20 May 2024, 11:11
By Furniture News Sept 13, 2013

Friday five – Julian Bowen

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 Julian Bowen, MD of Julian Bowen Ltd…

How did you get into the trade?

In the late Sixties, having a bent towards languages but desperate to avoid becoming either a teacher or an interpreter, I took a three-year course leading to a Diploma in Export Marketing at High Wycombe.

At that time High Wycombe was the centre of the British furniture industry, and I did a number of projects with local companies during my studies. On completing the course in 1969 I got married and took up the position as export manager for Evans Furniture. I have now clocked up 41 years in the industry.

What was the turning point in your career?

In 1985, having worked for various furniture companies in both the manufacturing and retail sectors, I took the plunge and resigned from my ‘proper’ job and went on my own as a sales agent representing overseas furniture factories in the UK.

The financial risk was enormous – I had savings of £6000 which evaporated within weeks, but I knuckled down and built sales of more than £20m within three years. It was then a logical progression to expand into becoming an importer/ distributor.

How will the industry evolve?

I think we are in the middle of some of the biggest changes ever to hit the UK furniture industry. Methods of selling and distribution are evolving that were unthinkable just a few years ago. These changes have been largely due to two factors – the sheer volume of imports has decimated the domestic furniture industry, and the astonishing growth of the internet as a sales platform is hitting the sales of those retailers who don’t react to the new challenge.

I find it astonishing that the public will now buy high ticket items unseen, making their purchasing decisions on the basis of a search of the web. Equally, the new generation expects delivery next day or within a week at most. They are not prepared to wait – they seek instant gratification.

When I remember the saloon bar of the Red Lion in High Wycombe in the early Seventies, where the manufacturers gathered on a Friday night to brag about how many weeks’ production they had on their order books, it makes me smile. How did we get away with quoting 20-30 weeks’ delivery?

How can retailers increase sales and profitability?

Retailers must react to the changing marketplace. Julian Bowen Ltd operates in a number of market sectors – beds and bedrooms, dining and occasional and upholstery and sofabeds. It is clear that tastes are different around the country, and we try to cater for those differing tastes.

The modern retailer should use his local knowledge to identify product and price positioning and maintain a presence on the internet to back up his showroom sales. There is no substitute for value for money and professionalism, combined with speedy delivery.

Do you have an amusing industry tale to share?

During the course of the NEC show we are often visited by suppliers from around the world. One year two Brazilian suppliers arrived and stayed with us at the Hilton Metropole. They checked the back of the door in their room to find out the overnight cost and were flabbergasted at the expense. They discussed this with us during dinner that night, and asked how they could reduce their bill.

They were told that there was a reduction of £25 per night if they did not use the lavatory in the room. They spent the rest of their stay going up and down in the lift to use the toilets in the public areas! They will remain nameless …

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.

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