17 April 2024, 03:29
By Furniture News Jun 04, 2018

Paul Tanner, Hayche

Furniture News asks Paul Tanner – previously of Habitat, Lombok, Made and M&S, and now MD of contract seating specialist Hayche, with which Paul aims to blend the best of these brands – about business challenges past and present.

How did you enter the trade?

By accident. I studied Industrial Design at Brunel and one year of my four-year course was spent working in industry. There was a long list of companies that previously worked with my university, and I selected a local company that made electronic gadgets – but I made a typo on the letter and sent my CV to the company one row down on the list. 

They happened to be a small furniture set-up. During my interview I kept calling the guy Steve (as the gadget company was run by a Steve) and I later found out I got the job because he thought I was eccentric due to giving him a new name for no apparent reason! 

He trained me on how to use AutoCAD for developing prototypes, and when Habitat contacted my university looking for someone to join them as a draughtsman, I had the perfect training for the interview, which then led to an eight-year commitment.

Who was your inspiration?

I haven’t really had one. As I got into the industry by accident I didn’t follow a set path, as furniture wasn’t something I had thought about until I started doing it. I was very fortunate at Habitat to work with Tom Dixon, Terence Woodgate, Bethan Gray, James Harrison, Kirsty Whyte and Claire Norcross, and when I moved to Made and then M&S, it was clear to me that furniture was something I really enjoyed, and that I had also developed a powerful network of designers and suppliers.

What was you career high point?

Winning two Design Guild Marks and becoming a judge in 2016. I am a big believer that bestsellers and iconic products come easy – I have never known a product to be difficult and then become a bestseller, it’s always the ones that look great as a sketch and great as a first prototype that go on to success – both the Fonteyn (Made) and Ashworth (M&S) were clearly both special designs from the very first doodle.

… and low point?

Discovering from the Sunday Times during my time at Habitat that we were all going to lose our jobs, a day before any announcements were made. In 2010 it was a very difficult time for the brand, and I am really pleased that they are making a comeback.

… and the turning point?

Moving to China to work for Made. Previously I had been going to China for a two-week trip every six months, and to actually live there for 18 months gave me a completely different appreciation for the country and the product development process. 

Also, working at Made when it was very small, directly with the founders, opened my eyes to what’s possible. Normally in a business you are shielded from the top level of management, but I had lunch with them every day, drinks after work or sat next to them on a plane, so I got a first-hand glimpse of how to build a successful start-up.

Describe a typical working day

I wake up around 7am and check emails on my phone before getting out of bed. It’s a really bad habit – but I tell myself it’s better than hitting the snooze button, and by the time I jump in the shower I have cleared my inbox. 

I meet with the Hayche team in Clerkenwell at 9am and we discuss and plan the agenda for the day. We have recently adopted Asana (a project management app) and we use this to break up the tasks and to delegate amongst ourselves. 

Last month we were working towards Clerkenwell Design Week, so lots of work was being done to ensure the new prototypes were ready, the stand was ready, and that we had all the pricing and marketing materials that we needed. 

We have lunch together as a team, and then keep working through the afternoon. I normally leave at about 4pm and go to the gym for a swim and a class, before getting home around 7pm, eating and then working for a couple more hours.

If you had to start over, you’d probably pursue which career?

Ecommerce. I am not sure which aspect particularly, but I really enjoy online sales. At Habitat and M&S it was something I wasn’t able to get involved with (despite my best efforts), but at Made I was always sending the CEO and CTO [chief technology officer] ideas for how we could boost sales. 

For Hayche I have taken everything I have learnt and worked on some new ideas, and built the website myself, so that we have more control over the brand presentation and customer journey. With agencies and third parties our creative directors’ vision can be diluted, or ideas steered away from due to cost – but by managing the site ourselves, there are no limitations.

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

Milan. I really enjoy walking around the fair (headphones, camera and a big pack of wine gums) and taking inspiration from the various events. Bar Basso has also become an annual event, and is often the only time in the year where I see my London-based design friends from Habitat, Heal’s, Made, Dare Studio, Case Furniture and Ercol.

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

Brexit. Not directly at the moment, but due to a lack of clarity on what’s happening. At Hayche we make our products in Italy and Portugal, and, depending on how Brexit pans out, there could be implications on the cost of using our current supply base if there’s new tax rates or different ways of working required.

What company do you most look up to?

Ercol. Their recent stand in Milan was one of the standout showcases of the fair. They have a great product and great integrity with what they do. The factory is always a treat to visit and our home is full of Ercol pieces – some vintage from car boot sales, and also some of their recent ranges. 

What would you most like to change about yourself?

I am very impatient. It’s not a good trait, and one I would like to change. I have started using the Headspace app to try to relax more, and to step back and offer encouragement and direction if a task or problem is behind schedule, as otherwise stepping in and doing it myself is a short-term fix.

What do you enjoy most about working in the trade?

That everyone I have met and work with really cares about what they do, and are likely to stay in the furniture field. It’s a specialist industry rather than a transient one, and people are focused on producing great product season after season. 

At school, I would describe an idea or engineering solution and my classmates would have no idea what I was talking about, but as soon as I started working at Made, Habitat and M&S, I could talk through complex ideas and my colleagues got it straight away, often topping my ideas or amplifying them.

Leave us with an industry anecdote please!

There’s an urban legend that a top furniture designer traded away his portfolio in exchange for a crate of beer – and that person used it to successfully get into the RCA …

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