Jade is the MD of Haskins Furniture in Shepton Mallet. Dating back to the 1930s, it is Somerset’s largest furniture store, covering nearly 70,000ft2 of showroom and warehousing space.
How might a child describe what you do?
My five-year-old daughter tells everyone that I sell furniture, and she isn’t wrong. Even as MD, I love to be on the showroom floor selling our products and talking to customers. The reality is that I rarely get time to do this, but I am always more than happy to step in during busy periods.
What’s the biggest long-term challenge you face?
Recruiting the right employees. We are fortunate that we have lots of employees who have been with us over 20 years. One of our sales assistants has been with us 37 years, and there isn’t much that she doesn’t know about beds.
The time will come when a lot of these employees will retire. Their knowledge and experience aren’t something that we can teach overnight. We pride ourselves on knowing furniture, and I need to ensure that new employees have the dedication that our existing employees have.
If you had 10 x your working budget, what would you spend it on?
I would take all my employees that have supported me these last few years on holiday. I wouldn’t have been able to navigate my way through Covid without some of them. Everyone deserves a rest, and although some may say this is a waste of budget, I don’t think we should underestimate having recharged and rested employees.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
Mother, Director, Wife. Every day is spent juggling these major parts of my life, and although I love it, it is hard work. Each aspect fulfils a part of me – however, it is a challenge to get the balance right.
What does ‘work/life balance’ mean to you?
Work/life balance is complex in family businesses. There is a blur between family and work – family gatherings tend to have conversations about work, or work meetings are with family.
For me, working with family comes with many perks, but the downside is that my work can become consuming, and it is often hard to differentiate between work and life. We all deserve to switch off and focus on our own lives, but this has been a challenge through Covid.
Who’s been your most influential professional mentor?
David Carter. I started my career with Ponsfords in Sheffield when I was 18, and David was the sales director who took me under his wing. I have called on him a few times for his advice or help, and 15 years later I still enjoy a good old catch up with him. He is probably unaware of his influence in my life, but the odd phrase or snippet of advice over the years has stayed with me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not sure … I am still fairly young, so maybe I can answer that in the future. I would love to know what an older Jade would say to me now, though! I suspect it will relate back to the work/life balance question, and she will tell me that I should make more time for life!
What’s been your best day in business to date?
We all know retail is a rollercoaster, and that is why I love it – but my best day was the day I was made a director. I have always wanted to be part of the family business and I have worked hard for the title. I gained experience in other retailers, and achieved my degree and other qualifications before working with family. I am proud that I wasn’t given the title because I am part of the family (although of course this did play a part).
What’s the biggest myth about our industry?
The biggest myth has got to be when customers assume that we obtain very high margins on products. Maybe this was the case a long time ago, but customers seem to assume that this is the case now. It is frustrating that within our industry, customers seem to believe they can haggle and get discounts.
What should everyone in our industry either stop or start doing?
Customers are starting to ‘shop local’ and feel a sense of pride at supporting a local business. I think that buyers should look for local products before looking elsewhere. It is a shame that we import so much when we do have some amazing UK manufacturers. In the future, it will be important for us to be able to supply local or UK-made products. I think Covid has sped up this change within the industry and I hope it continues.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?
Unfortunately, I think it will be a hard few years, but it is an exciting time for furniture and interiors. Trends are changing and furniture is becoming far more modern as well as functional. People are falling in love with their homes again and renovating or moving. There are many new houses being built and people want nice spaces to live in.
It is important, with rising awareness of mental health and home working, that people have a space that is their own. Furniture can help create a practical link between a space to relax and a place to work. As furniture retailers, we have the opportunity not just to sell furniture, but to help people create multipurpose spaces and assist customers in a way we haven’t addressed before.
What question do you wish we’d asked? How would you have answered?
No-one ever asks me what it is like to be a young woman in this industry. For the independent retailers, it is very male dominated. I find this surprising, given that furniture is mostly about aesthetics, and in a lot of cases, it is the woman that makes decisions in the home.
So, if you had asked me what it is like to be a young woman, I would say it is very hard and the industry has a long way to go in levelling up. I will be at the front of this change, as it will happen, but it is taking a little more time than other industries.
When I go out buying or to functions in the industry, I am in the minority, being a young woman – but it would be great to see this change over the remainder of my career, and I have a focus on ensuring that, within my business, I give opportunities to younger employees. I promoted my GM when she was 26, and she is efficient and hard working. It is refreshing to have her by my side – she brings new ideas and a whole new outlook on the company.
This interview featured in the October 2022 issue of Furniture News magazine.