Family-run Chris Davidson Carpets marked its 40th anniversary in 2022 though, in some ways, Jo Secular-Hall and her brother Andrew Secular couldn’t have picked a worse time to take over the business.

Having established the company together in 1982, their father, Chris Secular, and his business partner, Malcolm Davidson, had both decided to step down. The latter’s retirement, in March 2020, left half the business up for sale. Jo and Andrew decided to buy it – at the height of the pandemic.

“It was literally two weeks before lockdown, so we were thinking, ‘Oh my Lordy, what have we done?’ but things just happen, don’t they, and you just have to get on with it,” said Jo.

“My dad and Malcolm set the business up 40 years ago. My older brother has been in the business 28 years and took over from my dad when he retired seven years ago. Malcolm didn’t want to retire, so he ran it with him for a further five years, then Malcolm wanted to retire so that’s when I came in. My background wasn’t in carpets whatsoever. I was head of HR for Stobart Group then HR director at Story Homes.”

So what made her decide to join the company? “I knew I would go into it at some point – I just didn’t know when,” said Jo. “I had a number of different roles and some commercial roles when I was at Stobart Group, so I knew I wanted to run a business. It was perfect timing for me to come into the business.”

Even despite the pandemic? “It was one of those bitter-sweet times,” recalled Jo, who confirmed that it brought an upturn in trade. “I think people spent a lot of time working from home, plus what else was there to do apart from do things with their home? For us it was a good opportunity.”

In Cumbria: A recent addition to the business has been Wild Rabbit InteriorsA recent addition to the business has been Wild Rabbit Interiors

Located at English Damside in Carlisle, the showroom is a 12,000 square foot space – estimated to be the largest of its kind in Cumbria – spread over three floors. It started life across the road but has occupied the current unit for 27 years.

“My dad and Malcolm worked together at a business called Daniel Johnson’s – that was a carpet retailer on Lowther Street,” explained Jo. “Then my dad got made redundant as he was the last one in, and that’s when they set up the business.”

With time to reflect during Covid, Jo and Andrew set about transforming it. “I think when you look at something from the outside in you can see things a lot more clearly, so I identified it as an opportunity,” said Jo. “That first lockdown really gave us the opportunity to shape the idea of going into interiors. We’ve got this building – we’re in the right location and we’re not looking at moving – so we thought, ‘What else can we do with the space?’ That’s when we thought, ‘Let’s turn it into a one-stop interiors shop,’ so that’s what we set out to do two years ago.”

In Cumbria: Jo is keen for the business to be seen as a one-stop shopJo is keen for the business to be seen as a one-stop shop

The pair had originally thought to bring in an independent interior designer then, by chance, Jo met Jo Melrose who had set up Wild Rabbit Interiors online. “We were looking for a business that might have just come into the business here but it just all evolved quite quickly, so we co-own Wild Rabbit as well,” said Jo. “Jo wanted to do something together and build it together. We both lived in the same village at the time and we just got talking and it just evolved.”

Having started with a modest range of Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers, the interiors side has mushroomed. “We started off with just a smallish area and we’ve expanded that out to nearly half of the first floor,” said Jo. “Obviously we’ve got Farrow & Ball, so we stock some of the paints and have all the wallpaper books. We do occasional furniture, artwork, handpicked finishing touches, fabrics and wallpapers as well.

“We can do all your soft furnishings – get headboards, cushions and lampshades made – and your curtains and blinds. If somebody has bought a new house or has just moved into a house and wants to do everything, that’s the idea. We’re growing that side more.”

Despite a lack of marketing, Wild Rabbit Interiors has already secured some prestigious work, including the refurbishment of the Crown at Wetheral. “We did a five-star holiday cottage first of all, which was one of our flooring clients,” said Jo. “Then we went straight from that to the Crown Hotel project. We’re now working on another phase for the Crown Hotel. That’s where we’re trying to market ourselves now. That’s the idea – that you come here and get all your flooring, fabrics and finishing touches.”

As joint managing director overseeing a small team, Jo wears several hats, doing “a bit of everything”. “I’d say 60 per cent of the time is Chris Davidson but it depends what we’re working on,” she said. “I would say my main role, as well as running the business with my brother, is the sales side, whether that’s in the showroom or sales development. My brother focuses more on the operational side and estimating but he does sales as well. I haven’t gone and fitted a carpet yet – that might be a stretch too far! I’ve got a payroll business as well, which I co-own with a friend.”

Notwithstanding blood relationships, Jo considers the whole Chris Davidson team as family. With its own fitters, many have longstanding careers with the company. “We have an apprentice fitter and Andrew’s son, my nephew is in the business too,” she said. “He’s part of our fitting team but starting to learn other areas of the business too. Then in the office, Andrew’s brother-in-law works for the business. Also Brian, who joined when my dad set it up, so has a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

The secret of its success? Providing great customer service. As far as Jo is concerned, this can only get better. “We are looking to continue growing the business and just developing the experience that people have,” she said. “It’s all about the customer journey and the customer service you receive from the moment you walk through our door through to after we have fitted your new flooring.”

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