Charlie Wall, managing director, Camelot Furniture
What are the main trends you are seeing in the rise recliner market?
I think the internet and Chinese imports have had a huge impact. The end-user has realised that they can buy chairs retailing at around £600 so when they get to a mobility shop and it’s £1,000 upwards, they don’t buy. For me, the Government needs to tax the Chinese imports because they are hurting the British manufacturers.
Do dealers value the ‘manufactured in the UK’ badge?
Definitely. Sometimes customers can be led by the shop. Too many of the shops are dictated to and cower rather than say to end-users: ‘If you want a Chinese import you’re very welcome but these are the pitfalls’. Rather than trying to compete with the internet and stock these imports, I think that mobility shops should stick to things that are quality.
Is buying British at a higher price point a leap of faith for dealers?
I think a lot of the dealers, as a generalisation, see a cheaper product easier to sell. For the discerning client that’s buying for themselves, then buying a British product with a seven year warranty will be a good purchase. I also think some mobility shops need to put a better range of products on the floor rather than stocking everything in beige or brown. Some could be more adventurous and display optional extras on the demo chairs.
Does it fall on sellers like HSL and Middletons to pull the rise recliner market forward?
Their shops are nice. They’re professional and are like a mini John Lewis. The trouble you’ve got is that some smaller mobility shops are on a shoestring and so are very cautious about what they buy. Then you’ve got larger mobility retail groups but all they want to do is bring in imports because they can get a massive margin on it.
What kind of shops are ideal for a business like yourself?
We look for high-end mobility shops that want to provide a bespoke service where someone can come in and will be treated like royalty, not someone who just wants to shift a product. But we find there’s a bit of snobbery about buying from a mobility shop over a John Lewis-type store.
Do dealers tend to offer a good range of rise recliner products?
Often they will only offer beige and brown. Not all of them but most. We try and encourage a lot more choice but quite often shops want the simplicity and don’t want something that’s going to stick out. There’s no harm in that as long as you can show the brochures to the customer.
What should dealers look for in a rise recliner product?
In the mobility market, we’re a bit like an Aston Martin. We’re low volume, high quality and bespoke. But unfortunately the general public are often looking for a Ford. A lot of shops say they’re up against it price-wise but your direct selling companies are selling chairs at £4,000 to these same customers. If we could change the market, what we’d want is for the mobility shops to concentrate more on British rather than imports and stop trying to compete with the internet. If you can’t beat it, do something different. It’s all price, price, price in the industry at the moment.