Bentwood furniture is a matter of the heart for Milan Dostalík, who has been working with TON for 23 years, the last ten in the role of the company’s CEO. His colleagues are like one big family. For Milan, the future of TON will be charted through a combination of time-honoured tradition, cutting-edge contemporary design, and sound environmental stewardship.
What did you first focus on when you became the company’s CEO?
Once I settled into the role, I realised that I could not be irresolute – I had to make a decision about the company’s future direction and goals. I wanted TON to return to uncompromised quality, both in terms of production as well as design. That was my main goal. It involved some risk, as is the case with any change, but I was convinced that the alternative option of manufacturing furniture for other brands would take us nowhere. We analysed the premium furniture market, adjusted our production processes and quality control, and started to market ourselves more notably. I told myself that if we could hold out and not veer off course, then it would soon bring results.
You must have encountered many obstacles.
Before we manufactured some 400 different types of chairs, many of which were very similar. Another problem was that some of our customers did not place value on quality – for them price was the key factor. It was then that we realised that if we wanted to build a strong brand, we could not be in high- and low-end markets at the same time. We had to let go of price-sensitive customers. There’s room for only one least expensive brand – the rest have to focus on building strength. In the 1990s we made 6,000 low-cost chairs per day; today we make 6,000 chairs per week. And our earnings have remained similar.
What was the most difficult aspect of TON’s transformation into the company we know today?
Mostly barriers in our thinking and in our habits. As fate would have it, I borrowed money in 2012 so that I could secure the majority stake in the company. This allowed me to put in place my plan for building TON into a strong brand. Although there were some who said it wouldn’t work, that I wanted to destroy the company, I was thankfully surrounded by a few key individuals who believed in the idea as much as I did. Our efforts in transforming the company consumed us completely. We started to address various details in production and the sales team learnt how to approach a new type of customer: interior design firms and architects. Our marketing and process engineering departments became very strong. In the end we started to reap financial success, which led to our so far most successful years of 2016 and 2017.
What makes you most happy at the moment?
First and foremost the simple fact that we have survived 2020, the year of COVID. When restaurants and hotels around the world close their doors, and people stop travelling, this signals hard times for a company that sells products primarily to the hospitality sector. I am proud of all my colleagues, of the way that we all came together and gave it our very best so that we could balance out the great volatility in our orders. The experience has strengthened my sense of obligation for our collective future. The adage ‘difficult times reveal true friends’ rang very true this year. We didn’t dwell on unimportant things and reorganised the company so we could make it through these tough times. I’m also very happy with Alexander Gufler and his creative leadership at TON. His Merano chair family is our most successful collection of the past decade. The product itself is our most effective marketing strategy and highlights our return to a focus on strong products rather than famous names. Lastly, I’m pleased with the new products that we are getting ready to introduce. In short, I’m happy with the fact that we have an independent brand that’s charting its own course.
Read the full interview with Milan Dostalík in the publication +−160 years
about the book