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 Friday five – Iain Mitchell, MD of Iain James Furniture and director of Artistic Upholstery …
How did you get into the trade?
I joined Artistic Upholstery, a third generation family business, upon leaving school in 1987, and have been institutionalised ever since! The business is still run by my father Andrew Mitchell, who himself has worked for the company for over 50 years after his father Jim Mitchell formed the company back in 1952.
I started work on the factory floor, which gave me the invaluable experience of seeing the nuts and bolts of the business, as well as seeing things from the employees’ perspective and how they view and react to management and the decisions management make.
What was the turning point in your career?
During the early Nineties’ recession I broke my leg and was off work for a few weeks in a really bad economic time. I received my full salary during that difficult trading period, and it gave me a desire to repay the company by adopting a greater responsibility on my return. My daughter had just been born and I had just bought my first house, so it was all a bit of a reality check.
It also coincided with the time when my father had just started with the concept of Iain James, and he needed to spend his time solely on Artistic Upholstery – it gave me an opening into that part of the business. I spent my recovery working on costings and product information and gradually started to develop and progress Iain James from then on.
How will the industry evolve?
My feeling is the furniture retail sector faces the most challenging time during this period. Internet sales and uncertain customer confidence make for testing times ahead. Any business needs to embrace the challenges they face head-on, and be proactive in order to retain or grow their market share. Retailers also need to adapt by becoming more specialised in order to protect their identity and marketplace.
Manufacturers and suppliers dependant on retail outlets for distribution will have to work closely with retail partners to ensure they retain sufficient outlets to showcase their products nationally and internationally.
How can retailers increase sales and profitability?
By stocking more Iain James and Artistic Upholstery! I think retailers would benefit from offering a more personal shopping experience service to the consumer. By engaging the clients’ individual requirements, retailers are more likely to gain benefit from customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Quality visual floor displays can only help inspire consumers – they should be enticed to replicate display themes in their own homes. Many shops tend to neglect the importance of dramatic, stylish in-store displays.
De-branding and exclusive products can help by reducing the amount of discounting against other retailers. Already we are seeing very aggressive internet sales from some established retailers attracting business way outside their geographical status and hurting other retailers.
Consumers are switched on and discount-driven, and it’s not always easy to hide brands, but retailers and manufacturers can collaborate to create retail-branded literature in order to reduce some element of discounting.
What brings a smile to your face in this industry?
Hearing and seeing customers happy probably gives me the most pleasure. The trade is full of great characters with many people who have been in the industry their whole working lives. It’s great to be able to share some banter and fun with friends and colleagues within the trade.
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.