Specialist seating suppliers stand out in tough times

As manufacturers feel the squeeze of rising costs caused by the international demand for resources, a weakening pound and economic uncertainty, a number of specialist seating firms are seeing significant growth. THIIS explores how some custom seating companies are realising success in demanding market conditions.

With slow economic growth forecast, the cost of living for consumers rising and a weakening pound causing overheads to increase, seating manufacturers are facing various challenges in the near future.

Lisa Wardley, Managing Director of Birmingham-based Repose Furniture, told us of some the unique challenges that exist within the sector.

"Uncertainty never helps and the volatility of the pound against the euro has certainly had an impact on our parts suppliers and their costs as many of them trade across Europe. Currently, we have not had to make any major changes to our pricing structure as a result of this uncertainty, but everyone in the industry is watching matters closely as this could have a major impact over the next 24 months,” she said.

"However, one of the major impacts on our supply chain over the past 12 months and which is continuing is the impact of globalisation on the availability of resources. Some of the major countries, such as China and Russia, are placing high demand on timber and chemicals used in foams, forcing price rises in both timber and foam. As with Brexit, we have been able to absorb much of the cost increases but continue to monitor the situation.”

With various pressures facing companies in the sector, some manufacturers are going above and beyond to develop closer relationships with their dealer networks, understanding that retailers play a fundamental role in their commercial success.

Currently selling through a network of more than 200 retailers, Repose Furniture has been engaging and supporting its dealers with its retailer support programme throughout 2017.

The campaign has seen Repose offering its retailers special offers and deals each month, with discounts on floor models and heat systems to free chair ‘care-kits’. The company has also released new literature, an essential marketing tool for retailers.

"We have offered our retailers a special discount every month in 2017 and the response to this initiative has been extremely positive. Our dealers are at the very heart of our success and we understand the need to continue to build extremely close partnership relationships with them,” commented Lisa.

One manufacturer that has reported positive commercial results in the tough climate is High Wycombe-based AJ Way. The seating specialists recently announced that the company has seen its half-year sales of made to order and bespoke Riser Recliner armchairs grow by over 18% compared to that of last year.

Tony Mercer, Managing Director of AJ Way, explained that whilst an increased desire to buy British had played a role, it was the way the company worked with its dealers that made the real difference.

" AJ Way has so much more to offer than its strong pedigree, although this undoubtedly has had an influence in fuelling our growth,” he said.

"Returning to having a dedicated dealer sales team has had a positive impact. We are always on the lookout for ways of improving our partners’ experience. We have launched next day despatch for selected domestic and healthcare products and we have re-launches planned for a number of products, supported by new marketing collateral all coming through the pipeline as the year progresses.”

Part of the new marketing collateral includes double-sided posters that cleverly gives dealers flexibility on how to use them. Featuring a different design on each side, the dealer has the choice of using the posters landscape or portrait to fit with the space available to them. Additionally, the poster’s message can be tailored by the dealer to focus on either the benefits of bespoke seating or the various AJ Way chairs available to their customers.

"We are developing many types of point of sale materials to support the products and highlight the benefits of our products, such as bespoke Riser Recliners to the customer in the shop. This supports our quest to deliver versatile solutions that will meet the varying needs of our dealer network. We have found that business development meetings are an important ingredient to help us understand dealers’ requirements and goals and then offer tailor-made support to help our customers achieve their objectives,” explained Tony.

This attention to marketing collateral that takes retailers goals into account is sure to be celebrated by retailers’ eager to get their hands on more point of sale materials.

Speaking with retailers’ Chris Cox of Cinque Ports Mobility and John Payne of Kent Mobility in April this year, both stressed the need for up-to-date marketing literature and point-of-sale materials in order to sell effectively.

"For manufacturers that don’t provide a lot of details on a product, it actually gives the impression that they are not certain of their products… the knock-on effect is it makes us less likely to show and recommend it to our customers,” explained John.

Aware of this need for dealers to have up-to-date literature to accompany the new products, Primacare has also released a new brochure to accompany a new range of chairs launched.

David Tomlin, the company’s Managing Director, stated the company has enjoyed record levels of business and growth in the sector, resulting in the company expanding its range.

"We have developed new ranges of chairs, including the Affinity, Alpha, Adelphi and Broadway, in response to an ever-increasing demand for more specialist seating. They all can use our new high-risk pressure management cushions, including our gel and air comfort options,” he commented.

"Our new 85-page specialist seating brochure is also available and later in the year we have a series of six local shows around the country for dealers to see the new ranges.”

As well as expanding the range and running shows with dealers, the South Wales-based seating specialist unveiled a new website in September and set up a Facebook page to help raise the company’s social media presence.

With tougher times possibly on the horizon, it is the manufacturers striving to develop closer relationships and go the extra mile in the support they offer their networks that seem to be finding the most success in the sector.