Ebrahim Patel, MD of Vogue Beds, was elected as the NBF’s new president at the organisation’s AGM last May, taking over from Breasley Consumer Products MD Stuart Hibbert, who served two years in the role. Victoria Noakes spoke to Ebrahim to find out more about his time as president, the NBF’s current activity and the challenges the market faces ...

What does your role as NBF president entail?

I chair the executive board meetings which are made up of 12 executive directors and chief executive Jessica Alexander. We have between four and six meetings over the year. I also attend the quality and standards committee and the marketing committee meetings, which make up another eight.

Recently I attended a trip with the Furniture Makers Company to the House of Commons along with the British Contract Furniture Association and the British Furniture Confederation to set up the new all-party select committee. I’ve also been invited to attend the European Bedding Industries Association general assembly in Rome.

What are your aims for your time as president?

In the last eight years there have been lots of amazing achievements spearheaded by the presidents, for example the Bed Show, the Sales Academy and the Code of Practice. I’m afraid in my two years I may not have something as high profile as what’s already been done but my role will be about consolidation and keeping ongoing efforts in the forefront.

We still have unscrupulous non-NBF bed manufacturers that can drag our industry down even though we have set standards. We need to be aware of this and be in a position to combat it. Over the last few months I’ve been hearing from people within our industry that the NBF “lack teeth” in dealing with these types of companies and we should do more.

“We still have unscrupulous non-NBF bed manufacturers that can drag our industry down even though we have set standards. We need to be aware of this and be in a position to combat it”

We have a lot of passionate people in this industry that have worked longer than my 25 years and love this industry. I would like to hear from them a lot more and find a way to get them more involved with the NBF, because at the end of the day this is a members organisation and they need to feel their voices are being heard even though they are represented by their company.

We also need to protect our members and keep distancing ourselves from the rogue businesses out there, and this can be done with continual improvement and ensuring our members’ standards are increased via the Code of Practice.

It’s important the NBF becomes a progressive organisation rather than one that everyone is in without providing real ongoing benefit to the consumer.  

What is currently on the agenda for the NBF?

The NBF is an extremely active organisation so at any one time there’s plenty going on. Apart from preparing for the Bed Show – our sixth! – and the Bed Industry Awards and gala dinner, the team is busy with the second phase of Code of Practice audits and with pursuing a number of cases of potentially illegal products being sold in the UK.

The team has also been collecting and analysing market sale data from the industry which will give us a better picture of how business is going as a whole, and has conducted a consumer survey into bed buying habits (our second – we’ll be publicising the results of these in the next couple of months). We’ve also been planning Sleeptember promotions for retailers to support.

“It’s important the NBF becomes a progressive organisation rather than one that everyone is in without providing real ongoing benefit to the consumer”

We’re heavily involved with Government consultations about the flammability regulations and the development of new and revised European and international standards for testing mattresses and bases.
I can’t forget the efforts going into developing the Sleep Council Sales Academy – we’re really pleased to have more than 1000 users in our first year!

What are the pressing issues for the NBF right now?

We’re in the middle of deciding our strategy and priorities for the next two to five years and I’m sure we’ll continue to deliver benefits for members as well as focusing on raising consumer awareness of the importance of a good bed. We really want to get sleep onto the public health agenda in a more overt way. Raising standards  – which is the raison d’etre behind introducing the Code of Practice – is, I think, close to all our hearts.

We have to make customers, from retailers through to consumers, aware that cheap products come with another kind of price tag – one that often cuts corners, which can not only damage the reputation of our sector, but put people’s health and safety in jeopardy.

What are your observations on the current state of the bed market?

It’s turning out to be another positive post-recession year – but with little consistency and many ups and downs. Whenever I speak to retailers in the same area, one says they’ve had their best month ever, and a few doors down, they say the complete opposite!

What obstacles does the market face and how will it overcome them?

Internet versus independents versus multiples is the biggest balancing act at the moment.  Supporting the bricks and mortar independents is key, but the internet represents a growing sector, and the volume through a multiple will always be good for most suppliers, if they can get the required margin. I think the key is different ranges with different USPs and different strategies are needed to maintain and grow sales in all three sectors.

This article was published in the Bed Show 2015 Preview Supplement, which was distributed with the September issue of Furniture News magazine.