For Lars Lund, living and working in Romania is much like driving on the fast lane. And he should know a thing or two about fast driving. After all, he used to drive at rallies in the Middle East. Although he's not in Romania to do that, Lars Lund found the pace of things in the country more to his taste than the way of living in a slow country: take Austria, for example. With all these in mind, Lars' trade in Romania is a bit unexpected: furniture retail.
By Corina Saceanu
Lars Lund arrived to Romania after having worked with kika in Saudi Arabia, Austria and Russia. Before that, he had been with Ikea for a whole ten years. The task to lead the Romanian subsidiary of furniture company kika came rather quickly – and so did the decision to move here.
“I had finished in Russia on a Monday, on Tuesday I was in Belgrade for an opening and the week later, in Romania,” Lund tells Romania-Insider.com in an interview. He doesn't take decisions hasty, he says, but he likes to try new things.
That was two years ago. It is not his longest stay in a country so far – and Lars Lund has spent years in several countries so far: Saudia Arabia, UK, US, Russia, native Denmark, Malaysia. But for sure one that has the potential to become a longer stay. Lund thinks about buying a house here, the place that he already calls home. “This is the first time in a very long time that I felt very comfortable in a location and I actually think of buying a house here, for the long term,” he says.
The Romanian business of kika is not the only one he takes care of. Lars Lund is also in charge with sales for Serbia and Croatia as well, which also goes to say he travels a lot. Despite the whole traveling, he found time to discover Romania. “There is so much to see and so little known about it. Last summer I went to the Danube Delta and it was beautiful. My favorite place is Vama Veche. I keep hearing that I should have seen it couple of years ago. I guess I will be able to tell that to other people in a couple of years,” he says jokingly.
The only thing he doesn't like that much in Romania is the fact that Romanians are too hard on themselves. “People say everything is bad, but I have seen much worse, in many places places where you wouldn't even stop your car, because it is so dangerous, for example right outside of Philadelphia. There are plenty of opportunities here, if you choose to look at the full half of the glass,” Lund goes on. “There is so much to offer here, and this is the area where Romanians need to be the advocates of their own country, getting more people to visit,” he adds.
Even the Romanian way of driving, that many foreigners complain about, is just 'flexible driving' for Lars Lund, who shares some of his positive way of seeing things. “In Saudi Arabia it is much worse, there it is God's will if something happens,” he says. And he should know driving. Not only that he used to do rally driving, but he used to drive at high speeds outside the circuit as well: the highest speed he ever drove was 245 km per hour in Dubai.
Speed was what attracted Lars Lund to retail in the first place. “It has never been about the money. It was about the fast pace and the fact that you can see results very quickly. It makes it a dynamic segment,” he says.
He started out with a shop that he run for three years in Dubai, right after finishing the Copenhagen Business School, where he studied economics and retail. His moving from Ikea to kika, both in the furniture business, was moving from a volume business to a business where the focus is much more on customer service, he says. “That was a big change. I was used to volume. It is now much more about customer service,' Lund says. It's through the eyes of the customer that Lund and his employees have to see the store. As he's anyway not so keen about working in the office, he walks the store several times a day, depending on the store he's in at the moment. The one in Eastern Bucharest, in Militari Shopping Center, is just by his office. When in others' furniture stores, he made a habit out of checking the bottom part of furniture – it's the area that makes the difference in terms of quality, as most producers focus on the top but don't bother to give the final touches to the bottom of the furniture.
In Romania, kika now works on its upcoming store in Constanta. The company however focuses more on opening stores in another countries, rather than in Romania, as it was initially planned. “The five-year plan when we started out it was for eight stores in Romania, but we chose to focus on other countries. The plan for kika in Romania is to have another two stores in three years,” he says. The one store kika has in Romania turned profitable this year, the first year of profitability for the unit, which was opened in 2008.
“I also found coming here that we had great years of boom and everybody was promoted. But now we have to do the clean up, a lot of people got promoted and they shouldn't have. So we have done a lot of changes in the store, as people also need to know honestly where they stand. It is not about firing people. It is about placing them in the right location in the company,” Lund tells Romania-Insider.com. Sales are ahead of last year's. “We take whatever little thing that comes,” says Lund. The aim for Romania is to increase business wise, but also to be known for the service kika provides. “The expectation of service in Romania is very low, but I want to raise that bar,” is Lund's wish.
Another wish is for people who work with him be honest. “I have a need for people who are honest to me. For the rest, skills can be trained, people can be coached. [...] I have a saying – you might not like what I say, but I will tell you honestly,” he concludes.