My favourite success stories to read and favourite brands to give my custom to are the ones that are equally honest about their struggles and they are about their triumphs.
With five showrooms across the UK housing extensive stock and collections designed by icons of the industry like Terence Conran, you’d be hard pushed to imagine that decade old luxury sofa brand Darlings of Chelsea [founded by the charmingly named John Darling] is run much like a family business and took all of its employees from a future failed business venture to a new roaringly successful one.
Today the instantly likeable and hardworking John Darling tells us about what it takes to build a business like Darlings of Chelsea.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is John Darling and I live in Clapham with my Irish wife. I grew up on a pig farm in North Yorkshire and have a degree in Business Management from Newcastle University. I moved to London to work for the search engine Excite. After 18 months in my first job in London, Excite closed down and we were all made redundant. I then spent six months working in affiliate marketing before starting my first business a property finding service for people looking to buy a holiday home in Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Turkey.
I set up an office in my brother’s spare room and worked alone for a year while the business got off the ground. Business went really well for five years with a small team of five people and in some months we were selling ten properties a month. However with the crash in 2008 I decided to close the business and focus on Darlings of Chelsea which I had started two years previously. All staff members transferred across to Darlings and some are still with me today.
Why did you decide to start the business? Who runs the company with you?
I actually ordered some sofas for my flat and after four months they still had not arrived. Once they finally arrived they were damaged and I was told it would be another 4 months while they ordered the new ones! They told me they were coming from China. It got me thinking about using UK manufacturers and delivering in 4 weeks. I found a small factory in the North of England, set up a website and received my first order 2 days after launching.
I have been running the company myself for ten years but recently appointed a Chief Operating Officer (Daniel) who is helping with many areas of responsibility.
What was your vision for Darlings of Chelsea?
Right from the start I wanted Darlings of Chelsea to sell a higher quality and more unique product than somewhere like DFS but still be great value. My vision was to become a brand known for UK made, stylish sofas, delivered within five weeks with great shops and a great website.
Tell us about your set up, what are the logistics of a business such as yours.
The business has grown to five shops with 29 staff members. Most of our sofas are made to order so we have about £500,000 worth of sofas in the stores that enable customers to view. In store we have over 100 leathers and 300 fabrics to choose from so a customer can create their own unique sofa. We deliver 6 days a week with a 2 hour time slot and we can take away your old sofa.
Describe a day in your work life.
In the morning I spend an hour going through emails before checking the sales figures in each store. I might then look at some potential new suppliers, new advertising channels and assess previous campaigns. Then I will be paying some invoices, running interviews if we are hiring or maybe drive to one of the stores to meet with the staff and look around.
How do you plan your collections? Where are your products made?
We look at the latest trends and try to adapt accordingly. We have noticed fabric is becoming more and more popular so we are stocking more fabric sofas online and in store. We have such a wide offering so if we feel we are missing a certain style or price point we will either design it in house or look for outside suppliers to fill the gap. We also ask our customers in store and ask the staff to tell us what the customers are seeking.
Tell us about some new designs?
Our Darwin sofa is a modern design with a wooden plinth on the base. Hand made in the UK, solid beech frame that is glued, screwed and dowelled. Over 100 fabrics to choose from with a beautifully comfortable foam core and fibre wrap cushion.
Our Galloway is a scatter back corner sofa. Hand made in the UK and each scatter is filled with sumptuous feathers. Stained oak feet are the finishing touches to this deep, sink in to sofa.
How has Darling of Chelsea evolved from launch till now?
We started just offering UK made sofas but we found that we were missing that modern style often found in Italy. So now we deal with a supplier in Italy and one in Spain who enable us to cater for the contemporary look.
The website has evolved somewhat and had had about 4 overhauls since we launched 10 years ago. Now it utilises technology so customers can see the sample on the sofa they have chosen – this helps them visualize the colours before making the purchase.
We are definitely quicker to react to opportunities in the market place and now we deliver worldwide , where as before we were purely just in the UK.
What’s next for the brand?
Having been only a sofa company, over the coming months we are adding lighting, rugs, beds, dog beds, coffee tables and more – our offering is growing substantially.
We are opening 3 more stores in 2016 and a pop up store in Switzerland.
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Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at email@example.com