Beds magazine spoke with Nick Williams, sales manager at British bed manufacturer Sweet Dreams to gauge his views on some of the issues affecting the industry, and of course, find out what is in the pipeline for the business going forward.
Thinking back to 1988 some of this editor’s strongest memories involve watching Australian soap Neighbours upon getting home from school; hearing the (somewhat autotuned) sounds of various Stock, Aitken and Waterman acts on the radio; and watching and listening to VHS and cassette tapes. 1988 was also the year of the very first Comic Relief Red Nose Day appeal and it launched Richard and Judy to the nation in the first airing of This Morning.
In Burnley, Lancashire, 1988 was the year that saw the introduction of a new UK manufacturer of headboards and mattresses in the form of Sweet Dreams, and the company is not only still proudly producing these high quality products, but it has expanded significantly in its 29-year history.
Having put away my nostalgic look back at double denim and a bubble perm, I was keen to find out from Sweet Dreams’ sales manager, Nick Williams, why he thinks the company is enjoying such longevity. The answer was quite simple: “Never standing still,” he stated. “We’re always looking to take the company forward, whether that’s in product innovation, in new business strategies, or in our sales and marketing approach. Our flat management structure means we’re flexible and open to trying things out.”
Speaking of new things and we jump in our time travelling Delorian back to 2017, where change is very much at the forefront of most people’s agenda. Article 50 has of course now been triggered and Brexit is (apparently) a future reality, so it is not the easiest time for businesses to plan ahead with any real certainty, as consumers become cautious with their cash, impacting both retailers and in turn, their suppliers.
Nick explained how 2017 has been for the company so far and offered his views: “I’d say it’s not felt over-busy, but then I look at the figures and see we’re holding on last year’s results. And last year was a record-breaking year. We sense a hesitancy and a tightening of disposable income that will make 2017 a challenging year.
“I believe the consumer’s disposable income will be greatly reduced in the coming years, and with ever growing competition from online companies and direct-to-end-user mattress companies, the retailer will be challenged to be competitive as well as maintaining a workable profit margin. The push back to traditional bed manufacturers like ourselves to become more innovative with product and promotions will go a long way to overcoming their challenges.”
Recruit and Retain
And what of the current shortage in skills affecting many areas of furniture manufacture? Will this have an effect on businesses’ abilities to innovate with new products? Perhaps, but not for Sweet Dreams, with its philosophy (and history of) UK manufacture. “Recruiting and retaining people who are skilled and who can train others is a vital part of what we do,” explained Nick. “Providing good working conditions focused on the needs of the local workforce help too. We provide in-house training that maximises the employee’s potential by developing multi-skills to work effectively in different departments of the company.
“The industry is robust and moving forward in a positive way. New innovations and product development seem to be giving a positive vibe in the industry. Online and direct to customer sales are increasing (according to the latest NBF survey). Brexit will inevitably cause fluctuation in the marketplace; however I see this as a transitory period while the UK aligns with new trading partners. Market stability will soon return!”
But while we are admittedly in a period of uncertainty, it is reassuring to know that some things remain, with this year’s January Furniture Show once again bringing in high numbers of visitors and exhibitors alike. Sweet Dreams once again had a stand at the event, and it’s safe to say it was a successful exercise for the company. “We opened several new accounts and wrote some solid business as usual, with our top-end divan collections doing particularly well,” said Nick.
Show and Tell
“The show’s importance for us is to remind our customers and potential new customers about who we are and what we manufacture or supply. New products are launched at the Bed Show in September, which is our most important show. We also strongly support the AIS Trade Shows in April and September and we are excited for this April as we are launching new Dreamworld models at the show. We are additionally pleased to have extra space at the Bed Show in Telford in September where, as always, we will be launching new beds and exciting concepts.”
As well as developing its product range over the years, leading to the extensive portfolio of divans, mattresses, bed frames, bedroom furniture, children’s beds and upholstery in evidence today, investment in production has also been key for the business. In 2013 it invested £2m in an on-site warehouse facility to store products, enabling the provision of express home delivery on many items, whilst 2015 saw the premises expanded further with the purchase of a Victorian mill, which was joined in 2016 by a 70,000 sq foot mill in nearby Nelson - a £1m investment.
I asked Nick what effect such investment had made on the business and why it is clearly such an important consideration. “Despite what we think could be a difficult and challenging trading year,” he said, “we recognise the need for flexibility and scalability in our production and warehousing strategies. We are best placed now to move quickly and react to any market changes.”
And can we expect to see more investment in production for 2017? “Trade secret, sorry!” Nick was able to share, however, how the most recent series of product developments have fared so far in 2017: “In the meantime, it’s terrific to report that our relatively new luxury collections, Royal Pillowtop and Pocket Air, continue to grow in terms of sales, while the Pocket Spring collection, the long-time heart of our divan range, remains an enormous success.”