Title: File this story under 'metamorphosis'
Pages: 40 - 45
Author: Dorothy Meade
Text: File this story under 'metamorphosis'
by Dorothy Meade
The recent offer by Vickers Ltd to take over The Roneo Organisation has focused attention on the considerable reorganisation of Roneo's design policy during the past few years. In describing these changes, the following article fills in the background to Vickers' interest in an expanding market for steel office furniture and equipment.
If you associate the word 'Roneo' with good, solid, functional but dull and elephantine office equipment, like a worthy but dowdy old aunt about the place, then you have missed the metamorphosis which has taken place within the firm during the last two years. Almost the entire range of products desks, chairs, cupboards, systems, business machines, partitions has been redesigned; three large new showrooms have been opened; and a new house style has been introduced covering all publicity material, vehicles, stationery, and is beginning to appear on the packaging. This has been made possible by a basic reorganisation and radical change of policy within the firm.
Roneo is one of the biggest independent office equipment manufacturers and distributors in Britain, with factories, showrooms and offices in all main centres, as well as a network of subsidiaries and agents throughout the world. Vickers' interest in Roneo was established three years ago when Vickers took over the manufacture of steel furniture. Two more companies were formed, Roneo Vickers Partitions Ltd and Roneo Vickers Overseas Ltd.
What caused a change of outlook in an old-established company (founded in 1908) which was financially successful and secure, and, what's more, in an industry not exactly renowned for advanced design ideas ? True, there were young members of the firm who felt it was time for a face-lift - but then there usually are. But there were also men who had grown up with the old and tried methods who were reluctant to tamper with the successful formula.
So how did it happen ? "With a reconstituted board of directors, a lucky coincidence of timing, and by sheer hard work," was the verdict of members of the 'ginger group' most closely concerned with the operation. Having met many of the staff, I would add diplomacy and determination to the list.
In 1958, the present joint managing director, Ian Forbes Watson, became general manager of the furniture systems and contracts division. With the help of his managers and the agreement of the board, he set to work re-appraising existing products, cutting out unprofitable activities, and generally 'trimming the ship'. A staff designer was appointed for the first time - Peter Craymer, a talented young architect but with no experience of the office furniture world.
Mr Forbes Watson was elected to the board in 1961. By this time the 'ginger group' of young managers was working well together, and they were eager to include all the firm's products in the plans for future development.
However, it took time, and many rebuffs, before the new spirit caught the imagination of the whole company. John Muirhead, now in charge of the furniture division, described these early days as a time of "diplomatic rationalisation". "We were very cost conscious," he said. "Confidence in us was gradually built up as we could prove our new ideas would save money". Ideas bubbled from the new team, but many of them were pricked as too costly or too drastic. Design research and plans went ahead, however, to await the right moment for acceptance, and the streamlining of existing products and services continued.
By the time F.W. (as he is known) became assistant managing director in 1964, he had complete confidence in the work of his team. His influence spread beyond a single division, and a management committee was formed, with members from all sections of the firm, who were given the go ahead by the chairman to 'put the Roneo image right'.
The company was renamed The Roneo Organisation. A new symbol was adopted. ("Actually I had designed 23 symbols before the directors were satisfied," said Peter Craymer.) New stationery was produced, with the common symbol on all of it in place of 10 separate letter heads. New premises, showrooms, vans, publicity material, all helped to give a corporate identity to the diverse interests of the company, and immediately resulted in increased output.
An internal exhibition and demonstration of new products had a stimulating effect on staff who felt personally involved in the new look. The move from old Victorian offices in Holborn to a new office block in Croydon gave the chance to reorganise head office on an O and M basis.
Peter Craymer, now chief designer in charge of product research and design, has proved his calibre as an industrial designer, both in interpreting and carrying out....
[Ian Watson, top left, is Roneo's joint managing director, and Peter Craymer, top right, is the firm's staff designer.]
[The RO 8000 desk (price about £103), and the executive chair, (price about £33) are part of the new ranges of furniture designed by Peter Craymer.]
....a very varied brief. He gives much of the credit for the impact of new designs to their young advertising manager, Selwyn Dovey, and his introduction of modern publicity methods such as large-scale 'Launches' for new ventures.
Business machines There are seven business machines in current production. There is the Roneotronic electronic stencil cutter which produces high-definition stencils from photographs, halftones, line or wash originals within a few minutes. (It greatly reduces time and cost of printing for reproducing dossiers on wanted criminals.) Five stencil duplicators cover a range of size and volume of paper: they produce up to 170 copies a minute. And finally there is a hand-operated addressing machine.
