With a background in fabrics and upholstery behind him, John Conroy is the North East chairman of The Furniture Makers’ Company, and the former strategic relationship manager at Novuna Finance.
How might a child describe what you do?
I lend people money.
What’s the biggest long-term challenge you face?
Interest rates rising and SONIA and SWAP rate instability. It makes it very difficult for businesses to forecast their subsidies beyond a few months.
If you had 10 x your working budget, what would you spend it on?
While I personally don’t have a budget, if I was a retailer, I would spend it on stock. I still believe stock is king. Despite the supply chain challenges of recent times, there is an onus on in-store and online retailers to provide a fast and seamless customer journey, including an efficient delivery service – if an item is out of stock, the customer will order elsewhere. Ecommerce has brough instant gratification in all aspects of life, so why should furniture be any different?
What does ‘work/life balance’ mean to you?
As long as I can tuck my kids in most nights and see over 90% of Newcastle’s home matches each season, I am happy to work whatever other hours there are in a day.
Who’s been your most influential professional mentor?
My dad, Michael Conroy. I don’t think I would have ever found my way into furniture without him, which has led me down the path I have now taken.
What advice would you give your younger self?
“It will all work out in the end” is now my mantra. No matter how bad things have got, they always end up with a new opportunity or a new adventure. I have learned from the bad, but have also learned not to be disheartened by it.
What’s been your best day in business to date?
Receiving the Freedom of the City of London and becoming a liveryman in The Furniture Makers’ Company on the same day this March – one of the best days I’ve had, steeped in 1000 years of tradition.
What’s the biggest myth about our industry?
‘British made’ always frustrates me. It usually has fabrics from China and components from all over the Far East. I think we should celebrate British manufacturing, but I also feel we should be selling the benefits of the international trade routes that we have established to get the best products at the best prices.
What should everyone in our industry either stop or start doing?
Every company should start going green. There is no downside to it. Going green gives the company some good publicity, attracts extra demographics, and can do some good for the environment.
Offer products with recycled fabrics or environmentally friendly FR coatings. Very few customers would be put off by these, but many customers, especially younger demographics, will specifically select products due to their sustainability.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?
I think we will see far more technology being brought into sofas, and I see the imports shifting to India on a big scale. I also think we will see retailers offering same-day delivery on certain models as well.
This interview featured in June's Furniture News.