Listening to the grey hair pays off

The perception that Gen Y is lazy, thinks they know it all, and wants everything without working hard for it, is certainly a tired stereotype.

It’s also one that flies in the face of the brothers behind online office furniture business, jason.l.

Now the third generation of their family to enter the office furniture market, Jason Levin and brother Marc realised early on that drawing on their family’s experience would give them the best chance of success.

“When you think of office furniture, people often don’t realise the complexity around it. And actually, that complexity, and that barrier to entry, is why it is appealing to us, and one of the factors that have added a level of success to it,” Jason says.

Marc adds that given the massive size of the furniture industry, it can be segmented into many different categories. “Our history, and knowledge and contacts within the family has all been around office furniture, and the best recipe for success that we saw, was to be able to use that understanding, and that contact base, and some of the suppliers who know the family name.”

The brothers had both always imagined themselves running their own business, and for Jason, the poor employment options following the GFC sped the process up.

“I was trying to find a job as everyone around me was telling me to go get some experience. I was interviewing at a bunch of consulting firms, but it was at the end of the financial crisis, and no consultants were hiring,” Jason says. “I’ve been a very driven guy since I can remember, and I want everything ‘yesterday’. So I thought, ok well if I was meant to go and learn and get skills in another business, and I’m not going to get that opportunity, why don’t I just dive in and try to learn on the go?”

At just 24, with a degree in finance and marketing under his belt, the jason.l office furniture website was launched.

“Although I’ve only been in it for three or four years now, I came with the help of forty or fifty years experience in all things office. From table management, to store plans, to ergonomics – every facet that many people don’t even realise go into an office,” Jason says.

Not long afterwards, Marc left his job at PwC to join Jason in the business of selling ergonomic office furniture online.

The partnership now sees the jason.l business selling Australia wide. By directly importing their products, Marc says they’re able to keep costs down. The furniture is also sold flat-packed, which although is beneficial to price competitiveness, has also represented a challenge.

“Office furniture was traditionally delivered assembled, [so we have] needed to communicate the cost savings in shipping it flat packed. We had to overcome this with offering the option for the customer to choose assembly Australia wide, which we organise,” Jason says.

Strong growth since its 2009 launch has also brought with it a fair share of lessons.

“My brother and I learnt a very good lesson when we bought a hard drive two years ago. We felt mislead by the information provided and asked them to take the items back. When they charged us for the return of the items and didn’t listen to our side, we promised ourselves that we will always give the customer the benefit of the doubt even if it was their mistake. We 99% of the time accept returned goods free of charge as a result of the bitter experience we had,” Jason says.

There is a lot in the pipeline for jason.l, and with a Brisbane showroom soon set to open to supplement their Sydney space, the brothers show no signs of slowing down.

Jason says on a personal level, managing his own time and the needs of the business can be a struggle, and it’s important to take a morning off once a week. There are also plans afoot to roll out a ‘1 for 1’ scheme, which will see jason.l commit itself to donating a desk and chair to disadvantaged schools for every office fitout the business does.

This, he says, is important for themselves and their 15 staff to feel fulfilled, and to promote a culture which extends beyond their own core business.

The day to day running of jason.l requires a lot of hard work, high energy, and a little luck along the way, and Jason says that for other entrepreneurs out there, the experience has been exciting and rewarding. “But listen to the people with grey hair in the room, they have seen it all before.”

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