Furniture business goes against the grain
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“Covid-19 has impacted our sales”, “We’ve had to reduce staff as a result of the pandemic”, “2020 has been unprecedented”, these are all statements I’ve heard this year.
However, during a recent interview with Simon Bodsworth, managing director of bespoke furniture company Daval, I heard something unexpected.
“We did have to let some people go because we were planning on the unknown. But thankfully we’ve actually taken them back on.”
It’s not that businesses haven’t been keen to talk about re-employing staff, but in a number of cases they haven’t been able to return their headcount to pre-March levels.
Daval was founded in 1978 by David Bodsworth and his wife Alyson, starting as a small shop in Milnsbridge, Huddersfield. Now run by the pair’s three sons, Simon, Paul and James, the business has grown into premises in Slaithwaite, which includes a factory where all the furniture is made, offices and a showroom.
Through our discussion it feels as though Daval’s story is one that goes against the grain. Bodsworth explains that despite the uncertainty that started the year, including it furloughing 97% of staff at one point and having to let some go, the business is benefitting from a long term change in consumer behaviour.
“People are starting to understand how to access the element of personalisation and spending more time seeking out British brands.
“It’s been coming for quite a number of years. It’s grown and grown but the difference we’ve seen from the last couple of years to this year is that people are now also considering their impact on the environment and looking at ways that they can be more sustainable through what they purchase.”
Bodsworth adds that lockdown has also provided the business with growth opportunities and that he believes these will only continue.
“I think people are looking at investing in their homes this year and that they’ll continue to do that through next year as there’s been a realisation that [the home] is a sanctuary. But looking further ahead, the one thing people can’t do right now is entertain, having friends and family round – and that’s something people need and they miss that connection. So from a furniture and business perspective we believe this will benefit us next year.”
He also explains that in previous economic downturns bedrooms are normally one of the first markets to go as they’re considered a luxury item. But this year Daval has grown its revenue from bedrooms by 10%, which he puts down to the need for “multifunctional space” which may be that a bedroom also has to be a home office.
In fact, the business has started it’s 20/21 financial year healthily with around 15% growth where they expected to be. For Bodsworth the big difference this year is that they’ve a lot more forward orders than normally. The result of this forward planning is the business is actually continuing to grow its head count and also looking to develop its service end of the business.
It’s this development that has been impacted by Covid-19. Bodsworth explains: “Because our customers can’t visit all the showrooms nationwide” – a fact which early on in the pandemic did hamper business – “we’re putting more emphasis on the support we offer centrally. So we can pull apart people’s plans and elevations and support digitally.”
Like many businesses the MD explains the pandemic has accelerated its digitialisation, he explains the manufacturing side has always been digitally orientated but it is the digital connection with consumers that has improved and as a result made the business more agile.
However, Bodsworth also shares that for him communication has had other benefits.
“Every morning we have a team huddle and the aim is to put people in a positive mindset and show everyone that their hard work and effort and graft is paying off and to see that pattern. Because being honest there’s a lot of things that aren’t great right now and if you concentrate on that your mindset goes to ‘things aren’t going well’. So we’re focusing on despite all this going on we’re pushing forward, and if it goes wrong we fail fast and learn from it.”
As our Zoom call draws to an end we discuss the other challenge facing many businesses sustainability, something Bodsworth says is benefitting them from a consumer point of view.
“[Sustainability] is a really important part of our brand anyway. My father introduced the nightingale as part of our logo in 1992 to demonstrate that we will sourcing from sustainable forestry and suppliers which have the right values and ethics that we do as a family.
“Now moving forward when as it has become a lot more prevalent and people understand the concept more, it’s things that we’ve already done but we can now bring to the fore.”
In fact the business’ commitment to sustainability saw it launch its first 100% recycled collection in March and as Bodsworth puts it “we had hundreds of interior designers, specifiers, developers and independent retailers telling us ‘now is the time’.” He adds that perhaps before you had to pick sustainable values vs style but now why not have both.
Ultimately it appears that despite the challenges facing businesses and manufacturers this year Daval is not only well placed to grow but under good stewardship from Bodsworth and his brothers who from talking to them clearly feel a sense of responsibility to protect the business, industry and environment for future generations.