25 July 2024, 10:47
By Furniture News Dec 06, 2023

Now to Bed, then and now

With stores in Rhyl and Prestatyn, Now to Bed is one of North Wales’ most popular bed retailers. The family business, managed by husband and wife team Paul and Susan Burnet, – and assisted by son Thomas and daughter Emma – continues to go from strength to strength, bolstered by Paul’s more-than 50 years of furniture retail experience. Following a chance meeting at this year’s Bed Show, Furniture News asked Paul to share his journey to date, and his thoughts on the future …

How did you start out in the trade?

My career started back in October 1973 as a furniture salesperson with Courts Furnishers in Penzance, Cornwall. From there I transferred to the Portsmouth branch, where I worked with some wonderful colleagues and had two very enjoyable years. I remember working at the Ideal Home in London on the Courts stand for the very first time – exciting (terrifying) and enjoyable all rolled into one for a 21-year old.

Two years later I gained promotion to Courts’ city centre store in Birmingham, as assistant manager to my (now) dear friend, Ron Farris. It was a fantastic experience in the two years I worked there, meeting some wonderful customers and gaining some invaluable experience in store management.

In 1978, at the age of 23, I took my first store management position, in Rhyl, when Courts took over an established company, Rhydwyn Jones & Davies.

After a very successful three years in Rhyl I took over the management of the Cardiff city centre store. This move allowed me to test all my abilities and call on the experiences I had gained over the years with Courts, as it was a very busy store, with the usual demands on the manager running a city centre store back in those days, with no internet sales (thank goodness!).

Was that appointment the biggest break in your career? 

Not quite. In 1984, I realised I needed to take that huge step from the safety net of employment to self employed, and the right premises became available at just the right time. My own furniture business, PJ Furnishings, was born, in Rhyl. 

I was 30, and at that age I believed I could do better working for myself, knowing I had the confidence and contacts in the industry to make it work.  

My wife and I had great fun growing this business for over 11 years, before selling it to pursue other interests. I moved into accountancy for a short while, but missed retail, and the personal day-to-day contact with consumers (I’ve always got a buzz out of making a sale, whether small or large!).

Before long, I found myself back in the trade, working with Bruce and Peter Cohen at Cost Plus Sofas in Ireland. 

Upon returning to Wales in 2013, Susan and I started our very own bed business, Now to Bed, which has shown steady growth thanks to the hard work of our family and staff and the support from all our suppliers in the last 10 years. I’m so lucky to have worked with some wonderful people in our industry, and it’s been wonderful to reignite that contact and reminisce.   

What was your proudest moment?

It has been an exciting journey, one of which I am immensely proud. The proudest moment came when we were presented with the Small NBF Retail Champion of the Year award at the Bed Show gala dinner in 2022. The hard work from all of the team was rewarded on that one occasion.

Another milestone was the opening of our flagship store on Clwyd Retail Park, Rhyl (pictured), which is the biggest collection of quality beds and mattresses in North Wales.

How would you describe your typical customer? 

Our typical customer would be a loyal one, as we have an excellent customer base from our 10 years of trading. I’m a firm believer of looking after your customers with excellent customer service, to ensure they and their families continue to support our family business for years to come. Locally, our customer base tends to be the grey pound, as we live in a retirement area. 

Can you name any suppliers you work particularly well with? 

Relyon, Hypnos and Harrison Spinks. We’ve had a long working relationship with these suppliers – they understand the daily challenges that face retailers, and are eager to work with us to overcome them (especially the ongoing problems with online presence and margins).

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business right now? 

Getting the right margins to allow our business to re-invest and grow.

What’s next for the business?

Retirement has been discussed, and I’m sure that will come round soon enough, as my son Tom continues to steer the business in the right direction.

I’m very lucky to be in this position, and to have someone like Thomas to hand over to. We’ve both worked together for 10 years now, and he’s a ‘chip off the old block’, but with new ideas, and I’m confident that he’ll move the business forward. I’m convinced that, with the continued support of all our longstanding suppliers, and our loyal customers, our family business will continue to thrive for many years to come.

In retirement, I hope to enjoy my spare time playing golf, walking, travelling, and spending valuable time with our lovely grandchildren.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry in your 50 years? 

The internet, without question. I only wish all suppliers in our industry made a limited, internet-only range, which would force the customers back into shops to try mattresses that cannot be purchased online. Own-label is not the answer.  

Another big challenge that has grown over the last 50 years is the mattress in a box, and the sleep trials that come with them.

On a positive note, the PC and other technology we use to operate our business does make life easier (even though I have fond memories of scratching the pad for each order back in the day!).     

Can you hazard a guess as to what the industry might it look like in 50 years’ time? 

Who knows? One thing I am sure of, though – there will always be a need for bed shops, as most customers will want to touch, feel and try a mattress or bed before making a purchase. Thank God! 

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