You could say the story of DEDON begins in a hospital bed in Munich in 1990. It’s here, recovering from a devastating blow to the face, that Bobby Dekeyser, the promising young goalie of the bayern munich soccer club, abruptly decides to leave professional sport to pursue his life’s true dream. “I just knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he explains. “I started DEDON right there in the hospital.”
Twenty years on, the company Bobby founded is the world’s premiere outdoor furniture brand, its products setting and continually raising the standard for quality, design and desirability. But the way to today was far from clear from Bobby’s hospital bed. “We had no idea what we were going to sell,” he readily admits. “The idea was just to work with family and friends in a nice environment, creating beautiful things together.”
Hand-painted skies, raffia giraffes from Mada-gascar, an ingenious synthetic fiber — the early days of DEDON were a period of exploration, to put it charitably. Only the fiber, which Bobby had developed with his Uncle Seppi, an expert at plastics extrusion, held any real promise. Supple, attractive and weatherproof, it was perfect for outdoor furniture, thought Bobby. But how to convince the world of this?
In 1991, the answer came. At a trade show in Cologne, Bobby discovered the expertly woven rattan furniture of a Philippine entrepreneur from the island of Cebu. Six days later, a 47-kg roll of DEDON Fiber slung over his shoulder, Bobby was on a plane to Cebu to meet his new friend. Soon after, he and his whole family would relocate to this Mecca of weaving. When finally they returned home, a full six months later, DEDON was an outdoor furniture company.
With shipments from the Philippines arriving in the port town of Hamburg and farm land near Munich beyond their budget, the growing Dekeyser clan decided to move north. Outside of Lüneburg, a picturesque medieval town in the countryside near Hamburg, they found a 200-year-old farmhouse. Charming but dilapidated, it took three years to renovate. Everyone pitched in. Uncle Seppi directed the renovations. Aunt Resi cooked for the entire family. And Bobby’s wife, Ann-Kathrin, worked day and night, tending to the kids, the farm and her husband’s budding business.
The early years of DEDON consisted of steps forward, backward and sideways. It sometimes felt as if Bobby were leading a big experiment — and somehow, he was. There was no formula for revolutionizing the outdoor furniture business. Schlepping from trade fair to trade fair, struggling to stay afloat, sometimes unable even to give his samples away, Bobby and his little company were making it up on the fly.
But the values he brought to the task – determination, perseverance, self-reliance, flexibility, an openness to new people and new ideas, a harmony between one’s nature and one’s work, and an insistence on having a great time with family and friends, no matter the obstacles – remained constant. Indeed, they inscribed themselves in our company’s DNA.
And by the late 1990s, DEDON was starting to gain momentum. Hervé Lampert, a farm boy from Alsace-Lorraine with big business dreams, joined Bobby at headquarters. Bobby’s sister, Sonja, started cooking up the marketing campaigns that would help put us on the map. Uncle Seppi continued to enhance the look, feel and quality of DEDON Fiber. And renowned designer Richard Frinier began creating original collections for us.
Finally, in the year 2000, unable to attain from suppliers in Thailand and China the level of quality DEDON demanded, Bobby and Hervé decided to create a factory of DEDON’s own. They chose Cebu island, the place where DEDON furniture got started, home to some of the greatest weavers in the world. It was a big risk for us and a massive undertaking, but at last we could control the quality of our products every step of the way, from fiber to frame to weaving to packaging and logistics.
Almost overnight, DEDON was growing at the rate of 80 percent a year. Sales of Richard’s DAYDREAM collection were exceeding all expectations. Bobby’s farm could no longer contain all the products coming in, and before long even our new headquarters and showroom – a gorgeous 19-th Century horse stable in Lüneburg’s city center – was starting to feel cramped. Over in the Philippines, meanwhile, we had to open a bigger factory just to keep up with the orders rushing in.
A small family company was now going global. Bobby’s brother-in-law, Jan van der Hagen – the “global player,” as Bobby likes to describe him – would soon come aboard to help with the transition. In Barcelona, Jan and Sonja set up DEDON’s first international sales office, a major step forward for us. By 2003 – the same year we launched our ORBIT collection to international acclaim – DEDON was represented in 30 countries worldwide.
By 2004, we were growing so fast that it was time to move again. Our new headquarters, a 7,500-square-meter facility on 46,000 square meters of land, offered Bobby a unique opportunity to bring DEDON’s founding values to life on an even larger scale. From fitness training to gourmet Italian lunches, employees enjoyed benefits unheard of in most companies. The media was enchanted.
Over in the Philippines, meanwhile, our team had expanded to more than 1,800. Here too, it was time to move to an even larger facility. And here too, Bobby and Hervé saw an opportunity not just to hype our values but to put them into practice. Our Philippine team was responsible for creating the most beautifully hand-crafted outdoor furniture in the world. It was critical that their new factory be a model for the country and the world.
By 2005, DEDON was becoming a household name. This was due in no small part to our growing roster of stellar designers. New collections such as Frank Ligthart’s LEAF and OBELISK were garnering “red dot” and other prestigious awards around the world. And when Germany’s World Cup soccer team was photographed on the ORBIT in 2006, it sent Frinier’s futuristic design right into the stratosphere – even Brad Pitt had to wait in line for one.
Today, DEDON is twenty years old. In the last decade alone, we’ve gone from a team of three to a team of 3,000. Our exclusive outdoor furniture, unrivaled in quality and design, is now sold inmore than 80 countries worldwide, and there are so many exciting new projects in the works – from collections by Philippe Starck and Jean-Marie Massaud to campaigns by Bruce Weber to our groundbreaking new DEDON Gardens and DEDON Places concepts – that we can barely contain our excitement.
But as proud as we are of all that we’ve accomplished, we’re prouder still of how we accomplished it – as family and friends, with respect and love and trust, always celebrating life. That, to us, is the real DEDON story.