When Glen Loncin’s great-grandfather Norbert Loncin, a furniture maker (a promising craft at the time), started producing and selling his furniture in early 1920s, he probably didn’t think that his initiative would still be thriving almost 100 years later, with several of his descendants in ownership and leadership positions. Of course, there have been some challenges along the way.
As other family-owned companies across Belgium grow and evolve, it is curious to explore what it would mean to keep the business within the family. Since LONCIN is in its 3rd generation of family ownership (Albert and Daisy Loncin) and fourth generation of Loncin employees (Glen Loncin), we caught up with the youngest representative of the family Glen Loncin to share some of his insights on what it’s like to work for a family business.
In His Grandfather’s Shoes
“The business started in the early 1950-ties in Zoutleeuw, still our current location. It was the son of a furniture maker, my grandfather Gerard Loncin, who started importing furniture and reselling it. At that time he was 31, a young man of exceptional entrepreneurial spirit. His store boasted the best quality furniture pieces from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. It was mainly classical wooden furniture. Later, in mid 1970-ties, the founders’ 18 year-old son, my father Albert Loncin, joined the business and later when he turned 26, he became the owner of the store”, says Glen.
Towards the end of the 80-ties, the shop switched its direction towards representing high-end designer furniture of renowned European designer brands (Cassina, Zanotta, Thonet). Ironic or not, strong values were carried down from generation to generation in the Loncin family. Glen’s grandfather and father both put emphasis on taking care of the customer and the employees. “The best part of a family business is the tradition,” Glen explains. “Because of our long existence we have a lot of regular clients who, for example, design their interior step-by-step through years together with us; or there are those who even after 30 years buy their second sofa, which proves we sell real quality”, smiles Glen. “The biggest reward has been the growth of our family through alignment in the business. Our family now includes clients and the people we work with. We are all different but furniture reminds everybody we’re all believing and rowing in the same direction”.
Continuing the Legacy
Glen studied economics at the Catholic University of Leuven and joined the business at the age of 25. If he didn’t go into the family business he would have probably done something boring like finance or banking. Interior design, he says, is a lot more exciting.
After a successful family business has amassed sufficient wealth, the family enters a new, more unfamiliar stage in which they have to decide how to maintain its brand’s influence in society and nurture a cohesive family identity. “I make a difference in helping to transform the company into a new direction: answering the new needs for a changing furniture and interior market, trying to create a clean and durable concept, bringing in new collections and brands, marketing, advertising and sales ”, says Glen. “The concept of the store is more than just selling furniture, our own interior design studio is an equal part. We have trained interior architects in Loncin team with an enormous knowledge about design furniture. They are professionals in how to fill the home space and match colours and materials in a way that it suits the client’s personal needs. We always try to bring – with different materials and furniture pieces – harmony and contrast in a home space”.
The store works with iconic brands (Cassina, Knoll, Zanotta, Thonet…) and designers (Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Saarinen, …) – timeless furniture pieces of the modern era. At the same time, new designers and brands are also showcased at Loncin. “We are constantly on the look for new talents who have a different understanding of modernistic furniture, a new angle to look at furniture. For instance, such brands as “MDF Italia”, “HAY” and designers: Pierro Lissoni, Jaime Hayon”.
From the very beginning, the Loncin family understood that although business may ebb and flow, being stewards of the land remains a constant. The company works closely with established and young artists from Belgium and the Netherlands. “We find art a natural extension of our furniture collection and our philosophy of interior design. Recently we had an expressive and colourful collection of the Dutch painter Pim Smit in our showroom. We choose artists more on a gut feeling, although it has to be authentic art just like the furniture collections we present in our stores”, admits Glen.
Even though the face of the furniture industry is changing and embracing new technology, what remains in demand among Loncin’s customers are timeless iconic pieces like a pedestal table designed by Saarinen or the chaise-longue (LC4) designed by Le Corbusier. “For already 70 years they are still bestsellers”, says Glen. “As for the newcomers, Scandinavian brands like HAY are really hot right now, because of their good quality and democratic prices”.
Sourcing unique furniture and keeping up with current trends is crucial to Loncins. They are always looking to provide clients with the best of all possible designs and in order to do this they participate in specialized events all over the world to seek out new products and to keep themselves fully abreast of industry fashions. ’Every now and then we attend important European fairs in Cologne, Milan, Paris. Those fairs are huge and it takes multiple days to discover everything out there. Luckily we have built up a lot of experience, therefore we are able to filter out the kitsch from the real design quite quickly”, says Glen. “But the best way, I believe, to stay on top of new talent and designs is to keep your eyes open at all time; when on vacation, walking around in a street or just wandering around on the internet”.
As for the selection criteria for furniture at Loncin store, it is very straight forward: quality – comfort – authentic design. “What people do experience as beautiful is of course very subjective, so we try to offer different kinds of materials and designs in our showroom. But, honestly, most of the things we choose are those that we adore ourselves”.
Charting the Future
A family-owned/family-run interior design business “Loncin” has 2 showrooms: one on the original location in Zoutleeuw (since 1950s) and another in the downtown of Leuven (established 15 years ago). “We have no plans to open another shop in the nearest future”, says Glen. “We are now entirely focused on how to serve our clients even better and also we are currently in the early stage of collaboration with a designer to make our own furniture piece. It still remains a surprise, so expect more news on this very, very soon”.
By Marina Kazakova