This year saw Trevor Hailes (ex-ScS) demonstrate his design chops, as the new La-Z-Boy international product merchandising director unveiled a raft of fresh designs at Manchester Furniture Show in Harrogate, supported by greater local manufacturing capacity. Furniture News caught up with him post-show to learn more about the business’ new directions …

What did you do before joining La-Z-Boy UK? 

I’ve always been in the retail industry – however, I joined the furniture industry back in 2004, with ScS Upholstery. Prior to that, I’d spent four years with Blacks Retail and four years with The Officers Club. 

The highlights of my career include seeing ScS grow from 38 stores to 100, and being part of the inspirational team that brought the La-Z-Boy brand to ScS in 2009. During my time as head of merchandise at ScS, I was also lucky to be mentored for 17 years by leading industry buyer (and ScS’ buying director at the time), Simon Nicholson. 

I’ve been with La-Z-Boy UK for four months now as international product merchandising director, and I’m really excited to see what the future holds.

Given your existing knowledge of the brand, was stepping from ScS into La-Z-Boy relatively straightforward?

La-Z-Boy was always a very important part of the ScS business, and provided me with extensive knowledge of the La-Z-Boy brand and products prior to joining. It also provided me with the opportunity to build great relationships with key stakeholders in the industry – such as Keith Wilson, president of La-Z-Boy International and Joybird, and UK MD Mark Draper.

This made the transition a lot easier, as I was able to bring my wealth of industry experience and flair for design, alongside my passion for the products and ambition to grow the brand internationally, to the role, at a time when La-Z-Boy was looking for a fresh perspective. This allowed me to fit in and make an impact from day one.

What occupied your time for the weeks leading up to Manchester Furniture Show in Harrogate?

During the lead-up to the Manchester Furniture Show, it was very hands-on in the product development process. We launched eight new ranges with our long-standing UK manufacturing partners for the show. Stuart Shackleton and the development team did an incredible job. 

As the new boy, wanting to make the best impression, I spent a lot of time working with key stakeholders within La-Z-Boy to ensure we delivered an amazing show stand that represented La-Z-Boy and our pillars – quality, innovation, and comfort, consistently.

What gaps did you perceive in La-Z-Boy’s UK offer, and how have you addressed them?

Because of the unprecedented issues with international freight, we wanted to broaden our offering on made-to-order furniture manufactured in the UK (see related).

We’ve also been challenging consumers’ perception of La-Z-Boy’s product range for a number of years, introducing new styles, shapes, fabrics and colourways, identifying what’s on-trend, and what our consumers like and dislike, and then designing and developing the next range around our findings.

While the traditional La-Z-Boy style of supportive comfort, leather armchairs and our handle recline remains ever-popular, I wanted to update our concept of comfort to broaden our market appeal, so this year I’ve branched out in terms of on-trend colour palettes and the development of new SKUs. 

For example, at Harrogate we introduced a curved sofa, scatterback option, new faux-leather fabrics, and our contrast button Bartelli, which was one of the most popular ranges on display at Harrogate. The feedback we had all round was fantastic.

How were you able to innovate while staying true to the La-Z-Boy brand? And is that brand still fit for purpose?

La-Z-Boy’s core principles have always been quality and comfort, and of course, we are known as the brand which invented the world’s first recliner more than 90 years ago. Whatever our design, we always come back to these points as a key focus. 

As well as that, as a company, we feel a sofa or recliner should be a long-term investment, and that the buyer is not just investing in their home but in their comfort, in a place to relax at the end of a long day and a place to socialise with friends and family for years to come. When we’re designing furniture, this La-Z-Boy experience is at the forefront of our minds, and if we don’t feel it delivers all the above, we don’t pursue it.

La-Z-Boy never stands still. We move, act and adapt as our consumers, stakeholders and the industry change, and we challenge ourselves every day to meet needs and trends whilst maintaining quality, comfort and innovation as we move toward our century in furniture design.

Did visitor feedback reinforce your direction, or are further changes needed?

We were really excited to be attending the Manchester Furniture Show, as it gave us the best platform to launch our eight new made-in-Britain ranges – a USP our customers were keen to talk about, and were just as enthusiastic about as we are. 

One of the eight new ranges turned out to be our bestseller at the show, which was fantastic news, as it shows we truly have our finger on the pulse. 

Our products did the speaking for us in terms of design, detail, quality and appeal, and communicated our direction and commitment to evolve as a company whilst staying loyal to our key customer base. We were also thrilled to win numerous new accounts – overall, it was a really successful show for us.

Guaranteed supply is a priority for buyers right now – how exactly have you shifted your manufacturing model to achieve it?

Manufacturing more new ranges in the UK means we have better control over our lead times. We also have one of our most popular ranges, the Winchester in Mezzo Vintage Tan leather, in a stock programme available on just a two-week lead time, which has proved a huge success. 

Our riser-recliner chairs, which have been designed to offer additional aid to users, are also available on a short lead time, as we understand that this kind of purchase has a more rapid decisionmaking process, and when the user needs it, they need it now. 

Our new UK introductions enhance our overall product range, which involves longstanding relationships with manufacturing partners around the world.  We are committed to supporting the suppliers of some of our most popular ranges during these challenging times.

Trevor Hailes

Are there any other benefits to buying British that you’ll be promoting?

La-Z-Boy has distributed and manufactured products in Britain for almost 30 years. What we have come to recognise is consumers are becoming so much more conscientious as to where their purchases are coming from, and this, plus the current climate when it comes to overseas logistics, made La-Z-Boy act and adapt. 

Not only does an increased UK-made product collection give us more control over lead times, but for an end-user, the carbon footprint of their furniture is lowered. It’s also supporting the local job market and skillset. We are currently in the process of looking at joining an association to further support the buy British campaign. 

Given your retail background, how would you say La-Z-Boy is addressing retailer demand above and beyond its competitors?

I think La-Z-Boy is listening to multiple market demands to ensure a wide brand appeal. Our brand strength in the worldwide furniture market is unsurpassed, and we are renowned as the go-to name in motion living room furniture. We are immensely proud of our heritage, and our teams adapt and develop to ensure our brand power is a key selling point for retailers to cut through the noise of the showroom floor, in terms of product and PoS.

Our priority is to reinforce the La-Z-Boy brand and our values internationally by ensuring brand consistency, reaching out and supporting existing partners with their PoS and promotions, and entering new markets. Above all else, though, we want to be the sofa and armchair brand that everyone aspires and wants to have, wherever they are in the world.

What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned in your career – and how might it apply at La-Z-Boy?

Firstly, relationships with people are very important to how I do business. Having trust helps forge great relationships with teams internally and customers externally, being able to do business honestly and fairly.

I have also learned to always have a plan, and plan for obstacles on the journey, which enables you to deliver ahead of deadlines and be prepared.

In this industry, it is essential to embrace innovation, and not to be left behind. You need to know your business’ strengths and limitations and work with them, understand the business processes, and understand your numbers.

In the current difficult trading conditions, it is also important to be agile, which helps ensure you’re always in the best position to act and adapt.

La-Z-Boy UK is exhibiting at the January Furniture Show in 2022.