British Design Shop made its trade debut at Decorex in September – Furniture News explores the practices and philosophies behind the enterprise in an interview with MD Nick Powell ...

A contemporary online furniture label which unites the artistry of talented British designers with the skills of local craftspeople, British Design Shop was launched in 2017, and now offers around 25 individual pieces – a range which is set to grow to a maximum of around 50 in the next 12-24 months.

The company offers fully-bespoke upholstery – including COM – and paint finish services, plus a stock of premium barstools that can be delivered within 3-5 days. 90% of upholstery pieces are made to order. 

Why visit your website?

Our aim is to offer beautiful, distinct furniture pieces that are all designed and made in Britain. Whilst our prices are premium, we feel they represent excellent value for money given the levels of craftsmanship and quality materials that go into each piece. 

In our world, contemporary design blends seamlessly with traditional furnituremaking skills honed over time – designers and craftsmen working intuitively together to make classic designs of the future. Therefore, you won’t find masses of product on the site, but you will find some beautiful pieces that will stand the test of time. 

How did you enter the industry?

I first started developing furniture when I was the marketing director for Sealine Yachts and Brunswick Marine. Each of the boatyards had an in-house wood shop that would develop beautiful furniture for the interiors of the yachts. 

In 2011, I joined Gloster Furniture as brand director and was responsible for developing their brand and product range. Following my time with Gloster, and after a second period working back in the marine industry, my passion for design, furniture and local craftsmanship led me to setting up the British Design Shop with three business partners. 

Who is your ecommerce hero?

I think it’s difficult to single one person out. I continue to be impressed by how ecommerce is developing in terms of the technical capabilities of modern ecommerce trading platforms. Behind all these platforms are several unsung heroes who build and maintain the sites (which takes months of technical development work prior to launch, and lots of know-how). For me, these people are my ecommerce heroes. 

Describe a typical working day …  

Having worked for big corporates for many years, I now enjoy the small-is-beautiful approach to running a business. This means I take care of everything, from arranging an exhibition to picking up new products in development and taking them to the studio to be photographed. 

I see each customer order through the business, and make sure that the deliveries go out on time and to the customer’s requirements. The inbound calls are handled by a small team at the design studio where we are based in Warwick, so picking up the phone and talking to the customers is also part of my typical day. 

What part of your job would you prefer to avoid?

Dealing with and filling out forms for merchant bank underwriters – I’m happy not to have to do that again.  

What has been your greatest challenge to date?  

The time and effort it takes to get the business off the ground. Everything needs to be developed in parallel. This means creating a brand, protecting it, developing enough new product, financing the company, establishing stock, suppliers, logistics, premises, etc. It’s a mountain to climb, so you must believe in what you are trying to do to keep going at the start.

How much do you invest in keeping your site visible?

This is a moving target as the benefit of ecommerce is you can track your ROI for a sale. 

There are two streams of activity planned. The first is building awareness of the company and what we stand for. For this we will invest in PR and attending some key exhibitions during the next 24 months. The second stream is direct marketing, such as PPC and email marketing campaigns, which are more tactical in nature and have more of a direct ROI measure. As sales grow, we will increase our investment in both areas. 

What is your take on how the relationship between online and physical retail might develop?

I’ve been fortunate enough during my career to lead the development of both physical and online stores.  Clearly, there is growth in online, which now equates to around 20% of all retail sales. My perspective is that a blend of physical retail and online is the optimum solution.  

In my opinion, the overheads that are associated with large permanent stores are not something that necessarily add value to the customer in terms of the product they are purchasing. More creative models need to be considered based on holding less infrastructure, such as a single flagship store, pop-up stores and exhibitions. These can be optimised with your online retail strategy to give the most value to the customer.

Do you have any plans to grow your business?

The business has been established as a private company, without holding any debt other than the original directors’ loans. Therefore, we want to grow organically over time as we promote the ethos of British-designed-and-made products.

What advice would you offer an aspiring etailer? 

Before etail came along, you had to create a relevant brand – and this is still the case. Therefore, spend some time and a bit of money here before you jump into developing an etail business. Etail is just the channel you are selling through. It will take time, money and a lot of arduous work to get started in etail, so make sure your brand holds together at the outset.