of the process has to have its written procedure. Later also came the global standards such as ISO standards which we hold. We stick to every rule and nobody can act on its own, let’s put it that way. Everyone is responsible for his part of the process and it’s always done in the same way.

MF: You mentioned GIR Store in Belgrade. This is a project that you can call your own.

Bojan: The initial idea came up two or three years ago. We came to the point where we had developed the production very well and a new spark was needed to be concurrently developed. My visits to furniture and design fairs contributed to that idea. Thus I came to the idea that we in Serbia can use our sensibility and creative energy to make something beautiful.

For that reason, I started a platform in Belgrade, which we call GIR Store, where we make creative things – from furniture to all other accessories, and we sometimes even dabble into fashion. Of course, there we display and sell the things we produce, but we also use some other global and local brands that fit into the whole vision.

The idea is to experiment and try new things together with domestic and regional designers in order to create something innovative and different. We want to be producers and make things which are beautiful and have higher value in every aspect.

MF: Biggest part of the production is what you do for the Belgian company, but you also have separate ventures. What constitutes GIR brand currently?

Bojan: GIR Store is the most recognizable and it practically branded itself. The curator role of GIR is in all the things and their presentation within that space. It has an educational quality and it’s something new in this part of the world.
On the other hand, there is about twenty pieces (tables, chairs, mirrors etc.) which we make and which we exhibited at the Belgrade Furniture Fair. They have been designed by our people, a couple of studios from Serbia, for example studio Autori with which we designed GIR Store, studio Presek, Marko Oljaca, Miljana Nikolic, from Croatia we have Numen, Studio Redesign and Grupa,and from Spain there is La Mamba studio, and we should definitely mention Djordje Cukanovic who worked in GIR and has designed some pieces for Ethnicraft.

MF: In the beginning you made pieces for the Belgians by their ideas. But you also started to design pieces for them.

Bojan: It happened lots of times that our people participate in the development process of an Ethnicraft product. That way we got the opportunity that people who worked for GIR design some of the pieces, suggest it to Ethnicraft, and everything to get accepted, and then the products themselves continue to live within the brand and be distributed all around the world, mainly in France, Belgium, America, Australia and eastern part of Asia, which currently are the biggest markets.

MF: In the end, do you call for certain types of people to contact you or do you maybe want partners for specific ideas you want to carry out?

Bojan: Basically, we have need of every type of profession – technologists, engineers, carpenters, as well as the people who can be involved in the venture of GIR Store, such as designers, graphic designers, product managers. Also, GIR Store will not only include furniture, but also the toys, scents, fashionable things etc. Anyone who feels that we can together create something that will contribute to the whole narrative of GIR space, is, of course, welcome to contact us via e-mail or phone.

For Moja Firma: Ivan Minić and Ivan Radojčić
Photos: Stefan Đaković