For an Australian company that has been around since the early 1950s, you’d think you’d know all there is to know about them. But here’s three things you might be surprised to learn what the Zenith brand is all about…
June 22nd, 2016
So, you think you know all there is to know about Zenith Interiors? Let’s test your industry knowledge, shall we?
Zenith Interiors is an internationally-servicing Australian company providing innovative solutions for all corporate and commercial environments – this much we all know, right? Tick. Top marks for you.
Unlike most others however, Zenith not only ‘provides’ but actively collaborates with organisations in the region to develop inventive workplace solutions to engage their employees by creating spaces with products that are functional, appealing and forward-thinking.
“By gaining a deep understanding of the organisations’ needs, we help to create work environments that bring people together to share, collaborate, socialise and learn,” says Zenith’s director, Barbara Schmidt. “Zenith understands that office environments today are about leading-edge technology, collaboration and community.
We are passionate about designing, manufacturing, distributing and supplying the very solutions, aligned with current thinking and trends. In turn, our clients receive ideas, experience, expertise and locally-manufactured best-in-class products.”
That’s your Zenith 101 – but here are three things you might not know about one of Australia’s most significant and long-standing design institutions…
In 2009, Zenith introduced an R&D department, now called Zenith Design Studio, to lead their manufacturing and design direction. The Design Studio comprises a veritable cabal of industrial designers, product engineers and CAD operators. The Design Studio is continually researching global workplace trends and designing products that anticipate the ever-changing workplace environment.
Today, the Zenith design team consists of 12 highly skilled designers (more on these talented folks in the coming points) who continue to work with Zenith in producing the industry’s most innovative and functional products (more on some of these pieces a little later).
One of the biggest problems our industry is faced with is what I like to call the “cut-copy-paste” effect. This is where we very dangerously assume that the solutions provided for one workplace will likewise suit the needs of the next and so on.
The result of this is that we end up specifying the same products over and over again, un-customised to suit the needs of the space, and end up with loose furniture that doesn’t actively serve the needs of the people using it; becoming then, purely ornamental – and useless – items.
It was for this reason that the Zenith Design Studio was created, where the designers and teamwork in close collaboration with end-users, clients, architects and interior designers to develop tailored and bespoke solutions for to deliver on the specific and varied needs of every workplace.
But how does Zenith actually accomplish this?
“In 2013,” says Barbara, “we added our own state-of-the-art powder coating facility to our 20,000sqm Melbourne factory, and in 2014 we added a new CNC machine worktop plant which has added another level of service; allowing us to further improve and control our delivery and Design Studio programs.”
Any designer who has worked on even one Australian project would know the soul-crushing task of getting an international product on the spec within a reasonable lead-time – and you can just forget about customisation, because that adds an addition 12-weeks to the existing 16-week lead! By then, the project manager has stepped in and you’re forced to go with a second-rate alternative.
Zenith understands the frustrations of this uniquely-Australian problem. And that’s why these programs don’t just count for local product, but extend to the collective of international brands that Zenith has been trusted with.
In Sydney, also around 2009, Zenith opened an assembly and storage facility to house and stock imported products. This initiative has proven so successful that in January this year, they grew into a new 5,000sqm facility in Kingsgrove, which includes a fully-serviced upholstery line and frame-making shop as well as increased warehousing and logistics. And being the truly international design house it is, Zenith opened their first plan in Shanghai in 2012, as well as a manufacturing facility in Auckland, NZ.
But the facilities are only half the battle. To really be able to service the Australian market, you need two things: manufacturing capability and European product licensing. Barbara explains that “it was our vision from the outset that the Zenith Collection would be a solid balance of international brands and local design.”
She continues, “In 2009 we acquired Formway Distribution and Schamburg + Alvisse in 2011. Our first international brand, Allermuir and the Senator Group UK, were introduced into Zenith in 2009. We have localised many of the core manufacturing under licence at our Kingsgrove facility – and an extensive program backs this. In 2010, we secured BuzziSpace for Australia and New Zealand. The brand became a worldwide hit almost immediately, likely because it responded to the growing demand to bring silence back into the office. As a result, we now stock BuzziSpace in Australia and have recently added a new quick-ship air freight program, vastly improving lead times and accessibility to these innovative products.”
