19 June 2024, 10:54
By Furniture News Apr 26, 2021

Savoir's tailor-made luxury

Despite showroom closures and skills shortages, luxury bedmaker Savoir will confidently meet growing international demand for its bespoke, handmade beds, says MD Alistair Hughes …

Savoir’s story began in The Savoy Hotel in 1905, when Richard D’Oyly Carte, unable to find a bed that met his establishment’s lofty standards, created his own. The Savoir No. 2 is still available today, made by hand – like the rest of the brand’s high-class sleep solutions – in West London and Wales.

Proudly British-made, Savoir beds are sold through a global network of 14 showrooms. Each model is built to the buyer’s specifications by one craftsperson, and no more than 1000 are made each year, “because quality sleep needs the best beds, not the most”.

Savoir’s MD, Alistair Hughes, has led the brand since 1997. In this interview, he talks to Furniture News about the brand’s place in the market, the evolution of its sales channels, and what the future might bring …

On a national and global level, have you seen perceptions of your high-end, British-made product change in recent years?

British luxury is a growth area, and increasingly important in terms of UK employment, exports and tax generation.  In all our overseas markets across the US, Europe and Asia, British-made is a real selling point.  

There are so many great British brands, from Rolls-Royce and Burberry, through to our hotels (The Savoy, of course!) and cultural icons. London remains one of the most desirable cities for the wealthiest people in the world, which adds to the allure of high-end British products.  

We are part of Walpole, the UK’s luxury association, which works hard to promote this. There is no question that at a global level perception of British-made is high, and growing.  

Within the UK there is, however, still a lot of work to do. We work hard to encourage the younger generation to consider craft-based careers. Working with your hands is not held in the same regard in the UK as in some other countries. Consumers, however, love British-made.

How much does your bespoke approach matter to your customers? And do you truly appoint one craftsman to make each bed, from start to finish?

Every Savoir bed is tailor-made to perfectly fit its owner. We continue to hand-craft beds at our North London Bedworks and in Wales, just outside Cardiff. Every Savoir bed is made to order for a particular client, crafted by hand to exacting specifications to deliver unsurpassed comfort. 

Every element of a Savoir is created by just one craftsperson. For example, a single craftsperson takes each mattress from inception to completion, uniquely tailoring it to the client’s specification. It’s a process that empowers and motivates the finest talent, encouraging ownership, pride and, ultimately, an extraordinary quality of product. Only when completely satisfied do they sign, like an artist, on the label.

Our clients are also increasingly interested in the materials we use. At Savoir, we only use the finest natural materials, such as curled horsetail, which provides a breathable sleeping surface and the ultimate temperature control for enhanced sleep. The end result is not only a wonderfully comfortable bed, but one that matches the owner’s style aspirations, as only a bespoke product can. 

As you compete for market share in your segment, are you seeing more brands trying to sell at your level these days?

More and more brands are trying to push the upper limit of their pricing architecture.  For many it is a case of “if Savoir can charge £80,000 for a bed, why can’t we?” and then doing very little to the product except changing the price. I’m sure they will skim the market and make a few sales, but ultimately, to justify high price points you need to create something special.  

We really only have a few serious competitors globally, but our niche is growing. There are increasing numbers of wealthy consumers globally who can afford our product, and increasing awareness of the importance of both sleep and design.

What are the strengths/limitations of making beds in the UK?

The UK has a tradition of high-end upholstery, with all the skills and craftsmanship that goes with this, which makes it a great place to manufacture our beds – together with readily available, high-quality natural materials from a range of suppliers. Add to that a global city, London, which really is a gateway to the world on our doorstep, and you have a winning combination.  

Our limitations come in terms of a lack of a world-class apprenticeship system and an appreciation of the importance of manufacturing and a technical education.

Having come a long way from your origins with The Savoy, how closely do you work with the hospitality sector these days?

We continue to have strong relationships with the hospitality sector. From London’s Grande dames to the classic New York façades of trendy Tribeca, our beds grace the rooms of many of the world’s finest hotels and cruise ships.

In London alone, our beds are in The Savoy Hotel, Home House, The Boundary, Hotel 41, Durrants and The Capital. You’ll also find Savoir beds in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, America, Azerbaijan and South Korea. In 2019 we were delighted to partner with The Greenwich Hotel in New York, co-owned by Robert De Niro. They have our No. 4 bed in all 80 rooms.  

We are very proud of our heritage within the hospitality sector, and it is a relationship we will continue to nurture. 

Describe your showroom atmosphere and content, and explain what sets it apart

Physical showrooms are very important to us. Given you spend a third of your life in bed, it is worth taking some care, and time, when buying one. We’ve designed our showrooms to be calm, quiet spaces. At Savoir, customers start with a ‘bed-fitting’ at one of our showrooms, where our expertly trained staff will discuss your needs and test you and your partner on various models and support options. We encourage customers to lie down, roll around and read a book or magazine – make a day of it. 

Inside Savoir’s Marylebone store

Has Covid-19 prompted you to make any significant changes in-store?

At Savoir, we have always encouraged our customers to make an appointment for a personal bed-fitting. Private appointments are even more relevant in the current Covid climate. With social distancing, our showroom experience is becoming even more personalised. 

We have 14 showrooms around the world, from London to New York and Paris, as well as worldwide in China, Germany, Russia, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong. We have been able to keep many of our international showrooms open while London is in lockdown, and we are able to keep taking and delivering orders while respecting the Government guidelines. 

… and how has the pandemic affected your ecommerce offer and framework?

