16 July 2024, 20:25
By Furniture News Feb 14, 2023

Dreams' Paul Solly looks to the future

Dreams’ CCO Paul Solly joined the business in April last year, having worked in the retail sector for over 30 years – including as CCO at The Fragrance Shop, trading director at Matalan, category director of home and furniture at Tesco, and in various in-store and in merchandising roles at Marks & Spencer. Here, Paul reveals why he’s happy to get back to beds, how he gets a good night’s sleep, and the strategies he hopes will deliver even greater market share in the year ahead …

How does Dreams differ from your previous appointments?

I’ve worked with several of the country’s leading retailers over the course of my career. Whilst all have a strong focus on the customer, Dreams really stands out in putting the customer first – over and above everything else. 

We know that buying a bed is a significant investment and that it can be both a stressful and difficult decision for our customers. That’s why our colleagues want to instil confidence in our customers throughout every part of their journey with Dreams, from product selection right through to delivery. In order to ensure the highest quality service, we have also built KPIs into every touchpoint, ensuring that we can hold ourselves to account and provide our customers with an exemplary experience. 

Has anything about the bed sector surprised you since you joined the business?

I first gained experience working with beds during my time in the home and furniture departments of both Tesco and Marks & Spencer. This was one of my favourite departments to work in, so I was thrilled to return to the sector full-time when I joined Dreams last year. 

Over the years, it has become clear to me that those working in beds are some of the most knowledgeable around – both about the product, and sleep more generally. They are also passionate about beds, with every single Dreams colleague determined to help make buying a bed as simple and straightforward as possible for the customer.  

How would you summarise demand for beds/mattresses in relation to other big-ticket purchases right now? Where are the opportunities?

A good night’s sleep will be important to everyone, so there will always be a demand for beds and mattresses. Our recent Sleep Study also revealed that people are increasingly using their beds for so much more than just sleep – from watching TV to online shopping and gaming, too – so this demand shows no sign of going away. 

In order to maintain our reputation as the UK’s most-loved bed retailer, we’re continually responding to new consumer behaviours and trends. Most recently, for example, we launched the UK’s first-ever king-size gaming bed, The Drift. With over 40 million gamers in the UK, and more choosing to enjoy gaming from the comfort of their bed, it made total sense to us that a gaming bed should feature in our portfolio, adding to the existing range of products to suit different price points and lifestyles. And giving customers what they want pays off – The Drift outperformed sales estimates by +100% in the first three weeks of sales. 

As the bed market continues to grow, our priority at Dreams is to ensure that we’re providing the right mattresses for our customers, maintaining product quality and customer service, as well as providing affordable value. 

Can you suggest any approaches from retailers outside of the bed sector that you’d like to see Dreams incorporate? Which retailers do you look up to?

Apple takes an innovative, forward-looking approach to retail. Like Dreams, it is known for providing excellent customer service, with its colleagues consistently asking questions to ensure they can provide the right products for their customers’ needs. 

Apple also provides customers with a seamless journey, both online and in-store. Knowing that customers prefer the speed at which they can purchase an item online, Apple responded and equipped all of its in-store colleagues with mobile PoS, allowing them to process a sale there and then without having to send the customer to queue at a till point. 

At Dreams, we know too that a quick and immediate buying process is an ever-growing priority for customers. We’re therefore upgrading our PoS as part of every store refit. With 40 planned over the next 12 months, this will help to provide customers with a more private and personal purchase experience. 

What do you feel Dreams does better than any other bed retailer?

Dreams’ passionate and relentless focus on the customer is the key to our success. We are a business that is run on customer insight. Thanks to our customer feedback process, Pillow Talk, we can evaluate every customer experience. To date, we have collected one million customer surveys, and we utilise this data to drive improvements in the end-to-end customer experience. 

Our unique Sleep Match technology also sets us apart. When customers visit us in-store, Sleep Match can help to identify exactly the right type of mattress for them in under three minutes. We built Sleep Match to simply equip customers with the right information to put them in control of their purchase and feel confident about their decision. 

Can you comment on your likely mix of own-brand/branded product going forward?

Dreams will continue to sell a variety of products that we develop in partnership with our manufacturers, including a range of TheraPur mattresses supplied by Sleepeezee, and our Hyde and Sleep collection manufactured by Carpenter. Our own-brand products will continue to be British-made at our factory in Oldbury, and we are always looking to test new brands and products with our customers. 

What in-store changes are helping make a difference right now?

