Lebus Upholstery’s well-rounded proposition always seems to hit the mark at the January Furniture Show – and particularly so when value is the consumer’s priority. Furniture News asked MD Karl Walker to share the employee-owned business’ progress over the past year, and a hint of what visitors to Hall 5 at this year's event can expect to find …
How’s business been?
OK, overall. Certainly no ‘fireworks’, but it has been consistent, even after the pre-Christmas cutoff. You do sense a lack of urgency throughout the back end – however Black Friday traded well for certain customers. We do see a significant uplift when customers engage in serious promotional acivity and call consumers to action.
What are you bringing to JFS?
The show always represents a great springboard for the new year and the main launch for new collections. Our focus will remain firmly on our established value proposition, which has proven to be invaluble, especially when trading becomes challenging. We will be launching 10 new ranges to complement the existing collection, plus new packages for the current bestsellers, to further broaden the offer.
Have you noticed any changes in consumer demand in the past year?
Certainly, a shift away from 50 shades of grey! Much more demand for natural colour and textures with softer lines on one side – but colour and patterns growing strongly on the other.
Last January, you told us you were “incredibly optimistic” going into 2023. Was your optimism misplaced?
Optimism is never misplaced! Had I been offered the year we’ve just achieved back in January, I would have bitten your hand off! Yes, there have been difficulties, and the market has certainly been challenging, but demand exists if you are focused on the product, customer service, and value for the consumer.
What progress has been made on the alternative/sustainable materials and processes front?
We continue to work and develop our proposition to achieve our overall sustainability objectives. However, we do remain very aware of the commercial implications.
Has any further progress been made on staff integration this year, in line with the goals set out when Lebus became an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) in 2021?
We have done an enormous amount of work to ensure the goals of the EOT are achieved. The significant investment in our future leadership programme has been very successful in recognising the young individuals we have within the business – this will form a major part of our succession planning, and guarantee the future success and direction of the business.
Has the EOT made any visible difference to staff recruitment/retention?
I would certainly say the business is much more inclusive now that everyone sees the benefits of the EOT. Productivity has certainly improved, and staff retention is at an all-time high. It has taken time to see the full benefits ‘wash through’, but you do sense we have great momentum now.
Do you feel Lebus has now recovered from worst of the pandemic’s disruption?
We are now back to pre-pandemic trading trends, and a degree of normality has returned throughout the supply chain. Commodity inflation appears to have stabilised for now, although the impact of the minimum wage increase from April will be significant, and will inevitably push prices north.
What’s the biggest challenge Lebus faces going into 2024?
Consumer demand and sentiment will be a major factor. The challenge will be giving the consumer a reason to buy – and that will revolve offering great-value product, availability, critical price pointing, and partners willing to engage in strong promotional activity. The marketplace will inevitably become more aggressive as household budgets remains squeezed.
Why should buyers visit your stand (5-E10) at this year’s JFS?
Great-value product, outstanding design, and, as the UK’s largest fully intergrated facility, a secure and reliable supply chain.
See some of Lebus' new models in this month's issue.