Like most brands, we have placed a greater focus on our digital offering and have seen an increase in our web traffic and enquires as a result. We have taken a new approach to virtual selling, with tailored communications with our customers over the various social and digital platforms. Also, following the steady increase of online UK sales, we recently launched US ecommerce. Our customers in the UK and US are now able to purchase Savoir bedlinen and bedding online. 

Our phone consultations have increased also. We have developed and invested time in training our staff, as it requires a different approach to a showroom consultation. Our online chat and Savoir Virtual Concierge continue to be busy. 

Globally, has Savoir responded to the pandemic in different ways in various territories?

We have aimed for a common approach across the showrooms, from Shanghai to Paris. We are, of course, a low footfall destination, and providing a one-client, in-showroom appointment experience has worked well. 

We provide every client with a personal pillow, with a freshly laundered and pressed pillowcase put on in front of them. They then take that around the showroom beds with them – with, as you would expect, all the usual distancing, cleaning, mask wearing and screens where appropriate.

Where we have gone further is in the US, where for one client we drove three beds from New York to Boston and set them up in her garage for her to test. She placed a good order, so well worth the trip! We have done this a few times out of New York (although the others were more local, in New Jersey and Long Island!).

Is the sales process much different to selling beds at lower price levels? If so, how?  

It should be the same, as we need to help the client to achieve the same goal. In our market, they need to be comfortable, supported, sleep fantastically and love the style of their bed. We certainly go through the same process for all clients, whether they end up investing in a £10,000 bed or a £100,000 bed. You need to listen to their needs, explain what you are trying to achieve (and why), and help them to test.  

But my sense is at the lower end it becomes price, not quality, and features, not benefits. But, to be fair, I have test-shopped some bed shops selling at the bottom end and had great service, and the opposite has also been the case.

Aside from the growth of online business, have you noticed any changes in customer behaviour of late?

During the last year, I have seen a shift in people’s understanding of wellness and how our homes can impact it. Good sleep is fundamental to our overall health and wellbeing, and our customers understand and appreciate the quality sleep a Savoir can provide. 

Our beds are where we sleep every day, relax and wind down. Our bed is a sanctuary away from the stresses of the modern world. The right bed will not only last for many years to come, it also has the power to transform how we sleep and impact our physical and mental performance, immunity and creativity.

People spend more time selecting what is right for them, and are increasingly interested in what goes into their bed, and why. They are no longer satisfied with the dusty bed department tucked in the corner of the third floor of the department store – they want the service, style and satisfaction they find in other retail experiences, and this is what Savoir delivers.

How has your marketing strategy responded to the changing demands of today’s consumer?

Last year we launched our A Life Unhurried campaign, which was driven by the growing importance of sleep and its role in enhancing our wellbeing. We wanted to celebrate the joy of not just sleeping but ‘switching off’ in bed.

The campaign features recognisable faces embracing the joys of switching off and relaxing in bed. The first couple featured within the campaign are world-class ballet dancers from The Royal Ballet, London. Principal dancer, Steven McRae and soloist, Elizabeth Harrod are a real couple, with successful careers and a young family. They value their sleep and downtime, which often doesn’t come until the end of a busy day. They were a perfect fit for Savoir and the interests of our clients. 

Throughout Covid, we felt it was essential to keep momentum through our marketing activities, and have continued to advertise in a selection of media in the UK and other key countries.  

Can you hazard a guess at what the Savoir brand might look like in one, five and 10 years’ time?

The next year is about, I hope, getting the business back onto a regular footing. Every one of our 14 showrooms around the world has been shut for a number of months, and at the beginning of the new year our London and Dusseldorf showrooms closed. 

Our locations are in city centres, and these had much less bounceback during the non-lockdown periods than the suburbs or out-of-town shopping centres. Our beds are a considered purchase, so clients want to test and research in a deeper way than for a less-expensive product. However, we anticipate a good rebound towards the end of 2021. The business is investing significant money and effort into digital growth and making sustainability central to what we do.

Over five years, we will be expanding our footprint internationally. We have two showrooms in New York, but the US remains a market with massive potential for Savoir. It is, after all, the world’s largest luxury market. Asia, too, will have more showrooms. Online and digital channels will continue to grow in importance.  

I suspect most of our sales will be made online, but still mostly after a showroom visit – multichannel retailing, ensuring all customer touchpoints are integrated and seamless, will be absolutely vital. Our approach to product, sourcing, delivery and waste will have moved forward significantly to ensure that Savoir plays its part in protecting the planet.

In 10 years, global domination of our niche! We started exporting 10 years ago, and it is now half the business. I expect it to be 90% in 10 years’ time. I am sure that the ways in which we get clients to test our products will have moved on significantly, too. 

We all need to be environmentally much more aware, and in 10 years’ time we need to be beyond the talk and have taken serious steps to change our businesses for the better – greenwash will not do it.

What do you enjoy most about working with Savoir, and did you ever expect to stay in the business for such a long time?

Six months before my business partner and I bought the bedworks from The Savoy, I had no idea I’d be in furniture, or beds. What I love is being in a business where you have the freedom to simply make the best. I have always taken the view that clients will pay for something special if you can explain the value to them. This approach allows us to give free reign to a wonderful team of craftspeople, creatives and those vital people who make it all happen.  

The team, and the promise of something new every day, are hard to beat. Back in 1997, I could not even imagine 2021!

Finally, can you name any examples in furniture supply or retail that you look up to?

I still look back to Conran, who truly changed the way we thought about design and function, and innovated to make it more accessible. 

Of course, IKEA, but I find myself asking how sustainable throwaway furniture is. My grandparents were given a bedroom suite when they married, and when they died over 60 years later it was still in their bedroom. It was high quality, and made to last. I feel we need to get back to that – cost per day, cost to the environment, all less than some of the ‘value’ products available today.

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

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