Habitat‘s MD Clare Askem has decided the time is right to leave the business, and has stepped down.
Taking on responsibility for the retailer is James Brown, commercial director of general merchandise and clothing, who says: “I’d like to thank Clare for her contribution to building the Habitat brand over many years, most recently as MD. We wish her all the best for the future.”
A retail development specialist, Clare joined the retailer in 2011, rebooting the brand (founded in 1964 by Terence Conran) after Home Retail Group bought it from administration. Sainsbury’s acquired the group’s Argos and Habitat businesses in 2016.
Read our interview with Clare from 2015 here.
Ashley Furniture Signature Design – 12 Inch Chime Express Memory Foam Mattress – Bed in a Box – Queen – Firm Comfort Level – White
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GfK’s long-running Consumer Confidence Index was unchanged at -14 for November. One measure increased, one stayed the same, and three measures decreased – including the major purchase index, which fell by one point to 0 (up three points YoY).
It has been nearly four years since consumer confidence was in positive territory.
Joe Staton, client strategy director at GfK, says: “In the face of Brexit and election uncertainty, consumers are clearly in a wait-and-see mode. The score for the general economy over the coming year has ticked up three points, and this is possibly an indication that some consumers believe the imminent general election might clear the Brexit deadlock, even though this sub-measure is still in deeply negative territory at -34.
“The general election is potentially an opportunity to move us out of the doldrums – but for this to happen there must be a clear result. A hung parliament could be very damaging for consumer confidence and would surely deepen the obvious malaise that we see month after month.
“We have not seen a positive headline score since January 2016 – that’s nearly four years ago. Uncertainty is nobody’s friend. So, while many issues are under the spotlight in this election, political parties will need to satisfy voters that they will be effective for the wider economy and that, as a consequence, people will be better off next year and beyond. Consumers need to be convinced they will be able to balance their personal accounts beyond ‘just about managing’. Fantasy economics alone will not guarantee votes.”
As part of its drive to improve standards by establishing a quality management system (QMS), Dewsbury’s Shire Beds has achieved ISO 9001:2015.
MD Fara Butt (pictured) comments: “We are proud of our achievements. Our QMS will help us to deliver quality products and service consistently to our customers.”
Shire Beds has invested heavily in continuous growth, which began with investment in plant and machinery to build capacity, says Fara. Its current focus on systems and practices enabled the company to achieve the ISO 9001 certification, which recognises the company’s consistent operations and processes.
“Our customers can be assured of our commitment to operational excellence,” she continues, “and this certification is part of that commitment.”
Definitive advice on getting a good night’s sleep is being promoted by The Sleep Council, as it calls on the Government to make a sound night’s rest a public health priority.
The 10 Commandments of Good Sleep was launched to celebrate The Sleep Council’s annual Sleeptember campaign, and has been drawn up by one of Britain’s top sleep gurus, Professor Jason Ellis of Northumbria University, who has been working with The Sleep Council for the past 18 months.
The move comes as a new survey shows more than two-thirds of people (67%) think more education and public health initiatives from the Government are needed to promote good sleep health.
Lisa Artis, head of The Sleep Council, says: “We have long felt the Government needs to place greater importance of a good night’s sleep to overall health and wellbeing on the Public Health Agenda – and the results of this survey would suggest that public support is behind us.”
Jason adds: “Over the past few years there’s been a growing awareness of the impact sleep can have on our physical and mental wellbeing, and not just for those with sleep problems. With the wealth of studies, surveys and expert opinions, it has led to a lot of conflicting messages. By looking at the different advice and scientific evidence, it’s been possible to create a simple, best practice guide for achieving a healthy night’s sleep.
“The guide is simple to follow and shows how making a few changes to your routine over a 24-hour period can make a huge difference to your wellbeing.”
The 10 Commandments of Good Sleep can be found here.
Louis de Poortere has created a range of rugs aimed at inspiring children with colours, larger-than-life patterns and imagination for their rooms. The rugmaker has captured the essence of Villa Nova’s Picturebook range in 10 designs, all crafted using the time-proven techniques and quality materials that have made the Belgian manufacturer one of the leading names in the industry.
The range was created by three children’s book illustrators: Frann Preston-Gannon, who created Arctic Bear, Lily Pad and Tiny Turtles; Christopher Corr, whose penchant for quirky characters and bold landscapes resulted in Sundance, Hustle Bustle and Wiggles; and Yuval Zommer, whose designs include Pitter Patter, Ladybugs and Dotty.
