At the close of part two we’d established that design practices often stop hiring once they have reached a certain ratio (ar kid) to maintain their design language and quality control. Furniture companies seem to have their sights set on different goals, however. And who better to pick this up than Matt Welsh of British furniture Co Naughtone who, after a decade of solid growth are now going global…
I ask Matt to talk us through their journey to date.
“As a small to medium sized, fast moving furniture manufacturer, the ability to change direction and respond to market and client requirements has been the foundation on which we built naughtone. However, the market is changing.”
“This is what an office looks like now!”
“We’ve seen a real shift in the type of business that is interested in a warmer, more eclectic, domestic style in their environment. ” Yes indeed I think to myself – thinking back to a previous article on Furniture Strategist No Place Like Workplace. Ahem, sorry Matt, carry on…
“More traditional businesses like Law Firms and Financial Institutions are following the lead of the forward thinking, flexible businesses and are creating softer, less system furniture orientated spaces.” Matt continues, “So, this trend isn’t just for the Tech Start-ups and Marketing Agencies anymore, this is what an office looks like now!”
Very true. Everyone wants to look like a start up. Big businesses want to appear more approachable to their consumer base. People like local, craft and casual in an increasingly corporate and globalised world.
So having heard about naughtone’s success on the other side of the pond I ask Matt to walk us through it.
“We launched into the US 2 ½ years ago and saw instantaneous success.” explains Matt, “This gave us the confidence to push forwards. The US is highly service orientated, so it became apparent that to really become a significant business over there we would need to start to product our furniture in North America.”
‘So how did you develop this opportunity?’ I ask.
“A plan was hatched. We decided to explore the opportunities a partnership with a major manufacturer might offer us. We’ve always admired Herman Miller and felt that, like us, design was at the very heart of their business.”
But how did it come about? Did you just walk on to the Herman Miller stand and say ‘Hi guys, check out our cool British brand?’
“The initial contact came from a cheeky message from myself to Brian Walker (CEO) of Herman Miller via LinkedIn! Things escalated quickly as it became apparent they were also exploring opportunities in our sector. Once we met the synergies became very obvious.” Now there’s a lesson in northern sales tactics for you. Lesson one: Thee don’t ask, thee don’t get.
Matt continues, “In June 2016 we entered into a “Strategic Partnership” with Herman Miller, this probably sounds a bit woolly?” Whoa there. They’ve already got you speaking ‘that commercial speak’ Matt. Strategic partnership..?
“Basically Herman Miller have invested into naughtone and are providing us with assistance in growing our business globally. We start production in North America in October, with Asia following shortly after. This means we can provide much better support for our clients, particularly on an International level.”
So Herman Miller provide the network, experience and infrastructure to take naughtone to the next level and beyond. ‘Is there any danger of brand dilution?’ I ponder, having watched the brand steadily grow over the last decade.
“We’re still running the business and defining the creative direction, but we have a support network to enable us to do it on a Global scale.” says Matt, ” In essence, this deal enables us to continue to grow, but also to retain the character and personality that many of our clients have grown to love.”
Well, there’s no two ways about it. This is a furniture start up’s ambition crystallised. Full access to the support, network, business acumen and kudos of a Global leader in furniture, yet still retaining creative direction. Could this be furniture brand utopia? It’s great to see a British start up we’ve watched grow up (to the ripe old age of 10) now hit the global stage. Congratulations to Matt, Kieron and Mark and may your new partnership bear lots of fruit. Strategically of course…
Thanks for reading and thanks to all participants in this mini-series:
Roger Stephenson OBE of Stephenson Studio
Paul de Zwart of Another Country
Simon Millington, Interior Designer
Matt Welsh of Naughtone.