25 May 2024, 12:15
By Furniture News Aug 17, 2015

Gallery Direct’s unsung hero

Gallery Direct’s rise has been remarkable. Once a specialised mirror and frame supplier, Gallery’s business has expanded to encompass furniture, fabrics, and the renowned Frank Hudson bed brand. Given the speed of Gallery’s roll-out of new products – 600 at this year’s January Furniture Show alone – it would be easy to forget that its manufacturing operation is governed by the same laws as everyone else, as Paul Farley discovered upon catching up with the company’s QC champion, Tom Hudson, at Gallery’s headquarters …

They say that the stress of moving house is up there with some of life’s most traumatic events, and Tom Hudson, Gallery Direct’s quality control and technical compliance manager, has been reminded of this the hard way in recent months, having relocated his family from Buckinghamshire to join his new colleagues in Sittingbourne, Kent.

As the youngest of the three Hudson brothers at the heart of the Frank Hudson family business, and previously that company’s operations manager, Tom may not enjoy the same high profile as his brothers James and Tim, but he’s no less integral to the brand.

Whilst James comes from a background of carving, and Tim polishing, both share an original design outlook that’s been vital to the company’s wellbeing. Now, under the Gallery umbrella, it’s up to Tom to realise the efficient and ethical production of the family’s designs. As Gallery’s MD Peter Delaney puts it: “Quality assurance is the unsung hero of our story – but it’s a never-ending process, and demands huge investment on our part.”

In many ways, Tom embodies that investment. “Within the family business, I covered a multitude of areas,” he says, “from the technical side and quality control to logistics, EUTR [EU Timber Regulation] and warehousing. I grew up working in the family factory, so I know that it’s the little things that make all the difference to quality levels, and you have to keep a close eye on them – wherever you are in the world!”

Tom spends much of his time liaising with Gallery’s factories in Asia, applying a rigorous and fastidious approach to quality control and assurance. “I’m out there two to three weeks at a time, covering a lot of areas,” says Tom. “I concentrate on quality and ethics, but keep an eye on design – which needs to flex depending on changing manufacturing demands.”

One example of Tom’s input is his work to refine the Frank Hudson beds and Hudson Living cabinet pieces – incorporating more efficient joining systems at the design stage, and mitigating the need for tools and screws where possible – so that they can be constructed more easily after shipping.

“I’m always picking up other manufacturers’ assembly instructions for inspiration,” he admits. This attention to detail is crucial for some of the larger retailers the company deals with, and is ultimately no less important to Gallery’s independent stockists.

As well as overseeing the myriad regulatory standards across the company’s network of overseas factories, it’s Tom’s role to supervise the ethical side of the business, ensuring the factory employees are treated fairly, and their working environments maintained.

Tom is supported by his brothers, who each keep a close eye on proceedings in the Far East – James Hudson is flying out there as we speak. “There’s a Hudson brother on the ground in Indonesia pretty much all the time,” says Tom. “We’re completely invested in the manufacturing process, and have been working with some of these factories for as many as 20 years.”

“There’s a Hudson brother on the ground in Indonesia pretty much all the time. We’re completely invested in the manufacturing process”

According to Peter Delaney, business is booming at Gallery, every sales channel up on last year. Now servicing a huge number of stockists, large and small, offering around a thousand SKUs across various pricing tiers –  Peter states that there’s around 228,000 finished items in stock in Gallery’s huge warehouse right now – it’s more crucial than ever that quality standards are maintained.

“We’ve made massive long-term commitments in quality assurance,” he says. “We don’t just offer the look – there’s real substance behind it.”

When Gallery acquired the Frank Hudson business, it announced plans to take the high-end bed brand to a wider audience. By necessity, the cost of production had to be shaved – yet to de-spec the models was not an option.

“We’ve been able to drop our trade price on Frank Hudson beds and furniture without diluting quality at all,” says Peter. “We are utilising the same factories and processes – but adding significant volume. By providing working capital to the factories, we have been able to improve turnaround and ensure the factories’ commitment to us. It’s a partnership, a win-win situation.

“We don’t want to make promises we can’t back up – so we’re investing in a continuous process. There really is a desire in this company to be world class.”

To that end, Tom’s input has proved invaluable. Ensuring optimal systems are in place, he’s been vital to the company’s ability to meet the needs of even the most demanding retail customer. “If you can service those accounts satisfactorily, everything else becomes easy,” he laughs.

The success of an offer as diverse and expansive as Gallery’s is wholly reliant on its infrastructure, and it can be easy to overlook the work that goes in at the point of production. In Tom Hudson, Gallery has inherited an experienced and capable gatekeeper. Perhaps the ideal steward for the brand, Tom is utterly invested in helping it meet the demands of modern business with its integrity intact.

This article was published in the July issue of Furniture News magazine.

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