The rugs are featured in a dedicated brochure and presented in an attractive sample box.
Carpetright has agreed terms of a recommended cash offer from MHL to acquire the retailer’s share capital not already owned by Meditor (see related), bringing a takeover one step closer. MHL is a newly incorporated wholly-owned subsidiary of Meditor which was established specifically for the purpose of the acquisition.
Last month, major Carpetright debt- and shareholder Meditor made a possible offer to acquire all the retailer’s shares, which would enable the conversion of the majority of its debt to equity, equipping Carpetright with the necessary balance sheet to pursue growth.
Bob Ivell, chairman of Carpetright, comments: “We believe the MHL offer is in the best interests of all stakeholders. While we have made significant progress with our recovery plan for the Carpetright Group, our ability to invest in the future of the business has been constrained against the backdrop of limiting banking covenants and a very challenging consumer market. With a recapitalised business and the backing of a committed new owner with the resources to invest in Carpetright for the long-term, we will be able to complete our recovery in the private arena and emerge as a stronger business.”
Talal Shakerchi, director of MHL, adds: “I believe this scheme represents the best outcome for all stakeholder groups. In particular, with Meditor’s support and financial backing and without the constraints of a public market listing, Carpetright will be well positioned to compete more effectively. This will facilitate substantially increased investment in Carpetright’s committed employees and its store estate as well as driving new initiatives and improvements. I am excited about the long-term prospects and opportunities for the Carpetright business.”
Carpetright’s directors intend to recommend unanimously that the shareholders approve the scheme.
What do you think? From emerging trends to the latest business principles, Furniture News is setting out to gauge the trade’s feelings on a variety of industry-specific topics. Today, we’re asking: “How do you achieve a good work/life balance (if at all)?”
Jessica Alexander (AKA PR, NBF): Discipline and delegation! Plus making sure I have plenty of out-of-work activities to engage in – for me specifically that’s hiking in the lovely Yorkshire Dales where I am lucky enough to live, plus singing in a community choir
Rob Scarlett (Scarlett Design): I work from home so I get to put my daughter to bed every night and have breakfast with the family every morning
Dids Macdonald (ACID, The Furniture Makers’ Company): I enjoy my work at ACID and at The Furniture Makers’ Company so much that, most of the time, work and fun are the same – that may sound a bit old hat, but it’s true. However, I ensure also that there is plenty of ‘me’ time to relax, replenish and energise with fun activities such as tennis, walking, cooking, opera, meeting friends and family, etc
Nick Garratt (BFM): Keep your mind focused on what really matters (for me, family and friends) and remember work is there to improve those experiences
Steve Adams (MattressOnline): That is a real challenge. I do have a tendency to work seven days a week. If I need some downtime I just take a few hours off. I balance this with lifestyle strategies such as a good night’s sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet
Jan Turner (AKA PR): I’ve got better at compartmentalising the two after many years, although difficult periods at work inevitably still impact on home life. Friends, family and being a member of a rock choir, pilates class and wine club also helps!
Gavin Boden (GB Agencies): I think that you have to go with the flow now, and if I really want to come away from any work-type distractions I turn off my phone. I have started to leave my phone at home for holidays – I only take my tablet, and check my emails once a day
Mike Murray (Land of Beds): Land of Beds is an independent, family-run business, and having a good work/life balance that allows all our workforce to enjoy quality time with their families is essential. Having two young children allows me to focus on the most important things in life – spending time together as a family, attending school sports days, plays and dance shows, and being able to take the kids to their various after-school classes. Professionally, our job is to help people to achieve a good night’s sleep, but we also focus on the other key foundations of a healthy lifestyle. This includes providing our staff with free fruit to help with their ‘five a day’, reduced gym membership to encourage physical activity, and opportunities to undertake charity work around mental health – promoting social inclusion through involvement with our local communities
Emma Leeke (Leekes): If you love what you do, it’s never an issue!
Norwegian recliner specialist Ekornes, purveyor of the Stressless brand, opened its first UK showroom this summer. Located on London’s fast-evolving furniture retail strip, the store – formerly occupied by Designer Sofas – is set over two floors, and is the global brand’s first foray into D2C physical retail. Furniture News speaks to the MD of Ekornes UK, James Thompson, about this new take on Stressless’ brand positioning.
Armed with a rich resume of management roles – including Heal’s and Sandals – James joined the company in June 2017, and was a key driver behind the establishment of the first Stressless store.
