March Design Studio: how Lithuanian minimalism conquered one fourth of the world
In Lithuania, only few are aware of the March brand. Mainly those who are interested in original design of things, are looking for unique accessories for themselves and their homes. But abroad, in particular in Scandinavia, France, Italy, and even Japan, the March brand is considered to be the guarantee of aesthetics and quality. Founder and director of March Design Studio Eglė Opeikienė tells how the ideas, that look simple at the first glance, managed to capture hearts of people in as many as 53 countries.
How did your business start look like?
We started our business approximately seven years ago under an individual business certificate. At that time, we had only one product – reflective badge. After realising that people like it and it could bring quite good earnings, we founded March Design Studio Company, carrying out its activities under the March brand.
Why reflective badge? What made it to stand out from the other reflectors?
Before creating the product, designer and partner of the company Martynas Kazimierėnas noticed a certain niche in Lithuania. After joining the European Union, everyone started talking about safety on the roads, how important it is. We were looking at the reflectors available on the market, how interesting their shapes and colours were, but actually majority of them were designed for kids. At that time, there were no aesthetic, simple reflectors which would suit smart outfits, that is why we designed that kind of a reflector. We noticed then that not only Lithuanians like our product, but that it could be successfully merchandised in foreign countries as well. We had this badge patented, though at first sight it seemed that it had a very simple design and we would hardly surprise anyone with it. It turned out that simplicity is genius.
You are saying that you noticed the demand for the product in foreign countries. When did you enter foreign markets?
From the very first days of our business, we targeted sales abroad. We realised that the Lithuanian market was too small for the company, we had a very niche product. We did not have a wide range of services or products we could offer. We had to design products that would be competitive not only in Lithuania but in foreign countries as well, where similar products are in abundance, while people of the big foreign countries are very hard to surprise. The principle of our work has remained the same since the very beginning: we ourselves create and develop product design, while in production process we cooperate with various Lithuanian manufacturers who supply either components of the products or sometimes finished products for us. We assemble, inspect, pack the products and over 95% of all our products are exported.
Of course, it is not enough just to create and manufacture a product. Sale also plays a very important role, i.e. international delivery of products, clients’ search, brand development. We are also intensely engaged in that on ongoing basis.
Which products did you create later?
Success and popularity of our first product inspired us to keep creating more products. In total, we have designed and ‘brought to life’ about 15 different products and their modifications. The main purpose of all our products – they simply make people happy, seeing them makes them smile. After the reflective badge, we invented a chalk writable t-shirt, writing from which can be removed by washing. Sales were growing, especially, in Italy, France, Germany. Later on, we invented an extremely light tablecloth which does not need ironing and can be used both at home and for a picnic. We also created magnetic mirrors, to which you can stick keys or leave messages. As well as wall decorations: fir trees that can be stuck and easily removed from any surfaces without leaving any marks. All these products have at least minimum innovation, slightly different attitude to an elementary object well known to everybody. Aesthetics and quality of our designed products are appreciated even by spoilt Scandinavians and Japanese. Besides, most of our designs are patented – that is a good tool in fighting against plagiarism in Lithuania and abroad. We have seen copies of our products in various countries in the world, therefore registration helps to protect our rights.
What is your latest product?
It is Bird BnB birdhouse. Its assembly takes only a minute: by pulling the strings, the flat object turns into a 3D birdhouse meeting all the requirements. This birdhouse is an urban product adapted for a city, which suits the design of a modern home. In order to find out the real needs of the birds, we consulted ornithologists and other specialists. It is one of the components of our working process, which is highly important and interesting when inventing and developing a product. We have to get an insight into processes, to be interested in innovative materials, technologies, at the same time integrating scientific knowledge, previous humankind experience and wisdom.
Let’s talk about markets: where the March brand is known?
We export our products to 53 countries, i.e. one fourth of the world. The most interesting export countries are Guernsey, Martinique, Faroe Islands, Indonesia. While by the volumes of sales, the most important countries are Scandinavian countries, France, Italy, USA, Japan. Our products are made according to the Scandinavian concept of aesthetics, are minimalistic, but entering the Scandinavian market was a very big challenge. Scandinavians themselves demonstrate their leadership in design to the world; therefore we had to offer something very special to be let into their market. That’s why now we highly appreciate this market and are proud to be recognised there.
Which channels did you use to establish contacts with foreign buyers, distributors?
Participation in international exhibitions is the main channel. One of the last exhibitions we took part in under the joint Lithuanian exhibition stand organised by Enterprise Lithuania was the exhibition of kids wear and accessories Playtime. At this exhibition, we established a contact with an agent from France, signed an agency agreement. We also received orders from the British shop Blue Almonds, Korean Aout, French Atomic Store, Little Casba, Debrigode, Luxembourg Bubble, German Booboo Bootique, Israel Smooch, Russian The Kido. Meeting the agent from France I would name to be one of the most important new contacts established at the exhibition, who will represent the March children line and search for new clients in the whole country. And that is the success of only one day! We feel grateful to Enterprise Lithuania for an opportunity to participate in this kind of exhibitions that helps us as a young brand to be noticed, to aspire better results and to seize an opportunity to examine a foreign market, to establish contacts with various partners.
What could you advice to those who already have an excellent product but still do not dare to enter foreign markets?
First of all, you have to examine foreign markets, to find out if similar, identical products are available there, whether your product will not be a copy, which might be unique for Lithuania but plagiarism in a foreign country. It is a frequent problem in the creative process.
If you already have a product, it means you must have a vision as well. Vision is a must – it is important to know what and why you are doing, in order not to get lost in a routine and unsuitable offers. Of course, tactical plan is no less important. I would suggest writing down your planned steps, specifying a plan: what, how and by which means your vision will be realised. Again, strictly holding on to the plan is not good. I would suggest observing and assessing ever-changing environment: what is taking place, what the outcomes of actions are – and then to make adjustments accordingly. It is also very important to believe in what you are doing. Then, sooner or later all doors will open.
I would also like to emphasise that success will never come overnight and one should not expect quick results – everything requires patience. Usually those who are pushed forward not by pursuit of profit but who like the process itself, who love their job succeed. A desire to realise one’s vision usually is behind every story of success. That’s what we are following.
Comment of Aivaras Knieža, Director of Enterprise Lithuania Export Department
Imagination, creativity, ability to combine science, art, business and innovations are increasingly becoming more and more important feature of an entrepreneur. Lithuanian creators have unique business ideas, but for their realisation they often lack marketing knowledge, entrepreneurship skills or simply targeted attention of potential investors. Lithuania has similar trends as the whole world – average growth of creative industries is faster than of other business fields, new jobs are intensely created in them. If Lithuania, as the state, would give greater priority to creative industries and faster development of their ecosystems, it could easily raise its ratings in global innovations, while on the global market Lithuania would be able to introduce the unique image of its culture.
The research conducted by the Global Intellectual Property Organisation in 2016 showed that creative industries create 5.4% of the value added of the Lithuanian economy, nearly 5% of labour force work in this field. The sector of creative industries accounts for about 7 per cent of the gross domestic product in the world. In the global innovation index, Lithuania is among 40 most innovative countries in the world, and it shows that there is space for us to improve. By the export of creative services and products, in 2017 Lithuania had slightly higher rating: 29th and 23rd, respectively. Being a small, growing economy, we should exploit this sector, because creative industry is also an opportunity to feel rapidly growing fields in the global economy, to be the first to offer our idea and find a niche.
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