But overall, what’s really great about this cornerstone of the Zenith philosophy is that they look at each region of their operation as a complete service centre. This ‘think global, act local’ approach see every area where Zenith is active offering a unique showroom experience to showcase their products, backed by a savvy team of sales, project management and service delivery who in turn, work very closely with Zenith’s manufacturing facilities; creating one harmonious brand service.
By the end of 2016, Zenith will have 12 showrooms (Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hong Kong – soon to open Singapore and Shanghai) and 4 manufacturing facilities in the Asia Pacific region.
“Supporting local design” is a phrase that gets thrown around far too liberally in this industry. What does it actually mean? Does it mean simply ‘selling” product from Australian designers? Does it mean commissioning work from them, or does it mean a combination of commissioning and mentoring emerging and senior talent?
Zenith is one of those rare gems for whom the latter is true, not only supplying the work of our local design talent, but investing significant time working with them to mentor and develop their skills. This has certainly been the case for designers such as Tom Fereday (exclusive supplier of), Marc Schamburg and Michael Alvisse (design and product development), Tom Skeehan (manufacturer of the STAY Stool), Yellow Diva (collaborative partner on new ranges) and Keith Melbourne (Glass Collection supplier), Nathan Day, Lux Studio – and the list keeps growing!
“We were and early collaborator with local Australian designers as we built our collection. Back in 2009, we introduced products from Yellow Diva, Keith Melbourne, Bang Design and Woodmark. We continue to support and collaborate with local designers, and are always interested in expanding that program.”
One of the problems we face as designers is finding suppliers who don’t just understand their own products, but who understand the larger concepts that make them relevant and necessary.
Zenith is a real player in this area. In 2014 for example, the brand launched one of their many industry initiatives, S.O.U.N.D. which focussed on “How we make open workspaces successful” along with new product, from their international partner, Allermuir.
“Each of our Australian showrooms were transformed into active working environments to showcase how our products provide the perfect solution for this new way of working while managing noise levels. S.O.U.N.D, describes how we engage in an office today,” says Barbara.
More recently, the topic on everyone’s mind is ABW. And even though every man and his specifier is talking about ‘agile working’, a surprising number of suppliers are fairly ill-equipped to deliver the necessary solutions. It’s not enough to simply retail commercial furnishings anymore, suppliers are now required to be as knowledgeable as designers when it comes to conceptual and work modality specification – and they should be!
Zenith is certainly one to watch in this area, who at the end of 2015 rolled out the AGILE initiative; a well-curated collection of products from various brands which respond to the needs of the agile working model from breakout space, acoustics, storage, play, big data, meeting and refuge.
“Agile working is probably our most important initiative to date,” notes Barbara. “Our AGILE program for 2016 encompasses everything we’ve been working toward for the last eight years. We have watched the workplace evolve, seeing the workplace become more connected and more welcoming. People want to be in places that make them feel good. Spaces that offer natural light, fresh air and diverse activity spaces. With AGILE, we have made sure that our collection offers agile and adaptable pieces to support the different way people work and move.”
And that’s the real key here – not just distributing the product, but understanding the concepts that drive them Barbara notes for example that “sit-to-stand desking has increased in popularity exponentially in recent years, having a huge impact in how we design our workplaces. We now understand that sitting in one position all day is counter-productive, and that knowledge should continue to inform and, more to the point, improve the way we work.”
Zenith is also prolific in developing solutions for the challenges associated with new models of working as well as the benefits. Collaborative working for example – though a necessary component of modern workplace culture – brings with it a unique set of obstacles to be resolved. Here, Barbara and team Zenith have keenly observed the necessity for acoustic balance in our workplaces; areas for refuge and focus in what can otherwise be very noisy environments. “It’s important that employees have areas to perform tasks and functions whether they be collaborative or single-purpose,” says Barbara. “
For Zenith, there is no “one size fits all” solution, and the brand works consistently to continue this ongoing conversation, raising the level of supplier-thinking around the poignant issues.
Want to know more about Zenith Interiors? Head to zenithinteriors.com for more info.
INDESIGN is on instagram
The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed