G Plan Fresco versus Lebus Europa a late 1960s contest that G Plan won easily !
G Plan having been way ahead in the mid-1950s by successfully branding their furniture ranges , and styling them to attract contemporary buyers , hit a rocky patch in the very early 1960s , but soon bounced back . By the mid-1960s they were well established as the largest British maker of contemporary furniture designed for mid-market buyers . Harris Lebus were a London based manufacturer , one of the largest in the UK , but mainly producing cheaper less fashionable unbranded pieces to be sold by shops large and small up and down the country . It’s very rare to see a Lebus label on a 1950s or 60s piece and there are few recognisable designs that can be attributed to them .
G Plan ranges such as their Danish Range , Quadrille and Brasilia were highly successful , although other ranges such as the Young Ideas one didn’t do as well as they may have hoped . Their market was a growing one of white collar workers who weren’t hit by the economic changes in the UK in the mid to late 60s . Harold Wilson’s Labour government’s policies hit the spending power of the wealthy upper middle classes , whilst giving more to the working man , leaving the typical G Plan customer unaffected . Firms like A Younger , Archie Shine , Greaves + Thomas and Dalescraft who sold more expensive pieces had to change , but G Plan’s market was unaffected and the designs they came up with in the late 1960s strengthened their position . Victor Bramwell Wilkins Fresco range introduced in c 1968 was the right product at the right time . Suddenly G Plan had a design that was not only right for the dining room , but also the living room and bedroom . One handle could be used on numerous different pieces , which must have cut their production costs at just the right time .
Harris Lebus with their large manufacturing site in London employing a large trained workforce producing a large range of anonymous usually undistinguished furniture , decided to enter the battle for branded pieces . In 1950 their factory was ” the largest furniture factory in the world ” , there were larger companies particularly in the USA , but they operated over a number of sites .The timing seemed right and their new managing director seemed to have the right background to lead them into a war with G Plan . In 1966 with a product range of some 400 pieces , rising sales but falling profits Lebus appointed Leonard Grosbard as Managing Director . He was an engineer with a marketing background who had moved into management , but probably with little understanding of the British furniture market . He visited the newest furniture factories in Europe ( probably in Germany ) and decided to install the latest advanced mass production equipment for making furniture . The investment was some £500,000 with more to follow in advertising . A lot of money at the time .
Lebus’s chief designer was the Danish born Cyril Rostgaard and along with 2 of their upholstery designers he investigated the current UK and European furniture market . The idea was to consolidate and come up with a homogenous range rather than the mish mash of various designs that they had been making and selling . Great for keeping costs down , but immediately alienating some of the more traditional customers who didn’t want a more modern product . The range that resulted was Europa , and their target buyer was apparently the wives of skilled artisans in the 18 to 35 age bracket , so less wealthy blue collar workers with a very mixed taste often influenced by their parents . Definitely a market with growing spending power in the mid 1960s . Having designed a potential range they then did some market research showing it to 100 potential buyers along with ranges from 2 of their main competitors , presumably G Plan being one and perhaps McIntosh the other . Pricing of the pieces was some 20% less than these competitors . Having both a 1968 Lebus Europa catalogue and ones from 1969 by GPlan and 1968 by McIntosh , prices of the Europa are definitely around 20 % cheaper , but the difference in quality of the resulting pieces is very noticeable . Europa was mainly a teak effect almost artificially grained finish on teak bases , whereas G Plan and any other obvious competitor used a teak veneer which was much more attractive . Even cheaper brands like Beautility used teak veneers , and even if the finish was not as good as that of Europa the range was larger and the teak looked like teak . Apparently the results of this market research were very positive , and production of the Europa range went ahead . Recent opinion polls have proved to be very wrong , and 100 people isn’t a large group to gamble a company’s future on , or maybe they weren’t asked the right questions !
Another major error that Lebus made was to decide to reduce the number of retailers who they would agree to stock , upsetting a number of loyal retailers some of whom had successfully sold large amounts of Lebus furniture for many years .
All Lebus’s hopes were focused on the 1 range Europa and it failed commercially as did another range they quickly tried . The result was that in 1970 they closed the Tottenham factory laying off 1000 workers having made a horrendous loss in 1969 . The gradual sale of the factory site over the early 70s kept Lebus in business making upholstered furniture and a small amount of cabinet pieces , but their days as Britain’s largest furniture maker were at an end . The idea of cheaper manufacture was right as Schreiber who were a successful maker of radio cabinets moved into making cheap furniture on a large scale at the same time taking over Greaves + Thomas in the process .
There is a fabulously informative website www.harrislebus.com with much excellent content by Mustafa Suleman with numerous fascinating articles with much detailed history and content from which I have taken information . I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can be , but this is a very short blog compared with the mass of detail that is on that website , covering design , production , transport and retailers .