16 July 2024, 20:15
By Furniture News Jan 10, 2022

Strategic Stressless

From the Norwegian fjords to Tottenham Court Road, the Stressless brand has been on quite a journey in the past two years, and is now comfortably placed to seize various market opportunities, says Ekornes’ senior VP - commercial Europe, James Thompson …

How’s business right now? What’s keeping you busy?

Business is great, but goodness me, it is challenging! 2021 will set many records – for sales, for price rises, for earliest Christmas cut-off – but for me I feel with hindsight it will be chalked down as a good-to-great year, as the brand is humming right now! And that can be put down to a huge team effort, both in the UK and in Norway.

Stressless has had a renewed focus on being a reliable strategic partner for our retailers. Ultimately, that focus is on driving sales and profitable sales growth for our retailers.

How has Ekornes negotiated the pandemic so far?

It would be remiss of me not to point out that it has been a hugely challenging period for us – however, we have bonded as a company, and moved forward. We were quick to reactivate the business, and have been focused on how best we can support our retail partners, as ultimately, they are our lifeblood! 

Whilst happy to look back, I am also focused on the future, and feel passionately that we have some excellent initiatives that will help us navigate whatever might happen next.

From a supply side, life has been incredibly challenging, but being on a fjord in a remote location has had its benefits. Firstly, remoteness has its benefits in a pandemic – combining that with running high inventory levels has meant we know that we have the raw materials to make the orders we take today. 

One significant game-changer was during the first lockdown – we used that time to build inventory of our bestselling items, which has in turn given us the foundations for our quick-ship programme, which has given our customers who just can’t wait an option.

So, whilst the last year or so has been challenging, it has presented opportunity, which we have grabbed with both hands – whether that be industrially or as a team, we’re moving onwards together!

Has it changed the way you do business for good?

It has changed the high street forever. The digital journey our customers take has only become more important, and as such, this has been an area of real focus for us over the past year.  The replatforming of our website in 2019 has really paid off!

Has Brexit had a noticeable impact on your UK business?

Our main subsidiary is outside of Europe in Norway, so again this has not had a major impact on business.

What’s new in terms of product? Take us through the basics of any new ranges/additions …

In November the UK hosted the global launch of Stressless Rome. This recliner has a unique look, and is the result of comprehensive global market research. The insights from the research were that consumers like to sit in their own way and in a multitude of positions. This led our product development team to design a model with a wide, cupped back, thus allowing for a range of seating positions – all with our signature comfort, no matter how you sit. 

I think, with its unique aesthetic and also broad appeal, this will be the most exciting launch for us for early 2022.

Taking the new Stressless Sam as an example, is adding extra functions to your models becoming more important?

Ultimately, Stressless wants to be able to offer models which appeal to as many consumers as possible. With the successful launch of Stressless Scott at the end of 2020, we now have real market feedback from consumers that these extra features are important. Consumer feedback has also shown us that the modern aesthetic of these models is a real winner, too.

Are you noticing any particular colour or material trends emerging in your field?

In terms of materials, we will continue to champion the use of leather on our furniture, as it is such a robust material, and works in unison with our ‘built to last’ ethos. 

Material trends are seeing lots of soft fabrics which have a high content of natural fibres, such as wool, rather than something synthetic. 

Top colours remain in the neutral greys and beige, but these are warm and rich rather then the paler variety. We are always on top of the trends in terms of colour – this spring will see a great deal of soft yellow, and we have launched yellow colours in both leather and fabric. The yellows are warm and commercial, and have a great Scandi aesthetic when used in conjunction with oak.

Have you developed any new approaches to working with your retail partners, or additional services to help drive footfall in-store?

As a manufacturer and ultimately a brand, we have to appreciate the role we play as a partner to our customers/consumers. They too have their own set of challenges. Our role has been focused on some core values, such as reliability and honesty –honest enough to admit when we’ve had a setback – but I hope over the last 18 months we have come down on the side of reliability.

Ultimately, it feels like the last 18 months have favoured the brave. We were quick to restart, and have backed our retailers with promotions, footfall drivers and stock, along with ramping up our capacity as quickly as possible.

As a brand we have continued to market ourselves hard, in order to drive footfall and customers in-store. Our activities online have again all been focused on a consistent customer journey. We have at times transacted with our end-consumer, only for our retailers to benefit in the value of the sale.

On that note, how has the Tottenham Court Road store evolved since Furniture News last checked in (see November 2019’s issue)? Is its trading format still working for your stockists?

The brand store’s primary focus remains to inspire and give a good representation of our product within central London. It remains a consumer discovery and marketing initiative, alongside being a great home to host our retailers, launch new products, run training sessions and ultimately engage with our consumers. 

Often, our retailers are sending their customers to the store – we, of course, will give them a lovely time, and then send them back to that retailer to finish the sale. This remains at the centre of our partnership – we are not here to compete, but to support.

Is there anything else in the pipeline this year?

Whilst we have some fantastic new products in the pipeline, with some industry firsts planned for launch this year (more on that to follow), our primary focus remains around reliability and scaling up of production. So, we anticipate the announcement of our new production facility for Stressless. Dining also remains a huge growth sector for us, so plenty of focus here. 

Laurel – James says dining represents a significant growth area for Stressless

We want to do all of this whilst aspiring to be a leading furniture company in terms of sustainability, so everything we do and plan is with that aspect in mind.

Pictured atop story: Stressless Metro

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