Since making the transition from Duresta to Collins & Hayes in 2017, the heritage upholstery brand’s sales & marketing director Jo Slaven has steered the business towards an increasingly assured market position – more recently negotiating a pandemic, and still having creativity to spare for this month’s Long Point show …
What was your industry experience prior to joining Sofa Brands International (SBI), and what were your aspirations for Collins & Hayes?
I have been involved in the furnishings sector for nearly 30 years. It is important to me that at this stage in my career I dedicate my energy and skill to the further development of a legacy brand – promoting quality and provenance, but ensuring it is relevant for today. Being a custodian of Collins & Hayes under the ownership of SBI has been an opportunity to develop the business and restore it to its rightful place in the market.
How has the brand evolved under your stewardship?
Affinity with the product is vital, and I believe it needs to be evident when interacting with the customer. I genuinely love the Collins & Hayes brand, and I think that comes across to our retail partners. If the Collins & Hayes team value the brand, then they will too.
We believe in sustainable relationships, so have developed a mutually beneficial stockist policy, ensuring the brand remains revered and our retail partners feel supported. This, coupled with a beautiful, commercial collection, has helped us to re-establish our retail distribution, which continues to grow.
Can you describe the brand’s journey since the start of 2020? Has the pandemic changed how you operate?
The Collins & Hayes story started in 1870, so 2020 was our 150th year – a reason for celebration. The year started extremely well, as we won The Furniture Awards with our Bailey & Banks models. It was a fabulous accolade, and testament to the preservation of our design credentials and brand values.
However, who knew what 2020 would bring? It was a very challenging year indeed for our industry and, of course, the entire global community. In business terms, we’ve had to be creative, resourceful and incredibly flexible – 2020 reminded us of the power of teamwork, and to only focus our energy on controlling the controllable. The pandemic has absolutely changed how we operate, and ways of working, we believe, will have changed forever.
Furniture News heard that you have conducted virtual tours and design consultations – what kind of interaction did you have with stockists?
It is vital that we communicate with our consumers and provide access to the brand in a very personal way. We live and breathe this creative industry, but consumers don’t buy new furniture that often, so they need support with decision making.
We have a dedicated consumer relationship manager who ensures the consumers are supported and make an informed decision. This has been especially relevant whilst retail has been closed.
They can benefit from a 360° virtual tour of our showroom, a virtual consultation via Zoom, a phone consultation, or by appointment now the doors are open again. This service supports our stockists in turn, as we immerse our mutual consumer in the brand experience and enhance their buying journey.
During March, we used the virtual consultations to present new ranges to our stockists. This also gave them an understanding of the consumer experience, ensuring they will recommend it as a service going forward.
With consumer demand changing all the time, how is Collins & Hayes adapting its offer?
We have invested in research to ensure we have a better understanding of our consumer. We will further develop our collections with those insights in mind, then tailor our marketing to capture every opportunity.
We will share our research findings and our exciting future marketing plans with our retail partners so they are assured we are driving informed consumers to them to purchase in the forthcoming months and years.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in the last year, and what have you learned from it?
First and foremost, the greatest challenge was ensuring the safety of our team, their families and the wider community – whilst still being able to manufacture and fulfil our commitments.
We pride ourselves on our service levels, but the pandemic caused supply chain issues beyond anyone’s control. I think the biggest lessons were retaining a sense of perspective, and never taking anything for granted again.
Other than the home furnishing boom, do any particular trends in retail bode well for your brand?
Collins & Hayes has excellent sustainability credentials, and when we redeveloped the proposition under SBI this was front of mind. This is now more relevant than ever, and we are well placed to engender the trust of the consumer and retailer with, amongst others, our lifetime frame guarantee, natural fibre fabrics with regenerated yarns and replaceable slip-cover brand USPs. Products made with the environment in mind are here to stay.
Buying locally and buying British are also incredibly important. This sentiment will grow further – and again, Collins & Hayes are well placed to support it.
Does Collins & Hayes have anything special lined up for Long Point?
The Long Point dates have moved several times, so we will be delighted to finally have the opportunity to meet with our retail partners.
We have continued, during lockdown, to develop new products and introduce beautiful fabrics. Visitors to our fabulous showroom in Harrington Mill will experience our bestsellers, in addition to a new model, which has wide appeal and delivers the incredible comfort expected from Collins & Hayes. We have ensured this model has a sofabed option too, as we know that functionality is important to our consumer.
I would encourage any retailer considering a new supply partner who can convey brand provenance, deliver choice and an exceptional consumer experience in exchange for positive benefits and credible brand support, to visit Long Point to meet with our team.
Find out more about this year's spring Long Point in May's issue of Furniture News.