29 May 2024, 14:01
By Furniture News Jul 01, 2014

A new direction for Parker & Farr

Does the opening of a consumer showroom signal the beginning of the end for upmarket upholsterer Parker & Farr’s retail operation? Paul Farley visited the manufacturer’s new brand destination in Chelsea to talk to MD Tony Crinion about the company’s future …

‘If you’re going to make a statement, say something worthwhile’ runs the tagline of Parker & Farr’s latest advertisement, which presents a single ‘English, elegant, exclusive’ piece from the luxury upholstery manufacturer upon a white background.

The consumer-leaning branding reflects a new direction for the well-established Long Eaton-based company, which earlier this year announced the opening of its first direct-to-consumer showroom, in Chelsea’s prestigious design district.

It’s a telling reflection of the company’s new focus. Parker & Farr only operates through around 20 active stockists in the UK nowadays – high-level outlets such as Harrods which are sympathetic to its new approach – and export markets account for roughly 75% of its business. Parker & Farr is now striving to engage the interior design world rather than domestic retail, and its new showroom offers it an ideal platform.

“We knew that the potential we had in certain markets wasn’t being exploited anywhere near enough,” says MD Tony Crinion, “and the only way to do so was to get more exposure. Having a showroom was the natural move for seeking the audience we want – we’re now part of the Chelsea Design Quarter group, which is closely linked to the BIID, Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, etc.

“Dipping in and out of it, doing exhibitions, gives you some exposure, but you’re always an outsider – now we have a permanent point of contact for face-to-face business”

“The only way to get exposure to those people is to be part of this world. Dipping in and out of it, doing exhibitions, gives you some exposure, but you’re always an outsider – now we have a permanent point of contact for face-to-face business.”

The flagship space, set over two floors and around 220 sqm, officially opened on 1st May, and features a selection of Parker & Farr’s most popular models – these in turn act as templates for an almost infinite number of size and fabric variants, all backed up by an in-store design service.

“We are a truly bespoke furniture manufacturer,” confirms Tony. “Nothing is too much of a hassle to change – we have the facility, because we do all of it in house, and we have the craftsmanship. Interior design customers love this because they get choice, flexibility, and the opportunity for their own design input.

“We did work recently for English Heritage, for Kenwood House, and that’s gone down an absolute storm. That was all based on the fact that they loved our basic shapes, but they wanted them personalised to their tastes. Doing so was no drama. We even create totally new product from sketches – that’s a different field for us which is successful and growing.

“And we’re very competitively priced. I don’t believe you have to pay a fortune for great quality bespoke-designed product. I think if you’re a big company with 200 people, you’re more of a slave to the economies of scale, but a small business like ourselves has the flexibility to really work hard on projects, and get good pricing in, and work on our labour times.”

The showroom features a space dedicated to exclusive glamorous models developed in collaboration with interior design company Harris Byrne, an example of Parker & Farr’s bespoke design and development credentials. “It’s all about partnerships for us,” says Tony. “It’s not about constantly turning the number over.

“Our remaining stockists are the people that we feel we can proactively work best with – and we work really closely with them, we talk to them daily. These are the types of retailers who don’t just retail – many of them also offer interior design services as part of their service.”

“Our remaining stockists are the people that we feel we can proactively work best with”

According to Tony, these retailers were willing to embrace the notion that their supplier was opening its own outlet, encouraged by the prospect of increased referrals and brand exposure.

“We will try to promote their businesses, because they offer a level of service that we won’t – they’ll be closer to the customer, and that’s really what it’s all about. The retail partners we’re working with share our ethos, which is all about being approachable – customer service is king – and if they have any problems or queries they can come back and talk to us about it, and we’ll resolve it as quickly as we can.

“Retailers have a market to serve, but Parker & Farr doesn’t sit comfortably inside that model alone any more. Our doors are always open for anyone wanting to get involved with the brand, it’s just not our main focus.”

Tony will be known to many in the trade for his work on fairs for event organiser UBM, including Interiors UK and Decorex. Upon joining Parker & Farr in June 2012, replacing long-established MD Norma Kerry, Tony was tasked with researching and understanding the market, and from there decide where best to move the company forward.

“I admit, we didn’t know what we were doing for a while. We were continually being told we were a retail brand, but we didn’t actually have much exposure in the market. It’s very easy to comment on a company’s performance from the outside looking in, but until you’re part of it you never truly understand all the nuts and bolts. In truth, I’m still learning – but I do know that for Parker & Farr to be successful, the direction we’re going in is the way forward.”

While the well-established Long Eaton showroom remains “very valuable” to Parker & Farr, the London sidestep will allow the company to focus on interior designers in London and the South-east, as well as more closely engage with international customers. Tony has worked with UKTI to target and develop key markets in Europe, as well as Russia and China, for some time, and the London base simply offers a more convenient draw for foreign visitors than the outskirts of Nottingham. “It’s about going where the money and the potential for growth are,” says Tony.

The opening of Parker & Farr’s new showroom signals the beginning of a more consumer-focused era, PR and social media-driven branding, further designer collaborations and increased contact with customers. It may seem a bold move, but in truth, it’s a well-considered reaction to a contracting market that no longer allows a relatively small bespoke, hand-crafting specialist – with a big name – to play to its strengths.

“Retailers have a market to serve, but Parker & Farr doesn’t sit comfortably inside that model alone any more”

“Parker & Farr’s direction naturally has to be focused on interior designers, bespoke design and contract work,” concludes Tony, “and that’s where the future is for us, be it in the UK or around the world. You’ll see the brand around a lot – and the showroom itself is a direct brand message.

“We’re not doing anything that no-one else knows how to do, we’re just doing it in a very defined direction. We’re not doing anything revolutionary, just offering interior designers and discerning consumers that unique service that Parker & Farr can deliver and lots of others can’t. And we’ve got some seriously exciting stuff coming up …”

This article was published in the June issue of Furniture News magazine.

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