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“Danish design doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be good”

Published on 2. January 2020

By City of Sound

Frederick Rickmann is a man with a plan. He set out on a mission to show the world what Danish design can be, now he wants to give people good sound quality at an affordable price, and he wants to do it all in Struer.

He looks busy as he extends his right arm in order to shake hands while still partly glancing at the phone in his left hand.

It might not be so strange if you take his background into account, though. A quick glance at Frederick Rickmann’s website paints a picture of a man who has worked in several countries, established several companies and created numerous award-winning designs.

And now he is in Struer, embarking on an adventure that, if all goes well, will mean Struer becomes home to yet another sound company which produces nearly everything within the city limit – almost mimicking the birth of the now world-famous Bang & Olufsen 94 years ago.

Watch the video of Frederick testing the STEENSSEN speakers, in the Sound Hub simulation room:

Fell in love with Danish design

It was a business trip to Copenhagen in the 70’s that caused what Frederick Rickmann calls a “mind blowing experience”:

“Denmark was so well-coordinated with regards to colour. All the way from the colours of watches, through furniture fabrics, to the tiles on public toilets,” he says and elaborates that all colours are somewhat toned down.

“In the beginning I thought it was coordinated by the government, but it isn’t. It is simply the Danishness shining through.”

Frederick Rickmann

Found and CEO of STEENSSEN

Frederick Rickmann studied architecture in Scotland, where he is also born and raised, but part of his studies also took place in Denmark and Paris.

After the experience in Copenhagen he decided that he wanted to work in Denmark where the Danish style of design that he loved was more well-received.

As the years went by, Frederick Rickmann decided to start his own design studio. The studio designed numerous products all the way from consumer electronics (like speakers), to the sound design of the Danish transportation card “Rejsekortet”.

However, as Asia started becoming a larger part of the manufacturing business, the production of speakers and other electronic devices slowly started moving eastwards. Frederick Rickmann went along for the ride, and this is where he found a gap in the market.

Buying junk

The thing is that with a rapidly growing Asian middle class, more and more people can afford flat screen tv’s, but the thinner the TV, the worse the sound quality. The idea for Frederick Rickmann’s own speaker brand, STEENSSEN, was conceived.

“Originally, STEENSSEN was for people in Asia who wanted better sound for their flat screens. A lot of people in Asia are also using their phones or iPads for listening to music,” he says and states that when the Asian consumers actually do buy speakers, it is often poorly designed “junk” of poor quality.

“What Denmark can do is to show how Danish design works in a practical way,” he says.

The philosophy is to avoid making exclusive Danish design that excludes people, for example with at big price tag. The secret instead, is making Danish design affordable and thereby including the average consumer – or as Frederick Rickmann says himself:

“Danish design doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be good,”

The demand for bigger batches

This begs the question as to why STEENSSEN goes against the trend of outsourcing by moving the production of their speakers out of Mainland China and into Western Europe.

Frederick Rickmann doesn’t have just one easy answer but rather several factors that individually add weight to the scales. One common factor, though, is money:

Our business partner in Japan told us that the Japanese are more interested in buying European goods compared to Chinese goods. When things are ‘Made in Denmark’, the market value is higher. Of course, it is costlier to produce the speakers in Denmark, but if the market value rises as well, it still adds up

Frederick Rickmann

Founder and CEO of STEENSSEN

Another factor is the way manufacturing works. Over the years the demands for batch sizes has risen to the point where smaller brands, such as STEENSSEN, can no longer keep up.

“The manufacturers want larger and larger orders, and they are becoming less and less flexible,” Frederick Rickmann says and points out trade restrictions as one of the culprits of creating more uncertainty in the market.

Because of this Frederick Rickmann is now a well-known figure in Sound Hub Denmark, a business accelerator and coworking environment for startups in the sound-industry, in Struer.

“I have met companies here who specialize in producing small batches,” he says and also mentions a tradition for doing things the proper way in Struer as a contributing factor in his decision regarding moving the production to Struer.

The name of the game

Frederick Rickmann goes a long way in his desire to give the growing Asian middle class a small taste of Danish design. Even the name “STEENSSEN” is chosen in order to sound Scandinavian.

“It is not a reference to Steen Steensen Blicher (a famous Danish poet and author),” he says with a laugh.

Even the letters used is a conscious decision – they are all open letters, no A’s, O’s, or P’s – which makes them easier to cut out from a sheet of metal, Frederick Rickmann explains.

But despite being well-prepared and admitting to thinking about the brand name for six months before reaching a decision, he can’t help but worry about what the future in Denmark holds for his company:

“I’m worried about whether or not it is possible and about the speed. In Asia you have very talented engineers who work very quickly. I’m afraid that parts of the development here will be slower and more expensive,” he says and estimates that he is currently only ¼ of the way in moving the production from China to Struer.

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