Four of these machines have been restyled and modified within a year. One of the duplicators, the 865 model, is a new machine - simpler, cleaner and quicker to operate, and more accurate than earlier versions, and with a welcome new care for appearance.
Mailroom equipment Roneo Neopost Ltd markets mailroom equipment which ranges from postal franking machines for the smaller office (prices starting as low as £75) to a highly complex and expensive (£2,795) machine, known as an expeditor.
[The new 865 duplicator, which costs £244, was styled by H. A. Nieboer. It is more efficient as well as more attractive than its predecessors.]
[The new Roneo showroom, top, in London is elegant and spacious: Peter Craymer was responsible for the design. The RO 4642 desk, above, sells at about £31.]
All three of the franking machines made by Roneo have been restyled within the last three years.
Furniture The four new ranges of desks - and chairs to go with them launched last year, were the outcome of two years' research and development by the design department. This included approaches to sales outlets at home and abroad, statistical research, study of competition, approaches to office equipment dealers, study of existing specifications and requirements, visits to exhibitions, and liaison with O and M personnel, architects and designers, packaging and transport departments.
All desks are knock-down, for flexibility and ease of transport. ("KD-ability" is the word for it.) The four ranges RO 2000, 4000, 6000 and 8000 - fall broadly into four price ranges but can be used together. All internal fittings are interchangeable and literally thousands of permutations within these ranges are possible. All desks take both international and foolscap sizes.
Earlier Roneo furniture conformed exactly to the British Standards recommended dimensions for office desks and chairs, and it was the firm's intention that this range should do so too. But a market research survey, which found no demand for a 28 inch high desk, swayed the decision in favour of a 29 inch height. It is disheartening that a company as....
[This typist chair is available cord or pvc covered in a choice of four colourways, or tweed covered, in a choice of six colourways. The price is from about £11.]
[All standard partitioning is based on a four inch module. Specially made units can be produced for customers if required.]
....enterprising as Roneo feels unable to comply fully with ergonomic findings.
Partitions Since Roneo and Vickers formed the trading agreement three years ago, Roneo Vickers Partitions Ltd has become a leader in its field, and aluminium partitions have been added. All standard partitioning is based on a four inch module, with concealed wiring channels. Panels can be glazed, pvc finished or wood veneered. The emphasis is on speed of assembly and rearrangement.
Orders are 50/50 office and commercial partitioning. A start to finish service helps clients to plan a single room from standard parts, or the layout of an entire office involving specially made units. The service includes survey, measuring, layouts, drawings, manufacture, delivery, erection and glazing.
Attention to exports
About one third of all production is exported: main markets are the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Agents in all parts of the world handle local distribution and servicing. The introduction of knock-down furniture has brought dramatic cuts in transport costs.
All machinery is supplied in expanded polystyrene for easier packing and unpacking, reduction of damage and more attractive appearance.
All printed matter is produced in the language of the country, and the overseas sales staff must know the main languages of the countries they cover.
Japan provides a steadily growing market for electronic stencil cutters - the complexity of the written language demands precision reproduction which the Japanese cannot produce with their own machines.
Eric Horton, overseas marketing manager, was puzzled by a....
[A new housestyle has been introduced throughout the Roneo organisation. Some of the stationery and point of sale material is less successful than the packaging shown here. The firm's new symbol can be seen on the packs in this illustration.]
....sudden mystery boom in 6 ft steel cupboards for Africa. The solution surprised him. "Our cupboards are used in many strange ways," he said, "but this was the first time I had found them used as coffins."
Overseas sales are increasing steadily, and Roneo Vickers Overseas Ltd has plans to manufacture locally in countries where high tariffs inhibit exports.
Roneo's metamorphosis raises two important questions. First of all, has it meant heavy capital outlay ? The answer to this is "No"-and in fact in the early days the initial investment in design and development was substantially offset by reorganising general company administration at all levels by applying O and
Secondly, has it all been worth while in terms of increased production ? Though Roneo is naturally reluctant to quote exact facts and figures, the answer is certainly "Yes". This should be encouraging news for Roneo's near 4,000 employees at home and abroad.
It is expected that if the takeover goes through, Roneo's management and policy will remain unchanged, and products will continue to be marketed under the Roneo name. Expansion, on all sides, is obviously the intention. The design department in particular is currently redesigning every package, from crates for Africa to the label on the smallest bottle of printing ink. Roneo hopes to expand the existing office layout service, and to include every conceivable thing one could want in an office.. The firm also hopes to extend the contracts side to include the design and manufacture of top quality 'special' furniture. The future looks good for Roneo.