Each Friday, Furniture News puts five questions to a selected industry professional to explore their background and approach to business. Today, it's the turn of Jim Harrower, commercial manager of Dormeo UK …
How did you get into the trade?
I was working for a company called Unilock in Hastings, and received a call from a headhunter, recruiting for an MD for Sealy beds in Aspatria, Cumbria.
All I remember from that initial conversation is they kept telling me that Sealy was in a most attractive part of the country, called the North Lakes. After saying I was interested, a quick look on my map – no Google then – later told me otherwise. North Lakes? How about South Scotland?!
What was the turning point in your career?
Very early on I did a U-turn. Having studied Mechanical Engineering at university, my first position in industry was supposed to be in the production department of a Unilever subsidiary business, making decorative vinyl wallcoverings – wallpaper to you and I.
However, when I arrived as a new boy I was seconded to the marketing department, as they were short of ‘gophers’, and I never went back to the production side. I still remember being asked to put together a sales promotion after only a few weeks. I was sensible enough to ask one of the more experienced sales people what kind of things would they like to see in a sales promotion … luckily, he didn’t say 50% off the prices.
How will the industry evolve?
I joined Sealy in 2000, and was told the independent bed and furniture retailer would go the same way as grocery independents had gone in the 80s and 90s – that the multiples were all-conquering. Thirteen years later, we have seen the demise of Courts, Furnitureland, MFI, Allders, Allied, Sleep Depot, Rosebys and Land of Leather, and very recently Dreams, to name but a few – not too many independents in there!
A good independent, well focused on what they need to offer the consumer – eg service, choice, product information and value for money – will continue to thrive.
The retailer that embraces the internet will prosper, because the continued growth of this sales channel is as certain as death and taxes. I may be showing my age when I say that I would hope consumers will favour retailers with both a presence on the high street as well as an active internet site – although the internet-only ‘e-tailer’ may disagree with my view. I just feel that face-to-face interaction with consumers is part of the fun – and frustration – of retailing.
How can retailers increase sales and profitability?
The first step in doing this is to get people in your store. The traditional local press advertising still has some benefit, but advertising via internet and social media are key to getting your name in front of the consumer. Once they are in the store, please ensure you have sales staff that don’t welcome you with that wonderful line: “Can I help you at all?”
What brings a smile to your face in this industry?
The smile (or is it a grimace?) has got to come from dealing with consumers. For example: “Dear Mr Bed Manufacturer, it may look as if my dog had been sleeping on the bed, and the marks you claim are footprints over the mattress are really just pixie dust, and although I’ve slept soundly and used the bed continuously over Christmas and New Year … I now want to return it, as it’s not my colour!”
This is an extract from an article published previously in Furniture News magazine. For more stories like this, you can subscribe to receive a regular physical copy of the magazine, or sign up to have a free digital issue delivered to your inbox each month.