In January, Willis & Gambier’s owner Samson Holding announced its withdrawal from the UK market, leaving the fate of the brand uncertain – until Midlands-based supplier Birlea Furniture acquired it this summer. Furniture News spoke to David Lane – formerly the brand’s commercial director under Samson, now trading director with Birlea – about continuity, product, and his ambitions.
What attracted Birlea to Willis & Gambier?
The timing was fortunate. The Birlea business, whose offer sits in the medium-to-premium marketplace, has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and we’ve always personally admired and respected the Willis & Gambier brand – so the acquisition fitted perfectly into the business’ strategy.
What place does the brand have in today’s trade?
The Willis & Gambier brand stands for trust, heritage, quality design and innovation. In a trade supported by an ever-increasing online sales platform, these attributes are increasingly coveted and admired, day by day.
How closely are you working with its established framework?
Willis & Gambier’s centre of operations has changed from Peterborough to Castle Donington in Derbyshire. The IP rights have also been retained as part of the purchase, so the established Willis & Gambier ranges will play a key part in the business’ future.
We’re already trading with several existing customers, and look forward to re-establishing relationships with the customer base at this season’s trade shows.
What are your short- and long-term aims for the brand?
In the short term, stabilise the brand following the change in ownership. In the long term we want to get the brand back to where it should be in the marketplace.
How do you plan to ensure continuity?
As part of the purchase we have taken some of the UK and Asia stocks. The supply chain has been re-established, and we expect the core ranges to be back in stock this autumn. We have been trading since the switch over, in order to minimise the time spent away from the marketplace.
Which collections will be maintained?
Initially, the core Willis & Gambier ranges will be maintained and will be in stock this autumn, with additional existing ranges brought back by the spring. New product development is under way, and will be unveiled in the new year.
Are there plans to offer any of them through third-parties?
Birlea Furniture has acquired all the IP rights for the Willis & Gambier and Originals collections, and therefore retains its right to market and sell the product as it sees fit.
Can you comment on rumours of poor product quality and difficulties in transferring stock towards the end of Samson’s ownership period?
Inevitably, there were challenges as Samson Holdings shut down its Peterborough operations, but at Birlea we prefer to look forward and not back. In doing so, we will focus on product design, the quality of our offer, service, and our social responsibility to sustainability.
Can you reveal anything about new design directions?
Willis & Gambier’s place in the marketplace centres around innovative classic design and innovative design classics. We know what our customers expect from Willis & Gambier, and we intend to get back to being very good at delivering product in those areas.
Where can the trade find out more?
We exhibited at the AIS Bed Show last month, and in October we’ll be coming to the Autumn Furniture Show in Stoneleigh, and the Independent Hotel Show at London’s Olympia, so it’s a busy few weeks!
We will also be more active across all the social media platforms, and will keep Furniture News’ readers up to date with our plans (and opportunities) going forward.
Source: Furniture News