In his role as design and product developer, Per Englund has been an ideas fountain at Benders for 50 years. At our latest product meeting, he presented no less than six new product proposals. Meet the man behind most of Benders’ paving stones, slabs and walling stones.
In 1960, just outside Hjo in Sweden’s Västra Götaland region, Per Englund’s father bought the property and appertaining sand quarry that now form one of Benders’ paving stone factories. On completing his education at a technical, upper-secondary school in Gothenburg, Per joined his brothers and started working in the family company. The band of brothers later took over from their father.
As early as 1966, the Englund family started to concentrate their operations on concrete production and found good outlets for paving stones, slabs and walling systems. These proved to be very successful.
“There were days when the warehouse yard was swimming with landscaping products and we wondered how they would all ever be sold. However, three weeks later, the yard could be empty,” relates Per.
This high demand was largely due to a combination of the family’s ability to develop quality products and the building boom that started in the 1970s. The brothers gradually established a comprehensive network of distributors covering large parts of central and southern Sweden. Many of these are still Benders’ customers today.
Benders takes the field
In 2001, Per Englund’s family company was acquired by a somewhat larger family company, Benders. Even if, over time, Benders has grown to be one of the market’s major forces, the factory outside Hjo remains. Per must take a lot of the thanks for this. In his role as design and product developer, he has always retained a certain softness for developing products suitable for manufacture in the Hjo factory. Nonetheless, he also highlights the benefits of starting manufacture of new products in smaller factories.
“It is easier to test new products on a small scale. I can also be present in the important start-up phase and, before manufacture is moved to one of the bigger facilities, can ensure each product’s quality.”
“Having many of my ideas end up in the wastepaper bin and having new product proposals frequently rejected is sometimes an advantage.”
The ideas man
Per Englund, epicure and bon vivant, loves boats and being near water. In his role as design and product developer, he has been an ideas fountain at Benders for 50 years. He never relaxes and, at our latest product meeting, presented no less than six new product proposals.
“Having many of my ideas end up in the wastepaper bin and having new product proposals frequently rejected is sometimes an advantage. It means that those products that make it through the selection process are truly the best,” states Per.
There is no mistaking that Per is passionate about what he does. Nor is it possible not to be inspired by the man behind the stones. Sitting at the conference table that was recently moved into his office, he bubbles with energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, with his studiedly stylish clothing and the pinkish-purple glasses that are readily worn when the camera emerges, he radiates design from top to toe.
“I sometimes even wake in the middle of the night and start sketching.”
In addition to his role as design and product developer, Per has, over the years, served as mould purchaser and technical customer support officer for Benders’ landscaping products. He finds inspiration for new products all over the place. One of his great interests is travel. Holidays abroad have been a rich source of inspiration. He likes attending trade fairs and monitoring what is happening in the industry. He is also inspired by locking functions, an area in which he devises many new, smart solutions.
“I sometimes even wake in the middle of the night and start sketching,” reveals Per.
Even if Per is part of the generation that grew up before the internet took hold, the web is another of his sources of inspiration.
“Time and space can fade away and it is not unusual for me to sit hours on end simply surfing,” as Per himself puts it.
Direct from the drawing board
Once an idea has found a foothold, the subsequent process is more or less the same regardless of whether it is a paving stone, slab or walling system that is to be developed. Although the time they take differentiates the products, work always begins with Per himself drawing the product in question on paper. This drawing is then sent to a German company with which Per has been working for over 30 years (long before Benders came into the picture). He gets back a 3D drawing of the product. The German company also provides expertise in ensuring that Per’s idea cannot be regarded as a copy of one used by any of the market’s other operators.
“All paving stones, slabs and walling stones are now very similar. It is the details that distinguish them,” explains Per.
When the 3D drawing has been delivered, intense work goes into turning it into the finished product. The drawing may be altered some 20 times before Per is entirely satisfied. This is a time-consuming process and it is sometimes difficult to alter and improve a product on the basis of a drawing alone. The new product may be printed as a 3D model but, for the most part, it is the 3D drawing that is the sole basis of product development.
“How did I manage to think up such a good product?”
Coming up with a bestseller
Before Per presents new products, he has already progressed a long way into the overall process. A 3D drawing of the product has been made and is ready for the ordering of a mould. Frequently, Per has also already requested mould quotations. He knows they are often demanded, even if he personally does not want price to be the determining factor.
The mould is only ordered when the product has been approved by Benders’ own product council. In its turn, the mould may need to be adjusted before test manufacture can begin and before, finally, the new product can take its place in Benders’ already large offerings.
There is no doubt that, in his time with the company, Per has come up with many bestsellers for Benders. When asked “Which product are you most pleased with”, Per immediately answers: “It is always the most recent. I sort of feel ‘How did I manage to think up such a good product?’”
Although Per barely manages to conclude one product meeting before he is busy with more, new product ideas, it can safely be said that his latest addition to the product range is the year’s walling innovation – Bender Luxor. This is a new type of walling stone with a smooth surface and an innovative and exciting design style that offers great possibilities for the creative.
A future pensioner
Per has been trying to retire for many years. However, besides Benders finding it difficult to let go of this phenomenal product developer, he himself finds it hard to stop gushing ideas.
“I will never stop thinking. However, I now look forward to having spaces in my diary,” declares Per.
Thus, we will now just have to wait and see if Benders’ next product innovation in the landscaping range has the Per Englund signature, or if he will have succeeded in putting away his sketch pad and pen.