Heal’s is arguably the oldest existing furniture retailer in the UK, but it is investing in very modern processes to help secure its future as a department store trader of high-end homewares.
Founded in 1810 as a feather & mattress business, the firm developed into selling furniture in the years that followed and was once part of Terence Conran’s Storehouse group of businesses in the 1980s.
Now having been under the ownership of Fortnum & Mason’s parent company Wittington Investments, which is part of Associated British Foods, for the last decade, the six-store retailer is aiming for growth through multichannel development and by keeping up with the latest fashion trends.
In recent years designers such as Orla Kiely have been brought on board to help develop homeware ranges with a difference and take the business back to its design roots, and rising stars such the aforementioned Irish creative have helped give Heal’s a distinguishing edge in the market.
And just last week the company launched its first mobile commerce website, adding to its burgeoning online operation which now accounts for 22 per cent of total annual sales, and this new platform for trading will be utilised further in the coming year.
Andrea Warden, who joined as CEO of the business in 2004, has gradually overseen the development of Heal’s to the modern operation it now is, and she sees the majority of the company’s growth coming from web development and social commerce in the imminent future.
“You would think that for a company like us Twitter and the like wouldn’t be relevant but we are doing lots of things in terms of trends, which helps drive followers,” she explained to Retail Gazette.
“For me, it is about utilising social media and other channels. We’re not just a shop that sells furniture, we’re interested in design and innovation and things in a bigger way.”
Like the majority of retailers, Warden also believes that m-commerce is going to be “huge” in the years ahead, and she expects mobile and tablet devices to become increasingly important to her company’s overall offer.
Already 12 per cent of people who access the Heal’s website do so via one of these devices, and the CEO “can only see that quantum leaping” following the recent launch of the fully transactional m-commerce platform.
But while online and multichannel development remains a key focus for Heal’s, stores have not been neglected.
In-store kiosks have been introduced, including at its 42,000 sq ft flagship on London’s Tottenham Court Road, providing sales assistants with another opportunity to ensure customers do not leave Heal’s without having made a purchase.
This linking together of all retail channels is hugely important to any retail company; be it for boosting sales, increasing brand presence or, evidently, preventing divisions forming within an individual organisation.
Warden said: “Initially we had stores saying that ‘we do all the work and then the online rob the sale’, but now we spend a lot of time saying that it can work just the same – if not better – the other way round.”
Commenting on the usefulness of in-store kiosks, which some analysts cannot yet fully understand, she added: “Obviously I would like people to clinch a sale there and then rather than send people home in the hope they will make a purchase online later.”
Warden also has an interesting take on what makes an ideal property location for homewares retailers, and she has not ruled out adding to the six UK stores currently operated by the company in London, Guildford, Brighton, Kingston and Redbrick Mill.
The latter is situated in an old mill in West Yorkshire, and the CEO believes the design could provide a blueprint for other furniture & furnishings specialists looking to maximise sal