16 July 2024, 21:08
By Furniture News Aug 19, 2019

To boldly go – Harveys' Kellie Oliver

Operating through more than 160 stores, Harveys is one of the UK’s largest furniture retailers, and has served the British public for over half a century. Yet recent years have been unkind to the brand. Ongoing losses, coupled with fallout from accounting irregularities at its parent company [Steinhoff International], forced Harveys to take turnaround measures such as new brand messaging and targets, greater focus on efficiencies and cost savings, and the appointment of new management. Furniture News meets its head of buying, Kellie Oliver, who is applying her unique blend of customer insight and trends to help Harveys engage new audiences …

I’ve been working in buying for more than 15 years, and in furniture specifically for 10 of those. I started out at Marks & Spencer, where I worked for eight years before moving to BHS, where I managed its cabinet and upholstery categories. 

I then moved to the Middle East for two years, where I worked with a major home retailer. This was a fantastic experience, and allowed me to understand how consumer habits and interior style preferences over there differ from ours in the UK.

When I moved back to the UK from Dubai, I was keen to gain experience in the nation’s retail parks to complement my previous work on the high street. 

An opportunity arose at Harveys, and I was fortunate to be offered this fantastic position. I’ve been lucky enough to work here for the past 20 months. Following a promotion last year, I’ve been in my current role for nine of them, heading up the buying division across all categories – including upholstery, cabinet and accessories. 

My experiences have led me to where I am today. I have extensive knowledge of consumer habits, which allows me to get under the skin of what the customer wants when they walk into one of our stores. An understanding of design trends and fabrics is also a must in the trade – it ensures I provide our customers with the right choices, so everyone finds their perfect furniture match.

I love my job. It’s the people I work with, both internally and externally, who make it so special. I’ve built strong relationships in the furniture trade over the past 10 years – no matter where I am in the world, I always bump into someone I know!

I’m currently working on the new product launches for Christmas, our peak trading period and most exciting time. I’m flying out to the Far East with my team in the next couple of days to see how the ranges are developing.

By far the most exciting development at Harveys in the past year has been the introduction of Bold by Louise. Our collaboration with [singer, presenter, fashion blogger and interiors enthusiast] Louise Redknapp has allowed us to tap into a design area that we had never engaged before, enabling us to invite a new audience into our stores.

We’ve also introduced more stylish, contemporary ranges that were aimed at our younger customers. Beautifully designed shapes with premium fabric and leather options are now available within all our stores and online – we’re now firmly on the map for our more style-led credentials.

Our approach to sourcing has changed significantly over the years. As well as the Far East, we now source many ranges from the UK and Europe, allowing us enough versatility within our mix to offer our customers real choice. Whether they want a traditional high-back recliner or a contemporary velvet chaise-end three-seater, we have a range that will appeal.

The expansion of our cabinetry has also been key for us. We have sourced some beautifully-designed dining tables, with which we’ve paired with accessories we feel complement the look of some of the UK’s most stylish homes.

Those traditional high-back recliners continue to sell very well for us, and we’ve also seen great success in our stationary fabric proposition, which continues to grow. Our dining collections continue to be successful, too, with the likes of marble and gloss our best-selling materials. 

Personally, I love the simplicity and design of The Conran Shop’s range of cabinetry. I’m also a fan of B&B Italia’s upholstery. The Italian concept – beautiful high-end fabrics upholstered to the very highest standards – appeals to my tastes.

Technology is an important factor for all retailers, as consumers are increasingly browsing the web before deciding which stores to visit. We must attract them from the moment they click through to our site – so we have a great team of people constantly working to improve and develop our digital offer.

In our stores, sales can now be carried out on a tablet, allowing transactions to be more friendly and personable – they can be executed while sitting on a sofa, rather than having to move to a desk.

At Harveys we have three core foundations which ensure we maintain and expand our audience every year. We have the ability to be reactive to the market, we continue to launch exciting new ranges that are design-led, stylish and contemporary, and we absolutely never compromise on comfort and quality.

Find this interview (and more like it) in the August 2019 issue of Furniture News magazine.

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