22 May 2024, 12:30
By John Legg Aug 29, 2014

Gallery Direct’s dependable direction

Gallery Direct’s MD Peter Delaney goes about his furniture and decorative accessories business in an unassuming yet tenacious and highly professional fashion, writes John Legg, whose recent visit to the company’s impressive facility in Sittingbourne, Kent, provided the opportunity to delve a little into what makes the company – and Peter – tick.

The Gallery Direct business – and before that Gallery Framing – has been a fixture in the industry since the 1970s. Over last 40-plus years, the business has gone from being a supplier of framed mirrors to a company which is known for its highly-commercial, design-led offer of furniture, decorative accessories, mirrors and wall art, soft furnishings and textiles, lighting and giftware.

In recent months, the Gallery business has added strength to its personnel and acquired a major brand in the furniture sector, Frank Hudson – so what of the man behind the company, what is its current standing, and where will the Gallery business be landing in the future?

Peter Delaney is the MD of Gallery Direct. A quiet, studious man, his calm demeanour belies a determined visionary whose guile and acumen leaves one in no doubt that he is not a man who fails to plan – nor does he accept the status quo, relying on past glories to fuel his future.

Peter continues to challenge himself with new goals, seeking alternative pathways to those well-trodden, in order to better serve the company’s growing and demanding customer base. He is passionate about being able to not only offer a wide range of fast-selling products, but also to make sure that he can supply it in a timely and professional manner.

Peter was working in the civil service when the travel bug began to bite. In order to save up the necessary cash, he worked for his father’s Croydon-based framed mirrors firm as a sales representative.

Recalling those early days, Peter says fondly: “When I started out, it was a bit like the Wild West in some ways! We had no catalogue – all I had was a typed-up price list and a few sample mouldings, and that was it. But in those days, that was all you needed! We even used a nearby office bureau’s fax machine to fax off order confirmations!”

The business took off fairly well and things improved so much that the company needed more space. Gallery moved to Kent in the early 1990s to a 4000 sqft factory. Then it took the unit next door, which was another 4000ft2, and things were going along very well supplying quality framed goods. Then, following a fire in 1997, Gallery moved to a 35,000 sqft ex-sports hall, complete with astro-turf.

Throughout this period of the firm’s development, Peter carried out a variety of duties from sales, administration and manufacturing to logistics and product development. Peter recalls one customer, a carpet and flooring retailer – a very good, old-school retailer and loyal customer: “One day I was delivering to this impressive carpet store, they had quite a number of branches.

“If the product isn’t cohesive, isn’t desirable, then you never have space, supply chain or staffing issues and everything else … you just don’t get past go”

“As the unloading began ‘round the back of the shop, I quickly got changed in the back of the lorry, into my suit and tie, and dashed around to the front of the store to show him our new samples. He looked at my samples, said nothing. Then he looked at me, with a knowing glance, and asked me how the delivery was going. ‘Oh, I think it’s just arrived,’ I said. Of course, he knew I was trying to carrying out both roles! But he was very kind to me and he made me a cup of tea and studied my samples while I caught my breath and recovered my composure.”

Early on in the 1990s, there was a more important event which would prove to be pivotal for the growing business – the company received a substantial order from a major retail player in the US.

Peter is adamant it only really came about because of the way Gallery had fine-tuned its operation which was, of course, totally focused on framed mirrors.

“The order came about as a result of the specific way we were doing things, getting all the details right, and making the product offer as customer-friendly as possible. The client, which remains very successful to this day, decided that we had created such an impressive and well-organised offer, that instead of sourcing direct from China or elsewhere, it was preferable to get us to manufacture and supply their considerable requirements at that time.”

The result was a quite staggering order of 127 containers of framed mirrors, equivalent to a million linear feet. Sadly, in today’s marketplace, that type of scale of order is unlikely to be repeated. Of course, Gallery carried out that order perfectly.

Peter says it was to do with the standard of Gallery Direct’s design using high-quality Italian mouldings – the packaging and logistics was perfectly detailed. “We had a really good product range at that time – we were ahead of the curve really,” he says. “We were advanced and we created special packaging for use in the customer’s warehouse. Our attention to detail was, and is, second to none.”

Peter formally took the reins of the business in 2003, and shortly after it became clear that a new, more expansive direction for the firm would be Peter’s primary agenda.

“When we were manufacturing product in the 80s and 90s, effectively we could only offer a limited choice – the products we could offer back then were made using linear mouldings, with a little hand-finished work,” he says. “So products such as sunburst frames, and other organic forms which were becoming more and more popular, were not something we could readily offer, and that would inevitably limit our range and restrict the business growth.”