Dreams’ stores continue to be a big focus for the year ahead. In 2022 we updated 40 of our stores to help improve the in-store experience, and we’ve committed to updating a further 40 over the next 12 months. 

We also continuously invest in our colleagues’ training, which ensures that buying a bed from Dreams is as easy and stress-free as possible. Alongside this is, of course, Sleep Match, which we launched in 2019. Since then it’s helped millions of customers to find the right mattress for them, and we’re continuing to refine the technology to be even more accurate.

… and the same question, but on Dreams’ online activities?

The Dreams website is often our first touchpoint with a customer, with over half of our eventual in-store customers starting their journey online. Our website provides customers with the right product and store information – a crucial part in their buying process. 

Our website is also a source of information for customers after they’ve purchased their bed. Our Sleep Matters Club is full of sleep-related articles and expert advice to help customers get the most out of their product, and ultimately get a good night’s sleep. 

We’re continually testing our website to ensure it’s providing customers with a frictionless journey and contributing to successful conversions. 

What’s the long-term plan for Feather & Black? How does it sit within the wider Dreams offer?

We are really excited about the growth plan we have for the Feather & Black business. It was acquired by Dreams in 2020, joining the family of brands as a high-end, stylish offer, and ultimately complementing Dreams’ extensive product range. This year, we are extending the range of products, and will be looking for new routes to market. 

Can you reveal any plans to onboard any other new retail or manufacturer brands?

There are currently no plans to onboard any other retail brands at Dreams. We continuously review our manufacturers based on customer demand and new products being offered in the market. 

Has Tempur Sealy’s acquisition reshaped the business at all? Does it mean different product directions, perhaps, or fresh opportunities from the parent company?

Tempur Sealy has been a great support to Dreams since the acquisition. Though we have continued to operate as an independent business unit within the broader Tempur Sealy organisation, we have been able to exchange learnings and leverage our individual core competencies to our mutual benefit. 

What’s the biggest difference in the retail marketplace today compared to pre-pandemic times, and what does it mean for Dreams?

The biggest difference is obviously declining footfall, as customers got used to shopping online during the pandemic. Whether Dreams customers decide to shop with us in-store or online, every one of them counts, and our colleagues are always on hand to provide expert advice. However, it’s likely that we could see the return of the high street and more customers choosing to shop in-store. Whilst online will continue to grow, the physical store will see a resurgence as many people start to establish new working and shopping habits, post-pandemic. 

The other difference we’ve found is the role that the bed plays in customers’ lives. Over the course of the pandemic, beds were being used for more than just sleep, with some customers incorporating their bed into their working-from-home setup! Innovation will therefore continue to be a priority for Dreams so that we can create new products that suit changing consumer habits. 

What’s the biggest challenge facing the business – in the short and long term?

The cost of living crisis will continue to be front of mind for both customers and businesses – particularly so for big-ticket brands such as Dreams. The effect of the crisis is twofold – a huge uplift in the rising cost of running a business, alongside a potential reduction in customer demand.

However, a good night’s sleep is important to everyone, and there will always be a demand for beds and mattresses. No matter what the operating environment, Dreams’ determination to lead the market and to be the UK’s most-loved bed retailer will remain. We’ll achieve this by continuing to deliver an outstanding level of customer service to everyone who walks through our doors or visits our website. Our relentless and passionate focus on our customers makes our business what it is.

Is there anything else in the pipeline you can share with us?

Dreams has a really exciting year ahead, with investment going into every part of the business. Starting with distribution, we’re investing in a new warehouse. This will be our biggest site to date, and will serve customers from all across the UK. We’ll be revealing more details on this soon. 

Elsewhere, our factory in Oldbury will benefit from the latest new machinery, helping to drive efficiency and innovation.  

We’re constantly investing in our colleagues and their development through training programmes, too. In 2022, thousands of hours of training were delivered to colleagues, and we’re looking to increase this even further in the year ahead as part of our people-first strategy. 

We also recently introduced Workplace, our new internal communications platform, to enable our colleagues to be better connected and supported, as well as to inform everyone as to what’s going on in different parts of the business. It has received fantastic engagement so far, with the active user rate already surpassing our expectations. 

Finally, what are your own personal bed preferences? 

I’m currently sleeping on one of Dreams’ Flaxby 9450 mattresses, which is handmade in the UK by Harrison Spinks. It has a pillowtop for that extra bit of comfort, and is made with natural Egyptian cotton, which helps to keep you fresh and cool during the night – ideal for when we’re sharing a bed with our dog, Bentley! 

This interview featured in February's issue of Furniture News magazine.

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