“We’ve made good progression, but we’re far from done yet”
says Dan Oscroft, who was recently promoted to Sales Director at Whitemeadow Furniture following the long-planned retirement of Paul Wesson earlier this year.
The Sutton In Ashfield, Nottinghamshire company has been growing consistently in recent years, and it is testimony to its success that it will have taken a global pandemic to put that long run of growth under threat.
“Over the past 3-4 years our consistency and persistence has paid dividend for us,” says Dan. “We have been able to inspire our customers with the right type of product, at the right time.”
But it has not happened by chance, he adds.
“If you look at the handwriting of our designs, you might attribute us to a trend led, yet commercially minded manufacturer. We've steered away — in the main — from some of the more traditional ranges, focussing our efforts on growth markets.
“With the housing market booming throughout 2017 and 2018 a lot of new developments were bought by first time buyers, people who might have been shopping for a sofa for the first time, or those making the step up to a larger property, and I’d like to think our type of product caters to that customer perfectly. It has been a combination of the right product at the right time and years of persistence to hit that sweet spot.
Exhibiting at the NEC for the January Furniture Show for the past six years has also played its part. Before then, Whitemeadow was an under-the-radar maker of upholstery for a select few of Britain’s sofa retailers.
Those customers remain key clients, bearing witness to the excellence of Whitemeadow’s products and service, but the business is now far wider known and spread across not just a broader range of retailers, but different categories too.
Upholstered beds are now a significant part of the business, says Dan, with the January Furniture Show a key driver in making that happen.
“Many bed category buyers operate independently to the upholstery buyers. The show has enabled us to talk to new people in a totally separate product category, so that has been a significant breakthrough for us.”
It has also given oxygen to ventures such as its greater engagement with brands. For example, people now know it is the manufacturing partner to the Orla Kiely upholstered furniture offer.
People understand where Whitemeadow sits in the market, aided by it becoming a staple fixture in Hall 1 of the industry’s leading furniture exhibition.
“The show is our chance to really inspire. All our key group and independent customers come to the event looking for inspiration and to see who's doing what. It is an opportunity to demonstrate who is the most forward-thinking, commercial and most innovative in terms of their products.”
At the January Furniture Show, the new eco-sofa, the Neptune, was both a conversation starter and a barometer of where the business is headed.
“Part of the draw is that it’s a great product and we hope to sell plenty, but just as important is what it says about our company ambitions moving forwards. It is not something that we plan to do once and then it goes away, this is the start of something far bigger for our industry.”
“It is our ambition as a business to be a more sustainable supplier.
That one product, the Neptune, opened up so many conversations with group and independent customers. Where can we go next with this sustainable route? There are many opportunities, and it has generated wider discussion with our supply chain, with us challenging them on more sustainable solutions to common upholstery components.”
It is, then, Whitemeadow’s showcase of not just what it is doing, but what it plans to do. “The show always triggers thought provoking ideas, we really value the feedback we get from our customers, ultimately it is they who understand the end consumer best. We always hope that they recognise an opportunity in our designs, commit to them for their shop floor and backed by our broad fabric offering, hopefully have great success.”
The pandemic has also further focussed minds.
“We've completely reimagined what we are doing as it has given us a chance to review all existing developments.
We've dropped a few, and where we have some real key relationships with customers, we've pushed our development forward.
“We have had two of our designers working the whole time throughout the lockdown period, and we have managed to do an awful lot in terms of new designs and new concepts. From a creative standpoint, it has given us some breathing space, and a real opportunity to break from the regular day-to-day and drive forward innovation.”
Expect to see more of that come January 2021.