Lest we forget, 10 years ago the majority of standard, mass-market framed products were made using linear moulding technology. But Peter wanted the company to offer more creative products – and so began the creative transformation of the business.

Flicking through Gallery Direct’s impressive catalogue today, one can only admire the growth in outlook of the business. The confident approach and commitment Peter and his team have to the company’s customers lies at the heart of this drive. Of course, this co-exists with the desire to broaden its marketplace and to maintain a successful business with longevity. The success of the business has been built on a solid supply chain, with vertical integration across a number of selected factories.

In terms of where the business stands today, Peter says things are looking very good: “The situation for us at the moment is very positive. For me, the first thing you have to get right in a business like this is the creative aspect. If the product isn’t cohesive, isn’t desirable, then you never have space issues, supply chain issues, staffing issues and everything else … you just don’t get past go.

“The really fantastic thing is that every single piece of feedback we’ve had about the new range has been really, really positive, and the direction that the company has gone in has also been really positive.

“Mat Penney, our product director, should take a huge amount of credit for his work. Matt has assembled an exciting collection in our new catalogue. He has worked tirelessly with his team to create a cohesive offer with product families rather than individual products.”

Gallery’s plans are to keep the catalogue – which was launched in January at Interiors UK – for a two-year cycle, with the addition of three seasonal updates: Autumn-Winter 2014; Spring-Summer 2015; and Autumn-Winter 2015.

Another notable addition to the business in recent months has been the appointment of Jayne Zalega, a business development director for textiles. With Jayne’s knowledge and expertise, Gallery plans to extend its textile offering, and has committed to a £1.5m investment in the range, which will see 200 new items added to the company’s textile offer.

“When the range launches, we will be offering a massive selection of textiles – cushions, throws, decorative textiles and bedlinen,” comments Peter. The new textile products will be launched at Autumn Fair International in September.

Looking at the furniture and decorative products, Peter says that the latter will of course continue to be developed. But the main news is on the furniture side of the operation – Gallery recently completed the acquisition of Frank Hudson, the respected and much-admired High Wycombe-based furniture firm.

The purchase, which was signed days before the recent May Design Series event in London, means that Gallery can now offer a substantially wider range of high-quality furniture to its expanding UK and international client base.

“This is fantastic news for both Gallery’s and Frank Hudson’s clients in the UK and across the 16 countries with which we trade,” says Peter.

“It all starts with the desirability of the product, then the value statement it represents, followed by the quality, the delivery, the service – basically, can we back it up with stock and can we deliver?”

“For three generations, the Frank Hudson team has crafted some of the most desirable and fashionable furniture in the market. The brand is recognised by discerning clients and is found in exclusive homes and hotels around the world. The skills and knowledge of the High Wycombe team are outstanding, and I am confident that we will maintain the heritage of the brand, whilst developing a number of collections and styles in the future that will appeal to a range of different markets.

“The uniting of two strong businesses, which are ambitious, progressive and financially secure, is good news for our employees and clients alike.”

The Frank Hudson brothers, Tim, James and Tom, whose grandfather started the business back in 1955, will continue to play active and ongoing strategic roles within Gallery Direct.

James Hudson comments: “This is an exciting time for the new business, and I am delighted to be heading up business development for the furniture division. We have a plan to develop an exciting new range of mid- to top-tier furniture that continues with the Frank Hudson and Gallery tradition of manufacturing quality, value-for-money pieces that are fashionable, yet classic in their design. I’m looking forward to developing our brands further, including the new Hudson Living Collection, across our UK and international customer base.

“We have both found that there is a real desire for this. We are about ‘leading design’ – design, design, design! We’ve always been about design, but now we are part of the Gallery team, along with their design team, we can really make a difference.”

Peter is also keen to reaffirm the company’s commitment to quality control, stockholdings, delivery and all the logistical aspects of running a successful, customer-focused, service-oriented business.

“It all starts with the desirability of the product,” he says, “then the value statement it represents, followed by the quality, the delivery, the service – basically, can we back it up with stock and can we deliver? As it stands today, we have sourcing and QC teams in place in China, Indonesia, Eastern Europe and Great Britain, ensuring we can deliver what the customer needs, when the customer needs it, to an exemplary standard.”

So, the new-look Gallery business is taking shape, the trajectory of which has become very clear – onwards and upwards, one team with one goal. Far from landing luckily on his feet, Peter and his team have piloted the business to this point through attention to detail, a focus on customers’ needs and a clear, unambiguous design-led approach to the product offering.

With most of the building blocks in place, extensive industry experience and a collection of skill sets, ultimately, the business is fast becoming an inclusive, desirable one-stop-shop for creative interiors retailers, and one that customers really respond to.

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

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