When it comes to furniture, Ricardo Lucas is a visionary. To solidify his place in the industry, the Portuguese entrepreneur has developed a highly specialised product that caters to a niche market. Using stainless steel as a primary material, Riluc’s designers, engineers and craftspeople create works of art that challenge perceptions on home furnishings and the domestic space.
Riluc is the next-generation reimagining of Ferluca, Ricardo’s father’s business. Despite best intentions and a superlative capacity to supply quality products, Ferluca struggled to turn a profit in the wake of the financial crisis. Rising from the ashes of Ferluca, Riluc has become one of Europe’s leading high-end furniture suppliers – a stalwart of Portugal’s craftsmanship renaissance.
Where craftsmanship is concerned, Ricardo has continued in his father’s footsteps. In terms of business sustainability, however, Ricardo’s rebrand is vastly different and boasts an entirely unrecognisable model. Riluc’s meteoric expansion is a testament to his vision for the company and the trust his father put in him.
We had the opportunity to speak with Ricardo Lucas about continuing the family’s legacy, the necessity of reinvention and the critical role of trust in the family business.
What necessitated Ferluca’s rebranding and the establishment of Riluc?
Riluc was born in trying times. The global financial crisis of 2008 did not spare Portugal. At the time, my father’s company, Ferluca, was 20 years old.
The economic crisis had a significant impact on the business. Our workflow slowed, and sales slumped – Ferluca had become inviable. With the family business failing, my father knew he needed help, so he reached out and asked me to restructure the company.
At the time, I was studying mechanical engineering, and finishing my studies while helping with the transition was unfeasible. I decided to put my academic career on hold to work in the family business. The situation was critical, and I wanted to offer as much support as I could. I made a commitment to the family business, and my father and I became partners.
“Growing a brand is not easy, but Riluc needed its own products. We couldn’t depend on others for our success; we needed to create a sales and distribution network, too.”
I immediately recognised the need to reinvigorate the company with new projects and reinforce our values, hence rebranding the company as Riluc. Developing a brand had always been a personal dream. My father had everything he needed in terms of production – the factory, the workers and the craftsmanship – but as a supplier only, his business model was restrictive and in need of a rethink.
Growing a brand is not easy, but Riluc needed its own products. We couldn’t depend on others for our success; we needed to create a sales and distribution network, too.
Remarkably, we managed the transformation during the global financial crisis, which, I believe, compounded its difficulty. Now, after ten years in operation, I can confidently say that we produce the best metal furniture on the market.
What’s the importance of trust within the sphere of family business?
Trust is at the core of Riluc’s success: my father trusts me implicitly. He knows I can lead the company into the future because I demonstrated the knowledge required to rebrand it.
At first, he thought that branding only applied to major corporations. I challenged that idea and proved that we could create a widely recognised and highly sought-after brand with clients the world over. The role that trust played in Riluc’s early days cannot be understated.
There are many family operations in Portugal where next-generation members are actively involved, but their dynamic is unstable because the older generation lacks faith in their progeny. They feel that the next generation does not understand the product or have the experience to generate success.
The trust my father placed in me allowed me the level of freedom needed to reinvent the family business. Despite my youth, I demonstrated the expertise required to gain the confidence of both our employees and partners.
What kind of clientele does Riluc serve?
Our products appeal to those that appreciate fine craftsmanship; our furniture is art. When customers look at our furniture, it is as if they were looking at a painting.
If you buy furniture from IKEA, you are getting something functional and generic. Our products are functional and chic. We give our customers the ability to curate their spaces, using our furniture as conversation pieces that evoke an emotional response.
How does Riluc’s futuristic stainless steel furniture challenge assumptions about handmade?
Craftsmanship is a cornerstone of our company; all of Riluc’s products are handmade. The skills of our craftspeople are unique and not easily transferrable. Their work imbues Riluc with a distinct competitive advantage.
Some of our concepts regularly met with disbelief from the designers I initially approached. They are unique to the extent of being controversial.
Our expertise when it comes to metalwork is Riluc’s primary component. We take metal and inject life into it using relentless creativity and skill. Initially, competitors doubted our viability simply because of our unconventional products, but we showed that consumers crave unique products to define their spaces.
That consumer demand is the very reason we entered the high-end market. We create one-of-a-kind pieces that inspire people. There is a trade-off though; not all consumers appreciate our furniture because it’s out of the ordinary.
However, there is more than enough demand for us to carve out a viable place in the industry. I attribute our appeal to the fact that we make products that people have never seen before. Our unique designs and the craftspeople that execute them are at the core of Riluc’s identity.
“Portuguese people usually associate furniture with large Italian firms. However, we have seen somewhat of a renaissance for craftsmanship at home. Consumers are starting to appreciate entrepreneurs that stand by their product.”
What is the state of craftsmanship in Portugal and in the portuguese forniture industry?
Until very recently, in Portugal, international brands and branding, in general, didn’t carry as much weight as they do elsewhere. As such, it is difficult in my country to build a brand and gain the trust of consumers.
Portuguese people usually associate furniture with large Italian firms. However, we have seen somewhat of a renaissance for craftsmanship at home. Consumers are starting to appreciate entrepreneurs that stand by their product.
My fellow countryman, Cristiano Ronaldo, immediately comes to mind when I think about the recent surge in personal branding around the world. In the craft industry, the importance of your product identity in sustaining branding cannot be understated.
The long legacy of these Italian furniture brands has made them household names in Europe. That said, Portuguese furniture is beginning to get noticed. In fact, over the last decade, Portuguese brands have won a victory of sorts. We are now the leading furniture suppliers to France.
Many Portuguese are drawn to crafts and factory production work. For example, many countries, including France, have much of their high-end products made in Portugal.
Over the last five years, an increasing demand for quality has strengthened the sector. Craftspeople now make wages comparable to doctors. In many places, millennials are focused on tertiary industry, and traditional craftsmanship is struggling as a result, but this is not necessarily the case in Portugal.
Portugal’s tradition of craft excellence has stood the test of time, thanks in part to its continual evolution. Craftspeople are constantly re-evaluating their approach to meet the demands of the market. Take Riluc’s products for example: they are futuristic pieces made with traditional skills.
Where is Riluc when it comes to an online presence?
In the last three years, we have conducted various tests in e-commerce. There was some uncertainty concerning its viability with our products and consumer base, but we have been satisfied with the outcome thus far.
Our first online order was placed in Japan, which taught us a lot about online marketing. Riluc has considerable reach to sell half-way around the world.
However, we need to reassess how we market our products online. Photos are one thing, but they cannot replace the tangible experience of purchasing furniture in person.
“Materials like stainless steel require a human touch. Machines can handle the initial stages of production – the rough draft, so to speak – but the careful eyes of craftspeople are necessary for an impeccable finish.”
How does Riluc balance traditional craftsmanship with the latest technology?
For Riluc, technology is a complement to our product. We emphasise tradition and craftsmanship, while cutting edge technology takes our product to the next level. It enhances our production capabilities and improves our processes. I’ll add, however, that technology alone cannot recreate our products.
Materials like stainless steel require a human touch. Machines can handle the initial stages of production – the rough draft, so to speak – but the careful eyes of craftspeople are necessary for an impeccable finish.
We utilise state-of-the-art techniques, such as 3D programming, to ideate designs for our products, but machines can’t come up with the designs on their own. They do not carry the culture of our craft; they cannot replace true artisans.