Some 25 years ago a little furniture shop opened on Upper Street, in Islington, north London. The shop was a favourite with local residents who could always find a quirky gem while having a chat with Tony, the owner. A few years later it merged with its neighbouring space, a vacant shop at the time, like quite a lot of Upper Street in those days.
Eleven years ago Tony sold the business to us. Jason had been managing the shop for Tony, Mark had been busy opening a music venue in Hackney and Kim was working in the City. The temptation of a career and lifestyle change proved irresistible. We now jointly own the shop - and we love it! These days you can often find Kim in a shop talking to customers, Jason working out the logistics of getting new pieces to the shop from workshops all over the world and Mark working with designers on new ranges.
Over the years we have tried to constantly improve the quality and variety of the pieces we offer, along with the service that is offered to our customers. 2008 saw the business open new showrooms in Kingston and Chiswick, enabling us to more easily reach customers in regions west and south of London. It isn’t our intention to become a faceless chain, as we like the personal nature of our business.
Jason and Mark were both born in London, and met at school towards the end of a somewhat truncated education. Jason and Kim are married, and have two young children. We all live in north London.
We inherited a lot of old style pine furniture so we couldn’t wait to find alternatives we liked - well made pieces from solid wood at prices that represented good value. Over the years styles have changed; we now have contemporary Scandinavian, traditional French, antique Chinese and the best of British in a wide range of sustainable woods. Oak, reclaimed & plantation teak, ash, reclaimed elm & walnut are among the most popular. The guiding principle tends to be that we only sell what we like - in fact it has become our mantra! Sometimes we make mistakes but we always learn quickly from our customers and this allows us to constantly upgrade our designs and ideas.
A very high proportion of the furniture we sell has been designed and developed by us or is produced in close cooperation with our suppliers. This does help us ensure we stock what our customers have said they want and gives us a lot of control over quality. This helps because we only want to sell furniture we believe in and can be unflinchingly confident in its sturdiness and workmanship.
Many issues matter to us, beyond the nuts and bolts of running a business. Like how to balance a job with family life or artistic pursuits. How to provide good service without being supercilious. How to feel better about buying & selling things in today’s ‘throw away’ culture. And how to keep knowledgeable staff happy so they won’t leave.
Little things lead to big things. When we pioneered our ethical and environmental rating guide (see the environment section of this website) for all our furniture it gave our customers information but it also raised the stakes in our industry.
When we introduced our creative day (extra day of pay for creative or parenting pursuits), our creative bursaries, flexible hours, sabbaticals bike-to-work schemes and training in distant lands we hoped our colleagues would enjoy working for us, but didn’t realise what a benefit this would bring to our business. We also believe in soft sell (nothing to do with Marc Almond…) rather than hard sell. We see solving a problem (mercifully rare) as an opportunity to prove our service mettle.
It’s simple really - be responsible in the widest definition of the word. We apply social and environmental principles to our business as well as those that are mainly economic. As our business becomes more and more entwined in the global economy we felt we had to address our responsibility within the industry. So we got an environmental audit to look at ways of reducing our footprint. We also made changes to the way we buy new ranges and developed our sustainable procurement policy. We looked at our customer service and introduced everything from two-hour delivery windows to lifetime guarantees.
We see ourselves not just as business people but as fellow citizens, and have responsibilities towards our community and environment just like everyone else.
We aim to sell only responsibly made, sustainable products but it is really hard to tell what’s what. If we can’t find out, then how are customers to know? That’s how the concept of our Environmental Rating System was born. Do the legwork and then give an honest account to our customers.
These days everyone tells you that they are ‘green’. So we go to know. We visit all of our suppliers to see first hand how they make furniture, who makes it, what timber certification they have, etc. We then label every piece of furniture in our shop with our own rating system based on the timber sustainability, the workshop practices and the transportation involved. Each item gets a 1-10 star rating. It is this approach that has had the rather unexpected effect of attracting a number of green accolades including winning Archant London’s Environmental Business of the Year Award in 2008 and achieving 2nd place in 2009 (losing out to the wonderful Arcola Theatre in Hackney).
An interesting side effect of designing ranges ourselves and sourcing directly (to control issues of quality and sustainability) has been the resultant reductions in cost. By cutting out the importer and wholesaler we have been able to offer excellent value to customers.
We aim to be a fully sustainable business selling only responsibly made, sustainable products. Our existing suppliers have demonstrated their commitment by entering into a phased methodology which proves they are progressing to ever more sustainable sourcing and practices. Some suppliers that could not provide this commitment have with regret become ex-suppliers (including the makers of our previously best selling range). New furniture suppliers must conform to our purchasing policy.
We have talked a lot about our principles and commitment to good service, but ultimately it is for our customers to decide if it is true! So do give us feedback, positive or negative, as it helps shape our future plans for the business, or at least make us shape up if we get something wrong!
Kim, Mark & Jason