18 May 2024, 21:30
By Furniture News Oct 04, 2013

Friday five – Caroline Horgan, Abbeylands Furniture

Each Friday, Furniture News puts five questions to a selected industry professional to explore their background and approach to business. Today, it's the turn of Caroline Horgan, MD of Abbeylands Furniture Co, which offers the Scatter Box brand of cushioning and upholstery accessories …

How did you get into the trade?

I was born into it. My father had a furniture factory since 1959 – it was right across the road from our house, and after school or holidays, I, like most of my nine siblings, went over to work making buttons and packing cushions.

The recession in the late Seventies was tough – my father sold our retail shop and made redundancies, and went back to a small operation. I was working in the public service, and in the evenings did the administration for him, for over a year.

"We tried everything, within our resources and capabilities, all foam- or fabric-based, like futons, beanbags and cushions – and, due to our long history in the trade we worked even harder, as we wanted to be more than a second-generation business"

Even though it was a recession, there was a bigger market for foam as the trends then were moving from the fitted button-back sofas to bigger floppy styles using lots of foam – so, in 1979 my father established our company to supply converted foam and foam products to other indigenous manufacturers. 

I then, at 20, left my pension-providing job to work with my father selling the foam all around Ireland. I took over as managing director when he retired in 1999, and we moved to a new factory location.

What was the turning point in your career?

Since 2000, it has been devastating to see the trade dying and factories closing – we have been reinventing ourselves, trying to cope with the decimation of our manufacturing industry in Ireland, due to the growth of imports.

We tried everything, within our resources and capabilities, all foam- or fabric-based, like futons, beanbags and cushions – and, due to our long history in the trade we worked even harder, as we wanted to be more than a second-generation business.

Soft furnishings seemed to be working best, so, after taking a chance and exhibiting at the furniture show in the UK in 2006, a newly-developed, co-ordinated and trendy brand of cushions (Scatter Box) to sell to furniture retailers in hand, and coming away with full order books and a contact list that we couldn’t support, I realised that this was the direction we needed to go in, and we needed to reorganise our structure of business and employ different skills, such as design and sales, to help us survive.

How will the industry evolve?

Although I have confidence that the market will return, I think unfortunately that it may come too late for some, and there will be fewer players in the market. Those that do survive will be the most innovative, with flexibility to adapt, and once stability in the market for property returns, consumer confidence will boost sales.

How can retailers increase sales and profitability?

There are some opportunities,  although big ticket items are not selling like they have. Every customer that walks through their door is looking for something, and retailers have to entice them to buy.

By stocking soft furnishings and accessories, retailers have the ideal advantage to show these off on their beds and sofas. With room settings, life-styling products make it easier for buyers to see how everything would look in their own home. Dress beds with linens and sofas with cushions and throws, and have an added value product that will enhance the furniture.

What brings a smile to your face in this industry?

I love this industry – people are so hard working, and despite any doom and gloom are generally optimistic. I love going to trade shows and meeting people, networking and seeing what we can all do to work together.

There was a traditional social element to the trade years back, and from that the industry has its own helping hand association (the FTBA, renamed FIT, the Furnishing Industry Trust). It shows the good spirit in the trade, and I don’t know of another industry that boasts this.

This is an extract from an article published previously in Furniture News magazine. For more stories like this, you can subscribe to receive a regular physical copy of the magazine, or to have a free digital issue delivered to your inbox each month.


Find out more about the businesses featured by visiting Connect, The Furniture Trade Directory

Scatter Box/Abbeylands Furniture

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