24 May 2024, 18:23
By Furniture News Aug 07, 2015

Collins and Hayes – new directions

Even the best-known brands require refinement to meet the demands of today’s consumer. Under new MD Matt O’Flynn’s close supervision, Collins and Hayes is fast confirming its place as an upholstery manufacturer of the moment – Paul Farley returned to its headquarters in Hastings, East Sussex, to see what’s changed …

Since he stepped in to manage the company last summer, Matt O’Flynn has truly put in the hours. Rarely has a weekend or evening passed without the former John Sankey/Henderson Russell frontman pouring more of his industry expertise and experience into the new role.

His commitment is all the more laudable given the various industry responsibilities making further demands on his time – Matt chairs both the British Furniture Manufacturers’ association (BFM) and the Long Eaton Guild of Furniture Manufacturers.

Not content to merely shepherd the Airsprung Group-owned company along its existing path, from factory floor to product line, Matt has made significant changes to the brand. Spearheading its renewal is a bold collection of designs, eight of which were unveiled at the January Furniture Show.

The new models vary greatly in style, yet retain Collins and Hayes’ characteristic design handwriting. Aimed at homeowners of all ages, the collection truly gives independent retailers a chance to differentiate their offer.

“I’m not looking to fundamentally change Collins and Hayes’ offer, but to broaden it,” says Matt. “We’ve got so many design avenues to explore, so it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to diversify our offer – we can create virtually anything here.”

“We’re cutting the fat and investing in the future – this is a very different business to what it was a year ago”

A glance at the collection, laid out in its entirety through the company’s fresh new 500 sqm showroom, reflects this more adventurous approach. Delicate curved frames add a new dimension to the company’s traditional offering. The models offer more depth and comfort, sport some of the latest on-trend fabrics, and feature visible stitching by the company’s skilled seamstresses.  

Alongside the new models are four brand bestsellers, which have been restyled and boast improved build quality, specification and comfort. These relaunches – Cottage, Studio, Hampton and Time Out – have proved popular, providing further opportunity to differentiate the independent offering.

Matt has also nurtured relationships with larger retailers, developing exclusives for the likes of Heal’s and AIS, as well as for the Minerva buying group, which it joined recently. There’s also the loose-cover Waterside model for one of Collins and Hayes’ biggest new accounts, John Lewis – an exclusive carried in 26 branches, and the only branded product in the retailer’s popular Any Shape, Any Fabric collection.

“The development of new models has allowed us to focus on our costs and engineering,” says Matt. “It’s all about increasing profitable turnover while making efficiencies. We’ve removed some of the unprofitable areas, like our factory shop, from the business, and are instead reinvesting in areas that add value, such as training our customers and staff.

“We’re going through a huge process of waste elimination, supply chain improvement, modernisation and IT investment, implementing lean manufacturing to better utilise the environment we work in. In short, we’re cutting the fat and investing in the future – this is a very different business to what it was a year ago.”

A visit to the headquarters allows buyers the chance to explore the newly-integrated manufacturing facility, which has been refreshed and reorganised to improve communication between departments. The facility will soon boast a sales training facility, making it a complete destination for inspecting and understanding Collins and Hayes’ models and the craft behind them.

“I’m not looking to fundamentally change Collins and Hayes’ offer, but to broaden it”

For those further north, the brand’s permanent showroom in Harrington Mill, Long Eaton, Derbyshire, offers a handy satellite sourcing platform – visits can be arranged by appointment, while the showroom will be open for the twice-yearly Long Point shows.

There will also be a chance to see Collins and Hayes at the AIS shows in September, and at Minerva’s Autumn Furniture Show in October. “Some of our biggest customers belong to buying groups, so we’re planning an exclusive model or two for that,” says Matt.

The manufacturer’s trajectory over the last 12 months is undeniably impressive. Driven by Matt’s vision and enthusiasm, the ongoing improvements to quality and service levels may be enough to establish Collins and Hayes as that most rare of brands – one that successfully combines the traditional and the progressive, and, more importantly, offers comfort that consumers will pay good money for.

This article was featured in the August issue of Furniture News magazine.

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