27 May 2024, 13:10
By Furniture News Nov 03, 2014

Endurance test – Aamir Ahmad on dwell's recent history

It’s been a turbulent couple of years for the dwell brand. On 20th June, 2013, the retailer unexpectedly entered administration, leaving customers and suppliers reeling – but few were more shocked than dwell’s founder Aamir Ahmad, who soon stepped up to the task of restoring the company’s name and performance. But why did dwell’s principals choose to leave the building a mere seven months beforehand? And how exactly has Aamir managed to arrest dwell’s fall from grace? In the wake of DFS’ purchase of the brand in August, Furniture News’ Paul Farley attempts to track the trajectory of one of the UK’s trendiest furniture retailers …

I first interviewed Aamir Ahmad in the summer of 2009. Then a 19-store business, buoyed by well-established online activity, dwell had become one of the UK’s most popular contemporary brands among young, aspirational shoppers.

Aamir’s focus was always the product – progressive and fashion-led, dwell’s offering evolved almost monthly, and was deployed to generate as much excitement as possible.

"Private equity guys are pretty ruthless, they don’t put money into things they think are going to fail"

dwell’s approach to product, presentation and service earned it many fans, and by the end of 2010, bolstered by a £5m investment from Key Capital Partners for a 30% stake in the company, the retailer’s store portfolio had grown to 24 plus one concession. dwell’s high ambitions were steadily being realised.

The only signal of any change in direction came in November 2012, when the company’s founders and core management team – Aamir, Sean Galligan and David Garrett – departed, Aamir commenting: “dwell has achieved much over the last two years despite the difficult market conditions, and I am convinced that the brand is well placed for continued growth.”

The dramatic turnaround soon after took many by surprise. Despite significant investment, within seven months of Key Capital Partners taking charge of dwell, the company ceased trading on 20th June, 2013. A lack of working capital was cited as the reason for dwell’s collapse – its stores were closed, its staff let go, and a mass of orders left outstanding.

“When something goes wrong and you fix a problem for a customer, you actually get a customer for life”

Relief came from an unexpected quarter in the form of Aamir and his original team who, just two weeks later, finalised a deal to save the brand, five stores and 150 jobs.

Yet this was just the beginning of Aamir’s task – with the brand’s reputation with suppliers and customers alike brought low by the recent events, it was up to the newly re-installed team to win hearts and minds, and restore dwell’s good name.

Recent developments indicate that he’s been successful. Following the announcement of a brand partnership with DFS back in February this year, the upholstery retail giant fully acquired Coin Furniture Ltd (T/A dwell), in August, making it a fully-owned subsidiary of DFS Furniture Group.

“The danger is that the brands merge or something gets diluted, and that’s one thing that we’re both very conscious we don’t want to happen”

I spoke to Aamir last month to hear his side of the story, and to find out what this recent development means for the enduring dwell brand …

To read this interview, register for free to access the online magazine (October issue) here.

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