Donar - a story of superb chairs

Matej Feguš.

Matej Feguš is the owner of the Donar chair manufacturing company. He is exceptional and inspiring in many ways, especially in business. He first worked in the company as a student. He had vision, focus, determination and motivation right from the start. Today, he is the director and owner of one of the most successful Slovenian companies with an international presence.

Donar brings together its own knowledge and design in order to manufacture perfect chairs in which your body does not feel the stress of prolonged sitting. It swears by ergonomic solutions and high-quality manufacturing practices. Its flexible approach allows the company to meet the needs and standards of individual customers. Most of the chairs are exported. Donar's mission is green, sustainable development, and it is well-aware of the environmental impact of materials. Products must have a long life, although Donar recycles chairs, which are then sold at much lower prices.

Your business career is really extraordinary. You worked your way up in the company...   
That is true. It all started when the recession hit Slovenia, and the then owner of Donar, who is a generation older than me, was not best suited to continue in the exacerbated market conditions. He probably wanted to sell the company. While I had very different aspirations, since I was a young man. The company had a lot of potential and energy. We managed to come to an agreement, enabling Donar to embark on a slightly different journey. Owing to the crisis, we lost several major clients and almost all markets, while our market share in Slovenia shrank significantly (we lost 70%-80% of the Slovenian market). Nevertheless, we believed in our vision; we looked for new business opportunities, and at the same time we invested in product development and design.  

This probably suits you, since the company has high expectations of design.
My first job in Donar was in product development. Very soon, at a furniture fair in 1999, I was awarded first prize by the Designers Society of Slovenia. We built on this story, which I consider to be a milestone in Donar's operations in foreign markets. We were recognised as partners and manufacturers capable of developing quality products with top design. We even penetrated the Italian market, which has a rich tradition in design and does not welcome newcomers.

What is the concept of your chairs? What makes them special?
Our business model may not be mainstream, but we are more than just a production company: we are a processing company in the classic sense of the word. We focus on development, details, production optimisation and services. Only half of Donar's turnover is linked to a specific service. The added value of our products stems from personalised design, a wide range of colours and adaptability. This is also something that most customers appreciate. We are highly adaptable, and our guiding principle is to tailor chairs to the needs of customers, or to design chairs that are ideal for our customers. We optimise the price performance of our products. Information on potential customers, their wishes and needs (what kind of work they perform, whether they use a computer or telephone at work, whether they sit for long periods, etc.), is crucial. We also pay attention to the dimensions and requirements of work places. In the final phase, the customers select the image of their final product, thus shaping the company's mission.

Two years ago, the Danish public administration selected your tender to supply chairs. It seems incredible.
I have known for many years that Donar also has the potential to enter Scandinavian markets. Eight years ago, we began to cooperate with a partner operating in Scandinavia and thus, two years ago, landed a contract with the Danish public administration. The entire process leading up to the final product for the Danish customer was quite something. A five-member Danish delegation, including Mads Odgård and an ergonomics expert, visited our company, and together with them we developed chairs according to their needs and standards. These chairs are designed specifically for their civil servants and meet the stringent Danish standards.  

As this contract has not expired yet, we are constantly improving the design and upgrading the manufacturing process. Our products meet the most demanding standards. Being a small-scale enterprise, Donar cannot afford to miss a deadline or the target performance of 98%. I should also point out that we were competing with big global manufacturers in this tender. We are very satisfied with this order.   

What order are we talking about?
The contract was concluded for a period of four years, and every week Donar sends between 300 and 400 custom-designed chairs in different colours to Denmark. Every order is coordinated with their procurement department, which is staffed with experts, not bureaucrats.  

Donar's Beatnik chair is exhibited in the Red Dot Museum in Singapore. It won the 2013 Red Dot Award. What makes the Beatnik so special?
The Red Dot Award, which confirms our standards and values, was a stepping stone in the company's evolution. It made us more visible globally, and more interesting to foreign media.

We refer to Beatnik as the sound station chair. Furniture should be enhanced with the modern technology available, establish communication with people, and enable a certain degree of multifunctionality. You do not need your hands to talk on the phone while enjoying the comfort of the Beatnik. At first, we wanted to design a chair in which you could spend a few moments in peace away from the hustle and bustle of the world around you. It was meant for individual customers, but now 90% of Beatnik chairs are sold to businesses. It turns out to be an excellent promotional tool. To this end, we cooperate with Akrapovič, a Slovenian producer of exhaust systems, which developed a special application for testing the sound of different exhaust systems. We integrated their application into our design, so that a buyer of an exhaust system can listen to the sounds of different exhaust systems while relaxing in our chair. Discussions with mobile phone services and other interested companies are underway.  

Text by Polona Prešeren, Photo: Donar Archives