How did Nowy Styl Group win the stadium contracts in France?
Andrzej Żurawski, Forum Seating Sales & Project Manager: At first we were invited, as one of many other companies, to submit an offer for equipping the stadium in Lyon. Our biggest advantage was the fact that the Abacus chair, which was under consideration, is very durable. At that time we didn't know that the general contractor had some problems with the quality of the chairs that had been assembled in Nice and Bordeaux by another company. The competitive price we offered was yet another important aspect that led to our company being chosen.
Did the fact that the Abacus chair had won the prestigious FX Award make any difference?
Jakub Rachfalik, Forum Seating Business Line Director: In the project market we hold talks with three decision makers: an investor, an architect and a general contractor. Each of them expects something different. The investor is interested in the best quality, the architect pays attention to the project, and the general contractor wants to realise the contract at the lowest price. The fact that the Abacus chair was designed by Arup and given the FX Award was the most important aspect for the architectural studio Populous, which is one of the most famous studios that designs stadiums (they developed the concepts for Arsenal and Wembley, among others). For the others, our ability to meet the specified requirements and the warranty we offered were much more important. The decision makers paid attention to the size of our company and the projects we had carried out in the past. This proved our company reliable in terms of realising projects thoroughly and within the fixed implementation time. Representatives of Vinci Construction visited our company; the potential and productive capacity of our factories made a huge impression on them.
How was it done at the stadium in Nice?
AŻ: The decision to replace the stadium seats in Nice was taken when our works in Lyon were at a very advanced stage. The general contractor saw how well we were dealing with the first stadium, so he invited us to submit an offer for supplying chairs for the other sports arena he was realising too. Our professional approach mattered a lot. But the aesthetical aspects were highly important as well – the general contractor simply liked the Abacus chair. However, the key to us winning the contract was probably the fact that we promised to replace the stadium chairs within two months, between the League seasons.
JR: The realisation of the project in Nice was a huge challenge. We signed the contract on 18th May, and the stadium was supposed to be finished on 5th September. I think that our client didn't believe that we would manage to do this. The fact that a number of planned events were held at that time at the stadium made our task even more difficult. We had to leave the construction site 36 or 48 hours before the beginning of each event and make sure it was in tip-top condition. This meant that when we disassembled 500 previous chairs in a particular sector, we had to assemble the same number of new chairs because the tenant had already sold tickets; we couldn't leave the sector without 100 or even 10 chairs. We were treated according to the zero-one system: the stadium was fully ready or it wasn't ready at all. That required excellent planning ability and we proved successful in dealing with such a demanding task.
In Lyon our chairs are not only on the basic tribunes. We have equipped the VIP sector, the players' bench and the press hall as well. Was the fact that we are able to supply a wide range of products important for the client?
JR: For the site manager, supervising a smaller number of subcontractors is easier. And our company has a wide range of state-of-the-art machines that can be used, for example, to embroider the club's logo on armchairs – this was done in Lyon. When there is a short project implementation time, such details are of great significance. This is our competitive advantage. In addition, if a client purchases stadium seats, chairs for VIP sectors, skyboxes and press stands, as well as railings manufactured by our company, we can use the scale effect and offer a much more attractive price.
AŻ: Besides that, the Oscar armchair that was chosen for the presidential tribune appealed to everyone immediately – there were no doubts in this case. When we mentioned that the armchair is equipped with a two-stage heating system, the client was delighted.
We win a contract, we have the chosen products... What is the next step?
AŻ: We receive the specification with the regulations concerning the number of chairs, their quality and standards, as well as the stadium plan. With these, we know what the required certificates are, what types of mounting and finishes we should apply and what the division into certain stadium sections is. Sometimes there are small squares already drawn on the stadium plan, which show us the arrangement of chairs. Our constructors must change these squares into the real dimensions of our chairs, then we very often see a certain discrepancy. In such a case, we advise our client on how to change the arrangement of the chairs, so they can meet all the fire safety standards concerning, for example, the right distance between chair rows, while having an aesthetically pleasing look, with a straight line of chairs next to the steps and legible words created by colourful chairs. Meeting all these requirements is not easy. Our constructors prepared no fewer than 15 different tribune arrangement projects for the stadium in Lyon. Finally, two words were chosen – a wide one: "Only" and a smaller one: "Lyon."
JR: We must also meet all the requirements concerning the right number of chairs; there cannot be fewer chairs than planned. In Nice we arranged tribunes in such a way that we managed to assemble about 55 additional chairs. Of course, this was positively received because every seat means a potential ticket sale.
What kind of standards did you have to meet?
AŻ: First of all, we had to meet all the UEFA guidelines, which are in accordance with FIFA requirements. We also had to remember safety regulations that are binding in the country that defined aisle width and the non-flammability properties of materials. What is interesting is the fact that the non-flammability requirements at French stadiums are higher than those in Poland, while the regulations concerning the aisle width are more rigorous in our country. For example, at the stadium in Bielsko-Biała the aisle width was 50 cm, while in France it was only 40 cm (the stadium standard in France is 35 cm for a row consisting of up to 40 chairs).
How did it go with colour arrangement?
