Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, so the saying goes, and the same can be said for tapware brand Vola, which grew from a home-grown brand to an internationally renowned name. As it enters its 50th anniversary year ADR talks with marketing director Birthe Tofting to find out how the brand changed bathrooms around the world, and how its designs have evolved over the last five decades.
You’ve been with Vola for more than 25 years. How have you seen the evolution of design over this time and what changes stand out to you most?
During my time in the sanitary business, I have seen many different trends. In the 70s and 80s, there was a colour revolution in the bathroom. Suddenly the tapware was no longer just chrome, but brown and olive green or orange. In the 90s white was the dominant colour. Vola was one of the first manufacturers that offered taps in colours. The colour revolution was probably a side effect of the general evolution of the bathroom from being a functional room to becoming a kind of living room.
Arne Jacobsen who designed the first Vola taps wanted to clean up the mess in the bathroom. That was the background of the revolutionary concept of hiding all the tubes in the wall that founder Verner Overgaard and Arne Jacobsen created together back in 1968 when the first taps were designed for the National Bank of Denmark. Today in 2018 black is the most sought-after colour worldwide for Vola together with brushed stainless steel.
The company has evolved from a home-grown brand to one that is now prevalent across Europe and Asia Pacific. Can you talk me through this growth and the impact it has had on the business as well as the design of products?
Just a few years after the Vola design was born in 1968 the company started to export their taps to neighbouring countries UK and Germany. In the 80s Australia started to import and sell Vola taps. Many of the company’s first dealers were architects who were fascinated by the design. It has always been very important for us to be able to communicate our values in the right way. As many of the international importers started to retire we started up our own sales teams to make sure that they had the right commitment to the Vola design. I have personally participated in the start-up of all 10 subsidiaries in Europa and Asia Pacific.
In 2012 we opened a showroom in Shanghai and employed our own sales team there. This was the beginning of the Vola Asia Pacific strategy. There’s now a sales team in Hong Kong and in Australia, and in October this year, a showroom will be opened in Melbourne.
As VOLA celebrates 50 years, what methodology has it adopted to maintain longevity and industry prevalence for five decades? What were some of the challenges and opportunities you have encountered over that time?
We have always invested a lot of resources in updating the technical part of the products, but without compromising the original design. In the late 1980s, we had to make the first important decision concerning the Vola design DNA. Since the beginning, the mixers were born with a rubber membrane technology. However, on the market, there was a demand for ceramic disc technology. The problem was that the standard ceramic disc cartridges did not fit the small dimensions of the Vola design, and Verner Overgaard would not change the design because of a technical issue. That was a very wise decision that has been the guideline for the development of the design ever since. Instead, we had our own cartridge produced to fit the proportions of the Vola design. With our own sales teams on the key markets, we are in close contacts with the architects and interior designers and can help them specify Vola for their projects. At the same time, we get inspiration for new products.
During all the years the decisions concerning our design and the Vola organisation have been totally integrated: we do not have any silos. The brand and the organisation is one integrated whole. All decisions concerning new products and product development are made in our product committee where I have been a member from the very beginning. The people who make the products in the factory and the people who communicate the values to the market all have to understand and live the values.
Sustainability is a word on the lips of the design world: how does VOLA approach sustainability across it businesses. How challenging is this?
The Vola design is timeless and the products are made from the best materials and of the best quality so they last for generations. This is our approach to sustainability. We still supply spare parts for the products that are 50 years old. Every time we make a technical improvement we make sure that the existing products can be upgraded. So you will never have to throw away your tap. All the materials from the production are recycled, and the factory runs according to the highest environmental standards. All of our taps have flow regulators so that the building owner can decide how much water he wants to use at every installation.
Tell me about the VOLA academy: how was it conceived, what is its function and how do you see it growing in the future?
At Vola we want to secure the quality until the taps are fitted correctly in a building. Therefore we want to train the people who are going to install our products. That was the idea behind building an academy beside our factory. Every month several delegations of architects and interior designers join our factory tours and participate in design conferences or other cultural events in the Vola Academy. The building is designed by Link Arkitektur who have been designing new Vola products since 2007.
What do the next 50 years hold for the company as we see changes in technology and consumer behaviours?
During the anniversary year, we are celebrating our design classics, but we are also celebrating the many new products that we have launched during the past 10 years, which have all won international design awards. We are always evolving – coming up with new ideas and concepts.
Arne Jacobsen wanted to clean up the mess in the bathroom in the sixties. We are continuing that line. We will keep making aesthetic, timeless and innovative products for the bathroom that make this room a beautiful, quiet and harmonious place. In our fragmented, over-communicated world, modern people need a hideaway from the hectic world.