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Hans Lensvelt Bankrupt

Tough times, paranoid banks and an inconsistent relationship between government and design are being blamed for the Lensvelt BV bankruptcy.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 15-11-2012

Businessman Hans Lensvelt has filed for bankruptcy.

“We are currently in talks and hopefully we can buy back some of the assets from the liquidators,” Lensvelt said this morning.

Lensvelt BV has endured a lot of change.  It was set up in 1962 by Lensvelt’s father Mr A.G.Th. Lensvelt.  Hans Lensvelt took control in 1990.  In 2006 Lensvelt agreed for Gispen to buy his company, but two years ago was unhappy with the direction things were going in and survived some complex legal negotiations to have his part of the company returned to him.  In 2005 he employed 105 people, most recently it was just 18.

The main frustration for this current predicament is that business, according to Lensvelt, has been going well.  “The furniture market shrank by 25 % in recent years,“ he says, “but our sales have gone up by 50%.”

The problem is an unexpected drop in bank credit.  And the banks do not look set to change or ease up on their policy decisions any time soon.

Lensvelt’s ultimate plan is to restart the company as soon as possible albeit with a different focus.  Whether that will be possible or not depends on current talks.  What he wants is to end the project work, which he claims makes no money and instead focus on selling high-end products.   

“The market for contract furniture has become really tough,” Lensvelt says.  “When we sell designs by Marcel Wanders, Piet Hein Eek, and Joep van Lieshout, we make a serious margin.  But for projects, in the end it always comes down to an Excel sheet with products and prices and the client only ever goes for the cheapest options.”

Lensvelt speaks critically of the business model that has evolved from pitch to completion of design projects.  “If you add up the money invested by all the participants in a pitch, it is worth more than the end project,” he says.  “It is a crazy business model.  I mean so much of what is being done like intricate mock-ups is being done for free.  I don’t ask the water or heating guys to come and fix my apartment for free. We pitched in Gemany recently and expected two or three other companies to be involved, but there were ten … all with mocked up models.  That is ridiculous.  Our industry is just burning money.”

And who is to blame?  Lensvelt just shakes his head at the whole system saying nobody really is at fault.  He does reserve criticism for the government, however.  

“The Dutch government has its mouth full of promoting Dutch design,” he says.  “They are putting ten million over three years into promoting Dutch design, fashion and architecture abroad, but yet they themselves spend nothing on design.  They buy poor quality cheap furniture that nobody wants to use and which looks dreadful five years later.  If they invested in instant classics that people liked and wanted to work around, they would be better responding to the sustainability issue right there.”

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