Each Friday, Furniture News puts five questions to a selected industry professional to explore their background and approach to business. Today, it's the turn of Charles Vernon, Master of the Furniture Makers, and MD of Gloster …
How did you get into the trade?
I was a computer systems analyst, joined Parker Knoll in 1977 as computer manager, and within a few months had moved to be production planning manager in the Wycombe factory. I then did a variety of roles and ran Nathan Furniture, part of the Parker Knoll Group, from 1985 to 1992, and joined the plc board.
I had a wonderful group of teachers ranging from the chairman, Martin Jourdan, and his brother Tom, through to Dane Baskerville and Ian Brewster. I joined the Furniture Makers over 25 years ago and have been involved in the running of the livery for the past decade – and I am very proud to now be master for the year.
"The industry has to stay sharp, respond to these changes and understand it is our duty to develop and never accept the status quo"
What was the turning point in your career?
It was when I realised, quite soon after joining the furniture industry, that it was a place where one could combine creativity and business and have a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment. It is an industry that is constantly changing and adjusting to changing trends and tastes, and there is a role for all sorts of skills and personality sets within it – from designers and craftspeople to retailers and finance people.
How will the industry evolve?
One thing is for sure, the industry will continue to evolve – it always has done! When I started, the industry was more focused on manufacturing. This has changed over the years, but I, and many others involved in the Furniture Makers, believe that manufacturing levels will increase once again, as global conditions and comparative advantage shifts.
The challenge for the whole industry is to be ready for this change and to focus now on training and skills so that we are more competitive globally. Consumers will always buy furniture, tastes will change quickly, and demand for quality products will always remain high. The industry has to stay sharp, respond to these changes and understand it is our duty to develop and never accept the status quo.
How can retailers increase sales and profitability?
As ever, the consumer is king. Any retailer or designer who can’t respond to what the consumer wants, or influence what they want through clever marketing, will struggle. That’s never changed.
The British furniture industry has a great opportunity to increase margins by focusing on design and using designers to market furniture. Fashion has been doing this for many years, using fashion shows and well-known designers to push boundaries that are then marketed to consumers and brought into the mainstream. This adds value to the industry and keeps demand high, as people look to keep up with trends. The Furniture Makers has recognised the importance of design with the introduction of our Design Guild Marks. Changes to the IP laws might also help – giving designers more protection for their work and encouraging investment in design.
For retailers it’s really important to focus on service as a differentiator and a profitability generator.
What brings a smile to your face in this industry?
Any of the many characters in the furniture industry bring a smile to my face, and there are plenty of them! I’ve been lucky enough to work and interact with some amazing people through Gloster and my work with the Furniture Makers, and there are too many funny stories to tell!
This is an extract from an article published previously in Furniture News magazine. For more stories like this, you can subscribe to receive a regular physical copy of the magazine, or sign up to have a free digital issue delivered to your inbox each month.