Sofa, so good for furniture store bucking the trend
Published at 14:11, Tuesday, 15 May 2012
WHILE the furniture giants of the high street are looking distinctly frayed around the edges and are buckling under the weight of the economic crisis, a startling success story crafted in time-honoured fashion is coming to the fore.
The stack it high and sell it cheap approach of the 90s might have left businesses like Carlisle’s Donaldsons Furniture Store looking distinctly old-fashioned, but as national firms have floundered, bosses at this family-run firm are looking at a bright future.
Earlier this year, Donaldsons unveiled an expansion at its Lonsdale Street store as it continues to grow despite the crisis engulfing Britain’s high streets.
The firm has taken over the premises vacated by gift store Alternative at its Kennedy Centre headquarters to create a new carpets and flooring section.
Two new employees have also been taken on to help drive the expansion.
The move comes despite a dramatic fall-off in sales of so-called ‘big ticket’ items, which has forced a string of furniture and DIY chains to the wall.
Giles Vasey, the third generation of his family to run Donaldsons, said its traditional values had helped it survive and prosper.
“Times are tough, but if you give people what they want – quality and service – you can still do well,” he said. “With furniture, people want things which are unique – they don’t want their next-door neighbour to have the same suite as them.
“When we buy a picture, for instance, we only stock two or three, so those that do buy it are getting something personal to them.
“With the big chains, I don’t think they always understand what people are after in somewhere like Carlisle.
“We go to the furniture shows and some of the things they are pushing, you just wouldn’t sell here.
“One of our advantages is that we can react to the local market and concentrate on the things we are confident people will like.
“The key thing for us is the atmosphere we create in the shop – there’s nothing worse than an over-aggressive sales assistant leaping on you when you walk through the door.
“We like to give people time to browse – if they are after a bed we just send them upstairs for as long as they want.”
Alternative, which has moved to Carlisle city centre, was previously based in between Donaldsons’ two showrooms, so the expansion has enabled it to fill the gap.
There are also plans for a new lighting section.
Mr Vasey added: “We had a number of inquiries about the space, but we felt it was a great opportunity for us to expand and complete the shop-front.
“It has also allowed us to widen the range of stock we can hold.”
Donaldsons was launched by Mr Vasey’s grandfather in the 1940s.
His father, Peter, who farms at Wetheral, is still involved with the company.
“I think being a family business has helped us,” said Mr Vasey.
“We have a huge number of repeat customers. People coming back again and again to buy new suites, which I think proves the quality of our customer service.
“Everyone is saying 2012 is going to be a tough year but there are people out there with money to spend. You just have to be the company that runs the fastest in the race to attract them.”
Ironically, another landmark Carlisle family-run furniture store which enjoyed one of the most prominent positions in the city centre has fallen victim to dropping sales.
Bosses at Chapmans Furniture in Carlisle announced in March that the store would close for the final time in September.
The firm has opted not to renew its lease on its prominent Victoria Viaduct shop, in a move which will eventually see 20 people lose their jobs.
The company is also closing its Newcastle store, bringing to an end a retail business that can trace its roots back to 1847.
Having survived two world wars and countless recessions, the company fell victim to the prolonged economic downturn.
In an orderly and considered fashion becoming of their long-standing status, bosses stressed that theirs would be an “orderly closure” with a closing down sale beginning at the end of May.
Managing director John Chapman, the fifth generation of his family to run the business, said: “The closure is a very sad and a very emotional outcome.
“However, given all the circumstances, we feel it is in the best interests of all involved. The reason for closing is that, with our leases expiring, we have researched and considered the huge additional costs we would incur, together with the fact that the current tough trading conditions look set to continue for some considerable time to come.
“Sadly it is just not sound business sense for us to try to continue trading.
“We have therefore embarked on the process towards an orderly closure of the business, rather than a protracted period of uncertainty, which I am confident is in the best interests of everyone involved,” added Mr Chapman.
“Every business has a beginning, a middle and an end and now is the time for us to accept that our business has come to an end within this natural cycle.
“Customers can rest assured that every order placed from now and up to the end of our sale at the end of May, will be serviced and delivered with the same high standards that everyone has come to expect from us over so many years.”
Civic and business leaders have been quick to call for urgent action to fill the premises, which stands next to the vacant Central Plaza hotel, itself the subject of much debate and rumour.
Carlisle City Council leader Mike Mitchelson says talks have taken place between council officials and a hotels operator interested in buying the building and turning it into a four-star hotel.
Published by http://www.in-cumbria.com
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