Long-established retailer Barkers Furniture operates two stores in Hillsborough, Sheffield – one dedicated to bedroom and flooring products, and the other selling upholstery, dining and occasional furniture – alongside a growing website development business, explains director Neil Barker … 

The three words that best describe our business are friendly, quality, and service

The last trade show I visited was Minerva’s Spring Furniture & Bed Show

Our most praiseworthy supplier is Cormar carpets – they’re superb. Everything about their business is brilliant. Their order processing is slick, the product selection is fantastic, the marketing is brilliant and the delivery is second to none

Our best-performing product line is probably Wiemann, it does very well for us – particularly a range we call Karnack. All the products in this range do brilliantly. Its something we’ve run for the last 15 years, and has stood the test of time. Weimann are excellent at updating products and colours in this range, so it never seems to date. It’s a really trustworthy product range that’s priced well for our market

My personal favourite is Kaymed’s Mighty Bed. I admire how the company innovated with this product. Taking a foam they had used for other applications, and adapting it for extra-firm beds, was a brilliant idea. Rock-hard beds are such a big niche, and this product serves that market well

Our approach to staff training is to allow as much autonomy as possible. I truly believe that experience is the best way to learn. Plus, I believe it creates higher job satisfaction and is testament to why we have such a long-serving team here at Barkers. The vast experience of our staff then rubs off on any new recruits and quickly acclimatises them to the business and the industry

The most significant change we’ve made in the business recently is starting to branch out into garden furniture. Since the pandemic we noticed people started to enjoy their outdoor space more and more, also our data insight showed that there was a huge increase in garden furniture interest. So, naturally we decided to offer a full garden seating and dining range, and filled out a floor of one of our shops with these products

The taste that best reflects our audience is mid-market. Our customers want good quality products, but don’t want to pay the world for them. Generally, we have a 35-year-old+ audience. We see that many have tried budget furniture in the past – say, when they first moved into their own homes – but now want quality furniture that lasts

The technology we’ve introduced most recently is Facebook Marketplace, and it has proved to be a useful channel to get our products in front of more local customers. Aside from that, we are always implementing new digital improvements in our business. 

From the late 90s until 2010 we spent around £30,000 on four different websites, but still found that these websites didn’t work the way we needed them to for furniture, so I took it upon myself to learn to code. After building a website for Barkers, many retailers then became interested in me building websites for them. This has since developed into its own company, Abacus Solutions, where we offer a range of services including website development, website management and digital marketing. We currently have over 40 independent retailers with us now.

Our expertise and experience in digital have allowed us to roll out any improvements for Barkers in the same way we do for the retailers we have with us at Abacus, and have helped us adapt to the changing macro environment

My number one selling tip is do what you say you’re going to do. It’s really that simple