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Touch of class

Booms in new property and high incomes in Romania have helped luxury furniture retailer Class to flourish. Corina Ilie sits down to talk shop with general manager of the premium showrooms, Camelia Sucu

February 2008 - From the Print Edition

In Romania, when a couple are choosing furniture for their home, the woman has the last word.
“The responsibilities in a Romanian couple are well delegated between a man and a woman,” argues Camelia Sucu, general manager of luxury furniture retailer Class. “Because the woman usually takes care of the house, she does the market research and then takes her husband to the shop to show him which furniture would look great in their home. In the end they decide what to buy together, but I have seen a lot of men giving up on their ideas - because the wife just knows better.”
Such knowledge of who makes the final purchasing decision has helped Sucu, a former medical doctor, to build up a strong business in how to furnish a home. In the last ten years, the luxury furniture market has been boosted by the growing purchasing power of Romanians – as well as the boom in real estate and easier access to credit.
This has facilitated the expansion of domestic furniture retailer Mobexpert and its luxury spin-off Class Mob, which now has five shops representing 27 international names. Both retail brands have consolidated their niche and now have international expansion in sight. Meanwhile last year’s new entry in Romania, Ikea, is picking up the market for lower-cost self-assembly furniture.
Class sits at the premium end, selling mostly light, minimalist furniture, although traditional pieces are available. The brands include strong contemporary Italian names such as Rimadesio, kitchen specialists Scavolini, Pianca and Calligaris, with costs in the thousands of Euro.
Sucu believes the furniture market will experience real growth in a few years’ time, around 2010, when most of the new residential projects, now under development, will see delivery. “You cannot move from an old apartment into a new one and keep the old furniture,” she argues. “Even if you keep a few old items you still have to invest in new furniture.”
Because Romanians now travel more and gain exposure to global trends on the furniture market, their quality expectations are high – and delivery times are also crucial to keep. “My customer has waited for a long time to buy high quality furniture and is no longer willing to keep waiting,” she says.
Class employs a team of sales consultants who can visit customers’ homes to evaluate the most suitable furniture for a space, sketch a plan and then prepare two alternatives for a design. The whole home can gain a kit-out from Class.
Sucu says the styles that today’s Romanian consumer favour vary from classic to modern, but there is an emphasis on functional items. Trends in clothes also predict fashion’s taste in furniture. This year’s spring and summer collection in furniture includes colourful fabrics and floral motifs for the upholstery of couches and chairs, while the wooden frames remain black, white or dark brown.
For the Romanian home, the essential items remain a large bookcase, bed and wardrobe.
“These three items need to be connected [in style], they are part of the same system that can offer clients the tranquility and relaxation they need,” she adds.
As a middle class begins to emerge in Romania, Sucu is thinking about selling less expensive furniture to young couples. “We have some products that are accessible to young people with lower income,” she says. “This year I will try to increase the number of these products or to find better financial solutions for them.”

Italian connection

In October 2007, Sucu partnered with Pasquale Natuzzi, the owner of giant Italian furniture producer Natuzzi, which has 12 factories in Italy, China, Brazil and also in Romania, to open the first Natuzzi show room in Bucharest. The 1,200 sqm store, which cost 0.6 million Euro, includes couches, armchairs, coffee tables and lamps.
This year Sucu intends to invest another 600,000 Euro in two new show rooms including Natuzzi and Class products in Cluj-Napoca and Constanta, but they will be smaller in size. “Space is never enough for all the ideas that I want to put in practice,” she says. “I have always invested more money than I have initially budgeted, because new background elements always show up.”
The collections in the shops in the provinces will be different from those in Bucharest and Class will adapt its product offer to particular cities. “It is important to adapt to the needs and even to the climate of a certain city,” Sucu says. “I will change the collections in these shops more often than in Bucharest, four or five times a year, to offer customers more than what I can in 300 sqm of space.”
Other big furniture names, showcased in the Class shops, have asked Sucu to open a monobrand store in Romania, but the manager believes that she is not ready for these partnerships yet. However her expansion plans could target countries such as Bulgaria, where Mobexpert is present, and Serbia. But for the time being she wants to focus on the business in Romania, instead of wasting time and money on areas which may not bring immediate growth.
A hands-on manager, Sucu is present at every development stage of each location of Class Mob. She also believes that she herself has the ability to attract people into shops. After visiting one of her stores, she says sales increase considerably, according to her employees. She puts this down to her radiation of “positive energy”.
“When I was in Milan at a furniture fair, I went into an empty shop to buy some gifts for my home, after a few minutes many customers came in,” she says. “The next day I visited the same shop and the same thing happened. The shop manager noticed the difference. So he asked me if I wanted to work for them.”
Needless to say, she politely turned him down.

Who is Camelia Sucu?

Camelia Sucu trained in medicine at the Carol Davila Medical University, Bucharest. Graduating in 1990, she became a doctor for three years in the capital. In 1993 she set up Mobexpert, a retailer and producer of furniture, with her then husband, Dan Sucu. In 2007 Camelia sold to Dan 40 per cent of the company, but she kept hold of the luxury division, Class. In 2006 she initiated a programme, Design Leader, in partnership with the Ion Mincu University of Architecture to support young talented designers. Sucu is also a member of the international association Leading Women of the World and Romanian charities such as the Rebirth Foundation against breast cancer and Provita Foundation, which supports abandoned children.

Top class: business situation

Since starting up in 1994 in Bucharest, luxury furniture retailer Class has opened a total of five shops, three in the capital and one each in Constanta and Iasi. In September 2007, the Class group opened a new furniture showroom for Italy’s largest furniture manufacturer, Natuzzi, in Bucharest on Bulveradul Unirii. Two other Natuzzi showrooms will open this spring in Constanta and Cluj-Napoca.
High class brands on offer cover the interiors range for bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, living, dining and dressing rooms.
Class favours contemporary Italian designers with an emphasis on minimalism and horizontal lines, with many of the pieces on sale adding a subtle Latin flair to function and comfort in the home. Molteni&C, Calligaris, Pianca, Flexform and Selva and Scavolini are among the Italian brands in furniture and interior fittings on display at the showrooms.



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