Dwell founder and boss Aamir Ahmad says his furniture and homewares business has been revitalised since DFS snapped it up in 2014.
Just three years ago, upmarket furniture retailer Dwell fell into administration before founder Ahmad rescued it and re-opened five stores, including flagships at Tottenham Court Road, Westfield Stratford City and Westfield London, and online.
Now, the business is part of the DFS empire with a growing number of concessions in the sofa giant’s stores.
While, on the surface, the two retailers appear to have little in common – Dwell’s style is contemporary compared with DFS’s heritage furniture – the new ownership has breathed life into Ahmad’s once-struggling brand.
It has proven so successful that DFS revealed in October that plans to expand its 12 Dwell shop-in-shops to 40 outlets.
Ahmad, who to this day still designs all the products himself, tells Retail Week he was confident about the DFS acquisition from the off.
I’ve always thought this was going to work,” he says. “After testing a few models, it was clear we should have our own space within DFS. I knew that would work to drive two-way traffic to the stores.”
But why do the two brands sit so comfortably together?
The contrasting product style means that Dwell offers something new to the DFS business and allows it to target a younger, urban shopper.
“The great thing about the DFS concessions is that they’re 4,000 sq ft – the same size as our standalones in Westfield. So we’ve been able to do our thing, and do it properly.
“Plus shoppers already come into the store thinking about furniture,” he adds.
The DFS tie-up also allows Dwell to capitalise on the popularity of click-and-collect.
“We were probably one of the first retailers to offer click-and-collect, because we’ve been doing it from day one,” Ahmad claims, outlining the company’s roots as a pure-play retailer.
“It’s surprising how many people want to click-and-collect a sofa. But this doesn’t really work when you’re in the Westfield store and you have no way of getting the sofa to the car park”
Aamir Ahmad, Dwell
And click-and-collect has always been “massively popular” among Dwell customers.
“It’s surprising how many people want to click-and-collect a sofa. But this doesn’t really work when you’re in the Westfield store and you have no way of getting the sofa to the car park,” he admits.
He explains, however, that the DFS store-in-stores on retail parks are perfectly positioned for this and that click-and-collect is consequently getting “bigger and bigger”.
“All the new store-in-stores have a dedicated click-and-collect room with car parking at the back and a roller-shutter door,” he says.
Ahmad says the DFS shop-in-shops have also boosted Dwell’s online business too. He says the model is “much more exciting than taking on a whole load of leases”, he says.
One of the most important facets of the relationship with DFS is remaining “completely independent”, says Ahmad.
“We don’t want to blur the lines or cause any distractions for DFS – the last thing a business needs is to be managing a little brother”
Aamir Ahmad, Dwell
“The decision we made together, right at the beginning, was to bring something new and different to the group. We don’t want to blur the lines or cause any distractions for DFS – the last thing a business needs is to be managing a little brother.”
“So we’re very self-sufficient, with our own team, systems, technology, ranging and stock.”
“The biggest debate is about who’s buying the milk when we’re in a shared space; it’s amazing how often that comes up,” he jokes.
Dwell’s store layout is also dramatically different to DFS. Customers enter its shop-in-shops through an archway to find an eclectic range of contemporary furniture and home accessories, which changes “very frequently”.
“One very noticeable thing is that DFS colleagues wear suits, but we’re very casual. People immediately know it’s a different place”
Aamir Ahmad, Dwell
“A brand with a presence in another store has to be very separate. One very noticeable thing is that DFS colleagues wear suits, but we’re very casual. People immediately know it’s a different place,” Ahmad explains.
And, unlike DFS that makes sofas to measure, Dwell holds everything in stock and delivers usually within two to three days. This means the addition of Dwell has enabled DFS to meet the needs of consumers who demand a sofa there and then.
With vast synergies between the two furniture specialists still to harness, Dwell is clearly sitting pretty under its new owner.