Julian Randall says product, service and relationships with suppliers and staffs are vital to retailing success
It was only four years’ ago; the directors of Sussex-based independent builders’ merchant Stamco approached Julian Randall to set up a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom showroom. As part of a one-stop shop for housebuild from groundwork to interior fitments, Inspired Home Interiors was born. Julian Randall comments: “We’ve gone from just Aaron [Aaron Miles, bedroom design consultant] and I, to 20 staff and we’re still growing.”
Its growth is also reflected in the sales figures. Having achieved a turnover of £750,000 in its first year, Inspired Home Interiors is set to record £3.7million this year, with a record month in March, reported at £419,00. Certainly the issue of Brexit doesn’t seem to have affected Inspired Home Interiors, but Julian admits: “We are in a fortunate position where we are in the South East corner [of England]. We are 65 miles from London and there is a lot of money in the South East of London, so we do see the benefits of that.”
Retail and trade
With a mix of trade and retail customers, approximately a 50:50 split, the co-location of the business on the acre site of Stamco, helps attract the building/developer side. Julian comments about the Stamco business: “They’ve got 10,000 account customers, 8,000 of those would be active day-to-day. We can already deal with those all the time.” But based on an industrial estate, opposite a discount warehouse, and with a natural cut-through to the town, it also has a good flow of potential retail customers. Julian explains the warehouse has 9,000 people visiting it each week.
But that’s not to say the company hasn’t invested in marketing too, as the company has around 30 competitive businesses from independent showrooms, through to merchants and tile shops. So, to celebrate the launch of Inspired Home Interiors, the company sponsored the Airbourne show and it advertises in local newspapers and most recently Facebook. In fact Julian reports: “We’ve made the decision to cut the newspaper advertising down by half and use that money on Facebook and it does work for us. We found it really, really positive.”
Predominately Inspired Homes Interiors sells kitchens, in both volume and value sales terms. The business is solus Symphony and features the Laura Ashley brand. “We had a fantastic uptake of people asking for it”, says Julian. And speaking about the choice of supplier, Julian says: I can look back and say it was the best decision ever made. We would not be in the position we are now if we hadn’t chosen Symphony. And he simply cites the reasons as being the service the company offers, the quality of its products and the support he has received.
So it’s surprising that Symphony wasn’t going to be the first choice for kitchen furniture, as he was going to opt for an independent furniture manufacturer in Eastbourne. But Julian exclaims historically Symphony were “shambolic”, which had tainted his view. Although the company had decided to use the company for its bedroom furniture, it had still decided to steer away from the kitchens. However, after an invitation to its Leeds headquarters, within an hour, Julian decided to use Symphony. He explains what changed his mind: “I knew them of old when they didn’t have the factory and the marketing suite in Barnsley. I knew them when they were in Sheffield and they were terrible. Martyn Davies [the group director of Symphony], made a massive effort to be at the meeting, which we found really good, with [retail national business director] Rob Williamson, and [marketing director] Simon Collyns and they basically said ‘we will help you grow your business, if you can believe in what we do. We’re not Symphony of old’. He continues: “You could see that. You’ve only got to see by the offices and the marketing suite.” And he exclaims: “They trust in us. We trust in them. You can’t speak highly enough of a supplier to support what we have tried to do here. It’s a partnership.”
And the same solus philosophy has been applied to the choice of appliances, with the showroom dedicated to Bosch, Siemens and Neff appliances. Although the company started out selling De Dietrich and Fagor appliances, following their subsequent departure from the UK, Julian sought out BSH. “We had to jump through quite a lot of hoops and give the showroom completely up to them and we did.” However, he says this has been beneficial for buying terms, enabling him to compete with online appliance websites: “Once we’ve done a quote, very rarely do we lose it to AO online or anything like that. They have given us a fantastic pricing structure.” And even during a sticky moment with supply, Julian says he never regretted the decision of being a solus BSH appliances: “We never lost a sale. We started with Bosch about two years’ ago now. Within 7 months we spend £55,000 with them. We were their biggest new showroom. Last year we spend £284,000 with them and this year we’ll probably do somewhere between £300,000-£400,000”, as not only are more appliances now going into kitchens but the company has just supplied 106 sets of Siemens appliances to a development in London’s Docklands. However, Julian expresses his gratitude of support from BSH, stating: “They’ve helped us with imagery on the building and branding inside the showroom, as well as supplying Neff chefs.”
