25 May 2024, 17:43
By Furniture News Jul 15, 2018

Nicholas Radford, Nathan Furniture Group

Furniture News speaks to Nicholas Radford, owner of the Nathan Furniture Group, which encompasses Nathan Furniture, Sutcliffe, and now John & Sylvia Reid S-Range Furniture, a brand reissue which celebrates mid-century style. Nicholas bought Nathan Furniture in 2014 after a career spanning his family business (Stag), kitchen and bedroom manufacturer Patriarca and Stag subsidiary Jaycee, and running his own business …

How did you enter the trade?

I was born into it. My great-grandfather started Stag in 1914, and my grandfather returned from the Great War to help out as a temporary measure, but ended up spending the rest of his life building up the business. 

My father and uncle followed him into the business, as did I. I spent three years at High Wycombe College of HE studying furniture production and management, which helped me see the industry in a new light.

Who was your inspiration?

I was also really impressed with John Makepeace’s work with wood, and of course with designers John and Sylvia Reid. I spent my first years in the family business making their furniture, and it was a real privilege working on the Reids’ designs.

I have always had an interest in making things, and going to college taught me the practical skills I needed – I have a set of chairs I made at college I still use today. 

What was your career high point?

Being a third-generation master of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers is something I’ve always been proud of. And building up my own business to become at one time the largest importer of American furniture to the UK. The way furniture was presented in America back in the 1990s and 2000s was incredibly inspirational and on a totally different level to what we were doing over here.

… and low point?

Having to close a factory in Todmorden (West Yorkshire). It was largely brought about by a dramatic shift in the exchange rate which meant one of our main customers was unable to keep supporting us.

… and the turning point?

Going to business school was probably one of the most important times of my life. It taught me a lot more than just designing and manufacturing.  

I also think running a factory during the miners’ strikes was a key point in my career. It was a time when father wouldn’t work with son, lifelong friendships were destroyed, and it was an incredibly difficult time. It taught me an awful lot about people and dealing with problematic situations.

Describe a typical working day

I don’t have one! I do feel like a jack of all trades, as running a business I have to wear many different hats. One minute I’m a designer, the next a manufacturer. Then there’s troubleshooting or sorting out the IT. So I don’t think there’s ever been a typical working day for me.

If you had to start over, which career might you pursue?

Farming. I have always had a desire to work and live in the countryside, and I think the way farmers have to do everything for themselves is something that really appeals to me. 

What date on the business calendar do you most look forward to?

December 22nd. All the pre-Christmas deliveries are done, customers are hopefully happy and I can enjoy the Christmas lunch with the staff and go home to put my feet up for a few days! It feels a bit like the end of term.

What is the most important issue facing your business right now?

The downturn in trade and the tectonic plate shift in the retail area. A lot of good retailers have struggled, and the rise of online sales has really changed the face of the industry. 

I also think people are living for each day more and more – they want to spend their money on experiences rather than their home, and I think a lot of that is down to the levels of home ownership, particularly among younger people. 

What company do you most look up to? 

Apple. I bought an Apple computer in 1992 and since then I’ve never had anything else. It’s their ability to innovate not only the products but also how people engage with them. They’ve really changed their customers’ behaviour.

What would you most like to change about yourself?

Being dyslexic. It was recognised when I was 12 years old, which was unusual in those days. It can be a very frustrating thing. However, like a lot of dyslexics I have good spacial and three-dimensional awareness, so that helps a lot. And of course I love the invention of talking books.  

What do you most enjoy about working in the trade? 

I enjoy the creativity in the furniture trade. It is always evolving and responding to new ways of living and working. We are a family business and it is a pleasure to deal with other traditional family businesses which still exist in our industry. 

Leave us with an anecdote please …

If you want to make a small fortune in the furniture industry, start with a large one.

This interview was featured in the July 2018 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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