Designed with the brand’s Scandinavian roots in mind, the store presents a pared-back, contemporary space, designed to evoke calmness and a domestic feel. The store houses the entirety of the brand’s UK collection – recliners, sofas, dining ranges and accessories – under one roof, and has attracted covetous glances from James’ international counterparts for its clean, honest take on Stressless’ comfort story.
Why open a store now, and not sooner?
When Stressless entered the market in 1971, it set a strategy to support independent retailers, and, five decades later, we remain true to that strategy.
Opening a Stressless brand store on Tottenham Court Road is a strategic move for the wider brand positioning in the UK market (also adding provenance within our Asian market). We’re a couple of years into our new strategy, with the goal of driving better margins for our retail partners. If necessary, Stressless is prepared to sacrifice volume in order to provide workable margins for them.
Yes, the shop is selling to our end consumer – but only at RRP. Doing this in our capital city is an obvious move for the brand, not to mention the population, transport links and general visits our retail partners make to the capital – it makes a great hub for all things Stressless.
Whilst the drive to opening the store was a brand-building move, it gives us further opportunities. Firstly, it provides a location that has every product on display under one roof, and is therefore perfect for running our Stressless school. Secondly, engaging directly with our end consumer puts us closer to understanding them, their needs and wishes for future product developments or marketing campaigns.
Retail is becoming increasingly experiential, and we wanted to have better control of that, and inspire our stockists, demonstrating how they could merchandise our product within their showrooms – and to be able to speak with experience, having proof of concept in our own shop, putting us back on the front foot.
Lastly, we’re building brand awareness on the busiest furniture street in the country, with 50% of the customers we’ve engaged with so far being new to the brand. Therefore, we do not deem it a threat to our other stockists, primarily due to our pricing strategy – ultimately it’s a statement that we are serious about our brand position and what the next 10 years holds for us in the UK.
Having traded for six weeks, we are generating a vast number of quotes, with the majority of these being converted in the customer’s local retailer – many are choosing to support their local shop.
Tottenham Court Road falls within the Fitzrovia Business Improvement District, which is investing to regenerate the local area, with a focus on returning many furniture brands to the street. Therefore, we feel this is a good long-term move for the brand, and for our retail partners. The early signs and feedback from them have been very positive.
What were the biggest challenges – and unexpected benefits – involved in setting up the store?
The principal challenge was finding a space of the right size in the right location. After that, the store underwent a complete refit, but it was of paramount importance that when you stepped through the doors, the environment reflected the heart of the Stressless brand – our quality and Norwegian heritage.
We worked with a highly experienced shopfitter who we could trust to deliver our first brand store. The store features the warmth of oak wood in the ceiling features and bespoke handrails passing our feature wall, which is clad in clay plaster by renowned artisanal Venetian plasterer Guy Valentine.
The furniture is illuminated by bespoke Stressless lighting that we’ve designed ourselves to enhance the upholstery and wood colours in-store. This is the same lighting that we’re now rolling out to our retailers.
What technology does the store incorporate to enhance the buying experience?
The Stressless 2019 studio concept features touchpads, which are mounted onto oak frames and linked to our product configurator to help the consumer visualise their ideal furniture in the nine million product combinations available.
We have also launched a new app with integrated Augmented Reality (AR) so the customer can visualise their product in their own home.
What’s your favourite aspect of the store?
Whilst I’m immensely proud of many of the physical aspects of the shop – and I could name many, from the consultation space which makes choosing a product as simple (or should I say Stressless?!) as possible, to the ambiance created – if I had to choose one aspect, it would be the impact it’s had on the team and our partners.
Seeing the pride they have when standing in their shop, the realisation of the potential of the brand and what they’re associated with, has been the most rewarding part of this project.
The store reflects a recent rebrand – what did this comprise?
The Stressless brand is known globally by millions of people, so it was important that we rebrand sympathetically, and therefore it was an evolution, not a revolution. Visually, there’s been a softening of the logo and imagery, relecting a fresh focus on the way Stressless makes you feel, not just the visual impact of the furniture.
We can get very technical with our brand and product, which is a great tool further down the buying process. But the buying decisions are primarily made in a split second, and based on an aesthetic, a look – will that look suit my home? Therefore, we’re working hard on the in-store environment, marketing and photography, and are very focused on how our products are displayed, to best encourage customers to sit on them. We can get technical later on!
Can you outline any product launches in the pipeline?
This has been a busy year thus far. We’re hugely proud of the three sofa models, recliner models and new accessories that we’ve launched this year, but the best is yet to come – many of these were launched at our Stressless show last month.