Bathrooms and bedrooms
Although 70% of its business is kitchen sales, Inspired Home Interiors does sell bathrooms and bedrooms too. Although Julian explains, it’s because the company doesn’t have as much experience in bathrooms. But having taken on Duravit, alongside Laufen, Dansani and Laura Ashley Bathrooms, he is setting into plan a training programme. Julian expresses it was difficult to attract Duravit as the company was already supplying a retailer in Eastbourne, but following the demise of that business he encouraged the bathroom supplier as “we were talking to a large developer up the coast, where his architect would only specify Duravit, so we went back to Duravit and said we need you to come to the showroom, see what we’re about. The worst problem we have is people perceive us to be a builder’s merchant.”
And to increase its sales in bedrooms, the Eastbourne showroom is expanding onto a mezzanine floor, adding 1,000sqft to its existing 2,500sqft premises of Laura Ashley Bedrooms. Julian adds the official opening of the mezzanine will be September, “even though it will be open a long time before that, which ties in with our four year birthday. “
Adding to showrooms
It’s not only Eastbourne which is scaling up in size, Home Inspired Interiors has sights on opening more showrooms following the recent launch of its Shoreham-by-sea studio, with the next potential in neighbouring Bexhill. Julian comments: “The place that we’ve identified in Bexhill is big enough because it’s about 6,000sqft. It’s big enough to have a trade counter in, a showroom and have some storage facilities behind it to have some stock we need. Because we have a contract we supply one of the local authorities with, we could have 24 kitchens here at any one time, plus appliances, plus tile orders, plus trade and retail customer orders.”
He continues, explaining that Home Inspired Interiors does not necessarily have to be co-located with Stamco, alluding to the possibility of two further locations as he states: “If we find a building big enough to put a showroom in, then we’ll put a showroom in. However, if we can’t, we will do it as a standalone. Potentially the same thing could happen in Tunbridge Wells and Rye. But the Rye one we looked at is the building right next door to Stamco, so it will work hand-in-hand.
And to support the growth of branches, the company has invested in staff and has already taken on its first apprentice. “We are looking to take another one on and they will come in as trainees into the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom department.” The apprentices will also go to college to take business studies, while they are trained internally in the workings of Inspired Home Interiors. And he cites the support from the parent company in being instrumental in the growth of the kitchen, bedroom and baghroom business.
Of course, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for Inspired Home Interiors and Julian cites that price-driven merchants can erode margins: “We get lots of people come in and say ‘can you beat that price?’. What we say is ‘really sorry but we can’t but what we can do is price you something similar, we’ll give you the best discount we can, first time, but you will get a door-on, delivered to site product.” And he expresses the importance of meeting the client’s budget with “best price first time”. Julian adds: “There’s always a bit of wiggle room, of course there is. One thing is always trying to say to the customer, we’re not doing it for nothing. We are in it to make profit and don’t be scared of it. We’re now pushing that margin to re-invest because we want Stamco to invest the money we’re making.”
Is the business where he thought it would be? The answer in short is “No”. Julian expands: “I didn’t think we would be doing this amount of turnover. Saying that, if we expand at the rate we currently are and we add two more outlets, I think within three years, we could be doing £10million a year.” He concludes that the support from the directors of parent company Stamco has been and continue to be instrumental in its success “We are fortunate that the directors see the growth in the business. It does make a difference to the Stamco business as a whole. It adds value. It adds people coming into the door.”