Furniture News’ latest annual Retailer Review saw some of the nation’s top independents reflect on their experiences of 2020, and share a few thoughts on what 2021 might bring. Here, Jerry Cheshire, director of Surrey Beds in Purley, offers his take on the state of play …
The best deal I struck was one that made me no money, but gave me my first international speaking gig, at Sleep Expo Middle East in Dubai in February, where I hosted a workshop called Profitable Partnerships between Retailers and Manufacturers.
From a retailer’s point of view, some manufacturers have a lot to learn. This was great for some unexpected reasons: firstly, it gave me the opportunity to expand my network across the Gulf States and India; and secondly, I combined it with a short break which, in hindsight, gave me my foreign holiday fix before travel became severely restricted.
What made it extra special was that my wife was given the all-clear from her cancer, and the doctors cleared her to travel just days before, enabling her to join me.
The biggest product trend in-store/online was a move towards bigger-ticket products. My plan is to reduce the sales of PU foam products in my store and focus on sustainable, natural products. We have a range of latex mattresses which are now our primary focus. For that reason, our top-selling products are higher quality and bigger ticket.
What changed most about the way people shop was social distancing. We introduced an appointment-only system just before the first lockdown. Our reopening saw the new guidelines for retailers introduced, with QR codes, hand sanitiser, masks and visors, etc, showing our customers a reassurance that shopping with us was safe. During this time, weekends ceased to be our busiest days, with a more even spread of shoppers throughout the week.
What changed most about the way I sell was the housekeeping. We were changing pillowcases and bedcovers after each shopper. Wearing the visor was strange at first, but we’re used to it now.
What put me under most pressure was the uncertainty about what was going to happen for my business from 23rd March and on – nobody knew. It was probably the most stressful period of my business’ existence. I had to learn quickly to adapt to the circumstances – HR regulation, the furlough scheme, grant applications, managing my customers’ orders through uncertain delivery times … it was all new.
If I learned one thing this year, it’s that if my business can survive this pandemic, it will survive anything.
Looking ahead …
I’m most looking forward to the end of the lockdowns. I didn’t think I’d miss coming into work every day quite as much as I do. I’m happiest when the till rings, and that doesn’t happen when the shop is forcibly closed.
The next hot product trend is whatever the marketers chose to be their next project. There’s been some shocking products marketed exceptionally well, which sell much better than they should – putting a celebrity’s face on an outdated product, for example.
Hopefully, with the increasing price of PU foams, they will no longer be seen as a cheap fillings alternative, and more manufacturers will focus on the natural, sustainable materials that we know work so well.
The trend on its way out is grey, hopefully. It’s about time we reintroduced some vibrant colours into our interiors.
My technology priority is expanding my ecommerce offering. The pandemic has proven that a business cannot depend upon just one income stream.
The biggest challenge will be generating our preferred quality and quantity of footfall, as always.
I think the ‘new normal’ will see more homeworkers and homemakers. This is great news for some areas of the furniture industry, as people spend more time in their homes with home offices and interior remodelling.
Knowing how my more forward-thinking suppliers have reacted so positively to the current trading conditions makes me hopeful for the industry’s future. Also, we may see the introduction of border tariffs and import restrictions shortly, which could be a boost for UK furniture manufacturing.
This interview was published in February 2021's issue of Furniture News.