The furniture factory “Maria” is located on the bank of the Volga river – in the same place, where sawmills of successful merchants from Saratov were working in the previous century. Even if it is an accidental coincidence, genius loci (the genius of place) clearly favors the modern cabinetmakers too - 18 years ago a small company that sold Italian kitchens decided to work on its own production. Today it can be considered the legislator of kitchen fashion in Russia. World stars of cinema and industrial design has worked with “Maria”. Nevertheless, it is open for cooperation with any enterprising people: the company did not lose its grip even in the difficult economic conditions, launching new projects and brands, and in the present situation, when the furniture market is emerging from the crisis it offers everyone to make profit with its brands.
“A furniture franchise in an unstable time – is a great business, - says Yefim Katz, chairman of the Board of Directors and one of the founders of the Saratov furniture factory “Maria”. –We have demand from potential partners and the same happens to our competitors – People want to make profits and they are ready to invest in it”.
Why people come to the shops of the factory from Saratov is explainable – the brand recognition of “Maria” in Russia alone is 67%. Studios work in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kirgizia. The company is known in Armenia, Azerbaidzhan and Georgia – the factory already receives requests for opening of new franchise studios in these countries. Repeated sales take place too – people choose this brand 10-15 years after purchasing their first kitchen. Other people just remember a popular advertising with Gerard Depardieu: the French actor worked as the face of the company for two years. The manufacturer holds 3,6% of the market and 15-20% in its price segment – middle and middle plus. That is a lot, considering that even on their national market they have to compete with the Swedish IKEA. And they succeed: two years ago with 89 own shops and 224 franchise ones “Maria” was in the top 25 most profitable franchises in Russia according to the Forbes magazine. The situation has not changed since then – 460 furniture studios already work in different regions of Russia. Two new brands have joined the main one: “MIA kitchens” are represented in the “Eldorado” stores and kitchen furniture workshops “Edim Doma!” are developed by the company with a franchise program. The story of this brand started when Julia Vysotskaya, an actress and the #1 media person in the field of cooking and house crafting contacted the factory on equipment for her culinary studios. The idea of creating the kitchen furniture workshops “Edim Doma!” appeared during the work on kitchen furniture for Julia’s culinary studios. Cooperation with the leader of this field and her ideas for the collection of kitchens became the source of energy for the factory. The project that was launched in the midst of a crisis shortly became one of the quickest growing franchises in Russia: 100 workshops opened in one year.
Yefim Katz explains the high demand for the franchise with the fact that the factory solves most of the problems at the launch of the new business. A partner only has to find a space that is more than 50 sq. m. and the rest is done by the specialists of the factory for free: exhibition samples, the interior and decoration plan of the new studio. They will help in hiring employees and organize a trip for them to the Corporate University of “Maria” where all of the employees, from the furniture assembler to the manager of the studio will receive the knowledge that they need for work. “We teach technologies and sales, working with clients and with “Maria” model range. All of the expenses for education, accommodation and food are paid for by the company, -says Katz, adding: - Our people have to be educated and well-mannered”
That is how the franchisee get a ready shop and qualified staff. Besides, the factory provides them with an advertising support on the federal and regional levels, a recognized brand and consultations on any questions along the way from the central office of “Maria”.
What else is necessary? “Time, money and – strong entrepreneur will”, - says Yefim Katz. The first ones are counted and revised: franchises of “Maria” kitchens return 3 000 000 rubles of investments in one year, “Edim Doma!” – returns 800 000 rubles in six months. The third quality requires personal attitude. “The slogan of our project is “Kitchens that bring joy”, and the main rule for our employees therefore is “Work that brings joy” -People that are eager to risk and create, that have a spirit of entrepreneurship enjoy working here”.
It is interesting and easy for foreign partners of “Maria” too. The leading manufacturer of mechanisms in the world, Hettich supplies it with its top products – ultrathin drawers ArchiTech in a “champagne” color that hold record weight of 40 kg are only represented in “Maria” on the Russian market. Gerard Depardieu sketched what later became the model Teatro by G.D. For several years, the company has been working with an Italian design bureau Adriani e Rossi. Since 2016 one of the most famous industrial designers of the world, Karim Rashid has been creating for “Maria”. Concepts of his kitchens have recently been presented in Moscow. “We want to promote high fashion for the mass customer and prepare adapted models of the concept for our Russian clients. Kitchens of the future by Karim Rashid will be available for order in September already.” – notes Yefim Katz.
Working with foreign partners, the Saratov furniture makers not only enrich their model range, share experience and learn technologies but also learn how to save. It is no secret that 80% of the factory’s materials are imported and their prices depend on the euro. That is why during the crisis “Maria” has been working on decreasing the price of production of the furniture. It started to process materials, that used to be ordered from Europe and adopted its own process of covering particleboard with plastic – less spending, more control over the quality of the product.
“The crisis made us stronger, - says Yefim Katz. – We introduced the technology of careful production, increasing effectiveness. By keeping our profitability, saving on direct advertising, carrying out a more aggressive strategy with offers – our discounts reach 30-40%.”We supports the customer’s loyalty by bonuses. We know that we are recommended to colleagues and friends. Overall, we make the purchase easy and convenient”.
During the 18 years of its history, “Maria” has produced more than 350 000 kitchens. And each one of them was created according to an individual design project. “Our customers have very different preferences: classical kitchens, made of solid wood are more popular in the south, people of central Russia prefer the modern style – and we have all of the options. We create trends of the kitchen fashion and annually update our collection”, - says Katz.
Besides, “Maria” wants to implement all of the new achievements of the market first. For example, they make their kitchens truly unique with a technology of photo printing on the glass panels – such technology is rare for our market and it allows the customer to choose an image that is perfect for them. Another feature of “Maria” is the moisture proof particleboard: furniture, made of this material serves for at least 10 years. A perfect guaranty of durability is a countertop made of artificial stone. Many companies offer a countertop with a thickness of 6 mm, but “Maria” orders durable 12mm plates from the USA and South Korea.
Such strategy provides the company with a strong position on the market: in 2016 kitchen sales of “Maria”, “Edim Doma!” and “MIA kitchens” almost reached 40 000. The overall revenue was more than 8,5 billion rubles (+15% to 2015). Today, the factory produces 4000 kitchens every month and its production is capable of 10 000. They are capable of more, but “production of more than 10000 kitchens a month may lead to loss of flexibility and will make the factory dependent of crisis events”. That is why Yefim Katz thinks that growth of the franchise network has its limits: “We can open 100 more “Maria” studios. “Edim Doma!“ can grow up to 500 plus”. The factory gives a second chance to those who worked in this business before but had to exit it without support of a strong manufacturer. It opens new opportunities for those who think of multiplying their capital – dynamics of the furniture market gives a lot of optimism.