Interview with The Cotswold Company's CEO, Ralph Tucker

Retail Gazette's Aoife Morgan sits down with The Cotswold Company's CEO, Ralph Tucker, to discuss his take on throwaway furniture, its value push and 2024 growth plans for the business.

Interview with The Cotswold Company's CEO, Ralph Tucker

News / 5 Mar 2024

Originally published by Retail Gazette

The Cotswold Company boss Ralph Tucker is banking on the trend of consumers moving away from “throwaway” furniture as he unveils his expansion plans for business in the year ahead.

It’s a shift that has served it well in recent years. Despite a tough market for big-ticket retailers, the quintessential British furniture brand reported a positive start to the year as order numbers jumped 13% to £16.4m in the run up to the new year – a £1.8m increase on the same period last year.

“We’ve seen customers trade away from throwaway furniture and say, ‘If I’m going to invest in redoing the living room or dining room, we’re going to do it right,'” explains Tucker.

“Our customers certainly sees the benefit of great value rather than just a cheap price,” he says, adding the business has benefitted from “a deep-rooted importance of quality and a product that will last”.

All about the customer

The Cotswold Company’s mostly affluent, middle class customers may have been exempt from feeling the full force of the cost-of-living crisis, however, Tucker says the retailer still took action to support shoppers in launching two new value ranges: Simply Cotswold and Cotswold Essentials.

“They’re the same quality and that was the important point for me – that we didn’t just produce a product that was just worse quality,” he explains.

Tucker says the business has designed products in the ranges with slight modifications – such as one less drawer – so it can offer customers products with a starting price of around £50 instead of £99.

“If people want to buy into The Cotswold Company, they’re absolutely able to. They can still trust the product but it might be slightly different dimensions,” he says.

Tucker says the value ranges are around 5% of its mix – “so they’re not huge”, but it’s “performed as well as some of our more premium ranges”.

Alongside producing more affordable ranges, Tucker is also looking at how the business can improve its post-purchase customer service.

“There’s a real passion for making sure we do right by the customer because we are a small company, that’s where repeat orders come.”

Cotswold’s offers a 15-year guarantee on all purchases, which Tucker explains has “resonated well” with customers.

The retailer is also expanding its home delivery network and has invested in a new training facility at its warehouse.

Tucker shares that the retailer has even installed model stair sets in its warehouse so it can train delivery drivers on how to get products up the stairs without damaging the customer’s walls or banister.

“We’re going into people’s homes. It’s a very intimate delivery going into someone’s living room or bedroom, so we need to do that in a very respectful way,” he says.

Expanding The Cotswold’s footprint

Tucker knows a thing or two about online businesses having joined Cotswold  from N Brown, where he was chief product and trading officer. He has also spent time at online retailers Fanatics and The Very Group.

He describes Cotswold as a “quickly growing digitally-led company”, but it’s also steadily expanding its brick-and-mortar presence to compliment its online offer.

The goal is to have “over 90% of customers an hour drive of our showrooms, says Tucker.

The retailer is preparing to open its tenth UK showroom in Cheshire in the Spring, which will be its second location up north, sitting alongside its Harrogate store.

“We’re excited with that, not least because it’s in my neck of the woods. It’s going to be really exciting to see how that does and resonate with the consumer up there,” says Warrington-based Tucker.

It follows the retailer opening its first city centre store in Bath back in December, which saw Cotswold move into one of its many Georgian buildings.

Tucker points out that each of the retailer’s showrooms are different from the other as they all occupy different settings, spanning from historic buildings to modern retail developments.

“For every store, you have to individually design the building and for the consumer in that place. It’s such a personal experience.

“It drives our property team and our design team crazy,” he admits.

The new Bath store is the second to house The Cotswold Company’s new upholstery hub, which Tucker explains is where customers can “sit, take time and have a coffee, and really think about what is a very expensive and a very important piece of furniture”.

He adds that the designated spaces will soon be rolled out to the rest of the showrooms as part of a wider strategy to improve the customer experience.

It’s not just new stores that form the company’s expansion strategy as this year will also see Cotswold’s start shipping to Northern Ireland.

Tucker explains the expansion across the Irish sea was a natural progression as the business looked to strengthen its presence around the UK.

However, he’s quick to add that the retailer has no plans to open a showroom in Northern Ireland anytime soon.

In the meantime, he’s concentrating on home turf – and see more stores in the offing.

“Our customer base tends to be south-based so there’s still lots of opportunities in and around London area, more central London but also in and around the M25 belt,” says Tucker.

“Scotland is certainly an opportunity as well, we’ve been looking up there and in and around Cotswolds, as you would expect.”

The Cotswold Company is also looking to grow its customer base through more targeted marketing campaigns, which Tucker says the business is “seeing some really good results already”.

The focus for Tucker and the team has been “getting customers engaged in an area where [the showrooms] are, rather than just scattering your marketing across the whole country”.

It is trialling and combining various marketing methods such as geo-targeting, social media and more traditional methods like direct mail and out of home, to “really drive trade in a very focused area”.

Marketplaces, partnerships and marketing

Another key opportunity within The Cotswold’s growth plans is around marketplaces.

“We’re very keen to look at partnerships, and not just with retailers, but with people producing products.”

The retailer is already in discussions with a couple of suppliers about adding their products to its website in time for the second half of this year.

“We’re always looking in accessories, we’ve got a fabulous glassware brand at the moment LSA and it’s doing really well for us,” Tucker says, adding the company is looking to introduce “more artisanal products” that “we wouldn’t be specialists in”.

With not just its store estate expanding, but its product range too, The Cotswold Company is a clearly a company in growth mode.

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