19 May 2024, 22:09
By Furniture News Dec 16, 2021

Moda's Jonny Brierley goes all out

Manchester-based outdoor furniture specialist Moda Furnishings might be “digital-first”, but its new 7000 sqft glass-fronted flagship near Old Trafford proves it’s no slouch in the physical retail space. Here, founder and CEO Jonny Brierley gives Furniture News the lowdown on everything from futureproofing to firepits …   

How did Moda begin, at what point did it go multichannel? 

We started in March 2015, launching a high-quality, modular, outdoor rattan furniture range that was designed in-house and imported and sold direct to consumers online. 

We always wanted to be digital-led business, using our ecommerce platform to place our products in front of the customers right from the outset. There was a high demand for our products from the word go, and from then it’s been up and up, bringing new, innovative ideas to the whole business – not just products.

Why did you take the private equity route in 2019, and how has it changed the business? 

The previous shareholders were looking to exit for lifestyle reasons, but we wanted to keep going and drive growth in the business.  We worked with a corporate finance house who helped us attract private equity backing – not just to back the MBO, but also to provide investment for the future. Myself and my business partner Vallan McCarthy stayed on, and rolled all of our value across into the new structure, and I led Moda through the whole process. 

The business has been transformed since then, and is going from strength to strength. Since the PE deal, we’ve brought to the boardroom a CFO who has transformed our management information, and a highly experienced chairman. The business has become more professional and corporate, using more sophisticated data to make better decisions.

What changes have taken place at Moda since March 2020? 

During the pandemic lockdown periods we had to close our showrooms, but, fortunately, having our own dedicated warehouse space and our own in-house delivery fleet meant we could continue to trade online.  

Since then, Moda’s growth has continued to be exceptional. Our warehouse capacity has risen from 110,000ft2 to over 240,000ft2. We’ve doubled our headcount and taken additional office space. We’ve also changed our mindset – we’re no longer a seasonal business, and this has allowed us to take more grounded, long-term views in all of our decisionmaking. We’ve also opened three new showrooms and have really exciting plans to open more, in strategic locations to support the digital-first strategy.

How does the business conducted in your showrooms stack up against that conducted online?

Moda will always be an ecommerce-first business, supported by a few beautiful, well-placed showrooms. Moda customers are very happy to buy online, as they trust the exceptional quality of the product and the gold-standard delivery service, as evidenced by our track record of five-star reviews.  

However, we also want our customers to feel that they can come in and touch and feel our product if they want to, in a totally new environment that’s different to any other garden furniture showroom retailer. We are currently working on some customer ‘single view’ technology which will allow us to interact with our customers better, and create a seamless online and showroom experience. This will also give us more insight into our customers’ behaviour.

Moda’s new flagship store in Manchester

Give us a snapshot of your supply chain …

All of our products are designed and developed in-house at our headquarters in North-west England. We partner with a number of overseas factories, whom we communicate with directly, assisting them with everything from raw material orders, manufacturing standards and quality control, right up to container loading. This level of control really means that we can service consumers quickly, with the correct products at the right time, within our unique modular system.

… and your product design process

We listen to everyone when we design new products, or redesign existing ones. We listen to customer feedback, driver feedback and customer service department feedback, to really understand demand and how we can design our existing products better. 

This can be anything from making the product instructions clearer, to redesigning the way a product assembles. We see furniture like fashion – it’s important with new products not to just look at how furniture is changing, but to see the way customers change their outdoor space, and design products that would complement this to enhance the overall outdoor living experience.

How long do you think the surge in demand for outdoor furniture will last?

I think the attitude of the UK public has transformed in recent years, and the extra time people have spent at home during the last 18 months has driven this change even more. Customers are now recognising that their outdoor space is no longer just a place to pop outside when the weather is nice. Now it is an extension of their living space, a beautiful outdoor entertaining area that adds value to their home that can be intimate and cosy, as well as grand and lavish for parties.  

I believe that the growth we are seeing now will continue for many years, as customers become more and more aware of the fantastic lifestyle and wellbeing benefits that come from outdoor living, socialising and relaxing. We also see a lot of aspiration, of customers who haven’t been able to refresh their outdoor space yet due to trade and material shortages. 

I also now see that the UK consumer isn’t just treating outdoor furniture as only summer furniture, as there are some quite remarkable heating and lighting solutions to create cosy autumn and spring environments. This adds value for customers, as they can use their outdoor furniture much more throughout the year with family and friends.

Staffing is becoming a bigger challenge for furniture businesses. How have you gone about such rapid recruitment? 

We’ve been very busy recruiting since the MBO, having more than doubled our workforce in only two years. Our brand has grown so fast – many new recruits want to be part of the Moda story, so recruitment hasn’t really been much of a challenge for us. 

We are quite selective, but there really is a wealth of talent out there, which is really creating an exciting future for us. Our staff are also very loyal – I want all of our team to feel that Moda is a great place to work and for everyone to enjoy their careers as we continue to grow.

What’s the biggest mistake your rivals are making at the moment? 

I wouldn’t want to criticise any competitors – everyone is doing their best in difficult times, especially with supply chain pressures as high as they are now. I focus more on what we feel we’re doing well at Moda. 

We keep focused on what the customer wants, ensuring the highest-quality products that will give enjoyment for many years. Having well-designed and well-made stock available is key, so we’ve invested considerably in our supply chain. We also believe that it is important to keep investing in our business and in our team, so we can keep pace with the exceptional demand we’re seeing for all of our products.  Investment is key to staying futureproof.

What changing trends are you seeing in garden furniture?

Our contemporary modular ranges have really taken off this year. Customers love the waterproof technology in the fabric, and have really taken to the modern colour palette. Our smoke-free gas firepits continue to be very popular (we’ve even developed the UK’s first darkroom furniture display area to showcase these), and we are now seeing corner sofa dining surge ahead of traditional dining chair sets.

What balance of branded/white label goods do you offer? 

All Moda furniture products are only available from us, and are all Moda branded. Providing the full design-to-delivery service across our products is key to our success.  Seeing the Moda brand gives the customer complete confidence in what they will get – an amazing product which is well designed and will last for years, the highest levels of delivery and customer service which our customers rightly expect, and full support on the rare occasions there is an aftersales issue to follow up. 

What’s in the pipeline? Are there any plans to explore new product areas? 

Yes, we are already introducing complementary products to enhance the overall outdoor living experience. These include products such as water features, outdoor lighting and heating, and decorative screens (all Moda branded). We continue to develop new modular designs, and will be bringing some exciting new ranges to market in 2022. 

We have a saying at Moda – with products, “the design is never done!”

This interview was published in the December 2021 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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