AŻ: Colours are usually defined in the specification. Both in Lyon and Nice they were connected with the club's colours. In Nice we had to precisely reconstruct the colours presented in the original project. One condition was also to manufacture stickers placed at the bottom of seats.
JR: The colour arrangement is usually imposed beforehand – it is our task to transfer it into a real project. However, this is not always the case. For example, in Nigeria we were asked to prepare a few proposals, one of which was chosen. The colours were connected with the Nigerian flag and we arranged them specially, so they created an interesting "meadow effect." Thanks to this arrangement, the stadium looks effective even if it isn't fully occupied. The same procedure was applied at the stadium in Bucharest, for which we manufactured chairs in no fewer than nine different colours.
Do we present our visualisations at the meeting with an investor, an architect and a general contractor?
JR: First, we show technical drawings and talk with them about the construction. We use 3D technology to present some architectural elements or a projection of a chair. Sometimes we prepare a render of a particular part of the stadium to make them aware of what the tribune arrangement will ultimately look like. Visualisations are much more important when it comes to dedicated auditorium projects. For example, when we were designing an armchair for the Congress Hall at the Palace of Culture and Science, we showed a few visualisations, and when the armchair shape was initially accepted, we prepared a prototype.
Let's come back to the subject of stadiums. I assume that logistics is not a piece of cake when dealing with 59,000 chairs and several teams working at the site at the same time...
AŻ: You are right. We have to manage the production and logistics depending on the assembly plan. A general contractor shows us the direction we should go in, defines the order in which the different areas will be available and gives us deadlines. Our task is to adjust to all these aspects because other works are performed at the same time: the roof is being assembled, railings are being installed...
Before starting a project realisation, every project manager must "investigate the site" – find the points of unloading, discover where elevators are located and what the maximum weight they can transport is, define what kind of cranes should be hired to put the goods into the right place… all this information is necessary to organise the work properly. Of course there is one more consideration: chairs and assembly elements have to be loaded onto a truck in the right order, which facilitates construction works greatly.
Whenever possible, we always try to assemble the VIP armchairs at the very end to prevent them from being damaged during the works performed by other teams. Of course after the assembly, we cover them with a protective foil.
JR: Sometimes we supply chairs for a sector where we were supposed to start the assembly process, but the team working before us is behind schedule. However, knowing the realities and looking at the progress of works, we always have some chairs in store for another sector. This is a matter of project intuition.
When being transported, the stadium chairs had to be protected. We probably generated a lot of waste, and in France people pay great attention to the environment. How did we solve the problem with packaging recycling?
JR: In France such issues are usually included in a contract – 1-2% is added to the price and dedicated to recycling the packaging. However, our team was obliged to separate the rubbish: bags, foams, cartons – all these things had to be stored separately. At one point we had two people responsible just for taking the rubbish out. In Nice the waste issue was not only connected with packaging. We disassembled the previous chairs, so we had to divide them into components to make sure that metal and plastic were put into separate containers.
What does our after-sales service look like?
JR: We organise the first service up to half a year after using our products and at least once a year thereafter. We check that the chairs don't loosen, that there aren't any manufacturing or mechanical defects (e.g. cut leatherette on a VIP armchair) and indicate the chairs that should be replaced. Depending on the contract, the client either purchases or receives from us some spare elements for every chair. We can of course price a new service as well.
How was your cooperation with the French?
AŻ: The French are very cultured people. They have sound knowledge and are deeply engaged in their work. They are also highly demanding when it comes to quality. Our company was positively acclaimed in Lyon – they appreciated our task organisation and logistics; nothing happened accidentally, everything was planned. Our company was often held up as a model at the construction site.
What were the biggest challenges you had to face when carrying out the projects in France and how did you manage to overcome them?
AŻ: In Lyon the biggest challenges were the scale of the project and the fact that we had to organise all of the production and logistics properly. It was the first such huge task I had ever been entrusted with. I think that all the efforts we made to put the right number of armchairs into the VIP sector will be embedded in my memory for a long time, as well. We had to make the dimensions of the chairs and the distance between them a little bit smaller – our ability to manufacture personalised products turned out to be very useful in this case. However, when it comes to Nice, the biggest challenges were the pace of work and the fact that the stadium was used the whole time we were working there.
The weather was a huge challenge as well. In Lyon we started our work when the temperature was about +40°C and finished it when there were only a few degrees above zero. In Nice the temperature near the concrete was about +50°C. When the temperature fell down to +35°C, our assembly workers joked and said that it was a bit chilly. Chapeau bas, because they did their job well regardless of the weather.
What is the key aspect in a successful project realisation?
AŻ: In my opinion, one key thing is communication: listening to your customers and being their partner. The proper risk analysis is crucial as well. A project manager should know, right from the start, what kind of surprising situations may occur. A well-chosen team whose members perform their duties thoroughly and can cooperate with each other effectively is also highly important. Today I can say that we managed to make the grade together.
JR: For me the key aspect is the proper preparation of the project. Different things may happen, on which we will have no influence at all – the weather conditions may change, other teams may fall behind schedule... There are many various aspects that may crop up and surprise us, so we must be fully prepared. Thanks to this kind of approach, some projects can be carried out even before the deadline.
Thank you for the interview