16 July 2024, 21:46
By Furniture News Aug 16, 2023

Getting personal: Andy Stockwell, Gardiner Haskins

Andy Stockwell is the senior retail manager at Cirencester furniture and homewares retailer Gardiner Haskins, where he has worked since 2002. As well as a passion for retail, selling and local enterprise, Andy is a keen kayaker.

What’s the biggest long-term challenge you face?

Long term, probably the internet. It’s a problem now, and will continue to be a problem going forwards for those who don’t embrace it and the potential it offers. As a traditional heritage retailer, we are fortunate to have a loyal, local customer base, but we can’t be blind to the fact that it’s an ageing customer base.

As time goes on, consumers generally are becoming more tech savvy. Furniture is still predominantly a tactile product, but consumers are much more likely to research online now.Without a meaningful online presence, your retail business won’t be first choice when that consumer decides where to part with their cash.

If you had 10 x your working budget, what would you spend it on?

The customer experience, specifically staff and tech. Retail staff levels have been withered down to the bone across almost all sectors, especially during the pandemic. It’s difficult to offer the best service when staff are stretched so thin, and furniture is ultimately a product that needs selling.

Investment in tech would also be a priority. It can make processes more efficient, improve the customer experience and drive more customers to store – particularly the all-important younger demographic.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

Don’t Tell The Wife! 

(Seriously, don’t tell the wife!).

What does ‘work/life balance’ mean to you?

Flexibility. To be able to do the things that are important to me as and when I’d like to do them, and be there for my family and friends as and when they need me. The issue with retail is that flexibility isn’t there. You can’t work on the basis of when it’s done you can go, because it’s never done. And you can’t work on the basis of ‘I’ve nothing else on today, I’ll go to work.’ Consumers expect stores to be open at certain times, and that’s when you work.

It’s also about what work you do. I have other professional interests I’d like to pursue in my ‘spare’ time, but it’s not currently possible.

Who’s been your most influential professional mentor?

I’ve never had a professional mentor. I’ve had many role models, some good, some not so good, and you are constantly learning along the way, but I’ve never had anyone who took me under their wing, guided me along the right path and picked me up if I fell down.

They aren’t mentors as such, but my parents have been massively influential. I got my work ethic, sense of right and wrong and principles from them. And my wife is the hardest-working person I ever met, always putting other people before herself. She’s the reason I do what I do, even if sometimes she wishes I didn’t!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t tell the wife?

Seriously, keep a positive mindset, always do your best as that’s all you can do, believe in yourself and don’t let other people drag you down – all of which are mantras I’ve lived by anyway, so no real new advice there.

The one I probably wish I’d thought about when I was younger would be to not get tied down by your situation so that you can’t explore other opportunities.

What’s the biggest myth about our industry?

Retail – that it’s easy, that it’s the job you take when you aren’t good at anything else, and that it’s boring. The transferable skills are insane, and every day is different. I’ve (almost) never been bored, and I’ve been doing it for over 30 years.

As for the furniture industry … that we sit around on furniture all day drinking tea and eating biscuits.

What should everyone in our industry either stop or start doing?

Stop living in the past. What we did 30 years ago doesn’t necessarily apply today.

Start planning for the future. Technology, processes and sustainability all require a strategy to move forward and keep pace.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?

I’d like to think more production would move back to the UK from the Far East. Too much of world production of everything is focused there, and our reliance on it is a large part of the reason for the availability issues we’ve experienced over the last few years.

It’s inevitable that products and processes will become ever more driven by issues of sustainability. It hit 40°C in the UK last summer, and that’s likely to become the norm.

What question do you wish we’d asked? How would you have answered?

Q. Would you like us to send you some biscuits, and which ones would you like?

A. Of course, the M&S or Fox’s extra-thick chocolate variety box would be lovely, thank you.

This interview featured in August's Furniture News.

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