How has the business’ strategy shifted since it was acquired by Qumei last year?
In short, the principles and ethos of the business remain the same – however, everything has been fast-tracked. Since the acquisition of Ekornes ASA off the Oslo Stock Exchange, we’ve enjoyed a welcome focus on longer-term strategy, and it’s given the company a chance to invest in product development and innovation.
This has resulted in launching three new sofa groups (two with power) along with two recliners, all in the space of nine months. So, the new ownership has resulted in an injection of pace, which, in these changing times, is what’s needed.
The new ownership puts the wider business in good health, opening up the Asian market – not least due to it being owned by an operator of some 800 retail units in China, which has engaged a historically untapped market for the business. The European provenance of the brand remains a key factor – even more so for the middle- to high-end Chinese consumer – so our roots will remain firmly in Norway.
It is no secret that the UK market saw an increase in competition from other European manufacturers which destabilised sales in the early part of this decade. However, over the last two years we have seen stable growth in the UK, primarily because our partners understand the value of a quality product and brand. More importantly, it seems that the margin gain being experienced by our retailers is a welcome uplift in these challenging times.
With our margin and sales growth strategy firmly in place, our team remains focused on delivering growth – not just for Stressless, but for our partners too. This will be achieved through a better in-store experience thanks to the roll-out of our studio concept, keeping the customer journey as simple as possible – plus smarter marketing, along with better product launches, which will be introduced when they’re ready through our Stressless brand store – and not just once a year.
What’s the biggest threat to the Stressless brand, and how are you tackling it?
Being a firm believer that threats lead to opportunities, the biggest threat to Stressless and our wider network is the discount culture that’s deeply embedded in the furniture industry, which has been compounded by tougher times on the high street.
Many (larger) furniture businesses don’t have the ability to sell on good, old-fashioned features, benefits and brand values, and the national players are the epitome of what’s wrong with modern retail – every advert is championed by a misleading strapline discount.
Thankfully, we’re talking to an educated, independent retailer, and an informed, local, loyal customer, and our brand ambassadors understand our provenance and why we’re the best in the market at what we do – and not reliant on selling on price, or discount. This no doubt leads to better business for all those who understand where the brand is going and agree that quality over quantity is the measure of a successful brand and partnership.
The 3600 sqft Stressless store is located at 82 Tottenham Court Road, London.
In response to “strong market growth”, UK home and gift industry event Autumn Fair will introduce The Furniture Collection, a platform for mid- to high-end furniture, at next year’s edition.
The Furniture Collection will join the show’s established Living Accents & Décor sector for its 30th anniversary, following continued investment from organiser Hyve Group.
Described as “a new destination for retailers, interior designers, contract buyers, hospitality professionals and architects”, The Furniture Collection was developed to meet demand from around three quarters of Autumn Fair’s 2019 visitors, which expressed an interest in sourcing home decor, furniture, textiles or soft furnishings.
With a growing number of interior designers and hospitality buyers attending the show (+47% and +19% YoY, respectively), the new sector aims to help buyers source products that start conversations, transform social settings and bring life to rooms. Established show favourites such as Coach House will rub shoulders with emerging brands and established names including One World, Libra, Hill Interiors, Gallery, Parlane, Light & Living, Febland, Distinction Contracts, Wilde Java, 55 South Luxury Interiors and more.
Gareth Watkins, head of sales for Living, Accents and Décor at Spring & Autumn Fair, says: “Furniture’s pivotal role in our ever-evolving lives continues to strengthen, driven in part by social media posting and amplified across broadcast channels. The sector has become particularly exciting as a result of consumer willingness to shape their own interiors with statement pieces, following in the footsteps of our changing social, work and living spaces. We felt it was crucial to recognise this as part of Autumn Fair, hence the launch of The Furniture Collection.
“Autumn Fair is perfectly positioned for the three busiest months of the retail calendar. Through The Furniture Collection, buyers will have the chance to explore in-stock products they can get out on the shopfloor immediately, and 2021 launches they may wish to add to their portfolios for the following year.”
“We have seen a boom in furniture and homewares spend in the past five years, that goes above and beyond the incremental increase in house purchases. Given the limitations on the housing market, we are also seeing more consumers settling in rented accommodation, resulting in an increase in rental market spend on furnishings and interiors.
“The Furniture Collection represents a unique opportunity to connect and exhaust the opportunities that the buoyant furniture industry represents.”
Autumn Fair 2020 will take place on the Atrium side of Birmingham’s NEC from 6-9th September.