Conran Shop boss Nick Moore tells Nicola Harrison why top-quality furniture and service will survive recessionary times

Nick Moore, managing director of Conran Shop, wants to cheer up the British public.

The upmarket furniture retailer has decided to steer clear of drab colours that Moore says usually dominate the furniture landscape in times of economic hardship and has instead opted for the bold and the bright.

“Some say that in a recession people buy browns and creams,” explains Moore. “But everybody is fed up with doom and gloom so we thought we’d brighten things up and put a smile on people’s faces.”

As a consequence, Conran Shop’s spring range is much brighter, matching the sunny disposition of Moore who believes the chain is benefiting from people staying in and “building their nest a bit more”.

However, Moore says there has been a shift in the mindset of his customers. “People are still buying big-ticket items and they are prepared to spend large sums of money,” he insists. “But they are more interested in value now, so we’re seeing a trend towards pieces that are timeless – customers want things that will last.”

And that is Conran Shop’s heritage and forte. Design supremo Sir Terence Conran is chairman of the retailer and personally signs off every piece of furniture himself. The business prides itself, as Moore says, on classic products that are “well designed and have integrity. They know they will last for a long time, and people buy into that”.

The retailer’s latest in-store marketing campaign – Style to Stay – plays on this demand for good value. Moore says that while the number of lower price point ranges has not increased, the way they are communicated has been stepped up a gear.

One item from the lower price point end is a simple but elegant looking stool for£85. And customers can get their hands on a sofa for under£1,000. “It’s all about highlighting the value message and we have seen sales go up as a result,” says Moore.

Soft landing

Furniture orders for the year to date have rocketed 35 per cent since last April, with online furniture sales up 25 per cent and group furniture sales across all channels up 20 per cent.

However, as a furniture retailer, the store group is not immune to the effects of the credit crunch and plummeting consumer confidence. Since Moore joined in August last year 10 of the 40 head office staff have been made redundant and ad spend has been slashed by 40 per cent. For the year to March 31, 2008, the company reported losses before tax of£1.6m compared with the previous year’s loss of£1.2m.

Moore is determined to turn the situation around. He says that while this year’s losses are expected to be slightly worse than last year’s, the company will be turning in a profit in the year to March 2011.

Conran Shop is making cost savings in order to reach its target. For instance, it is now buying more from UK-based manufacturers because of the drop in sterling. The idea came from Sir Terence and Moore says it is proving profitable.

While the retailer’s global ambitions may have slowed in the recession, Moore insists they have not been abandoned. Conran Shop operates two stores in London, one each in Paris and New York and a further four franchise shops in Japan.

Although there are no immediate plans to open more UK shops, Moore wants the chain to be “the world’s leading high-end furniture store”. It wants to add up to 10 franchise stores to its global portfolio over the next five years, in countries in the Middle and Far East. Underpinning his strategy is his “absolutely obsessive customer approach”.

Moore has been in retail all his working life, starting with a shopfloor job at record shop Our Price. “I love music, so I thought what better place? I really got the retail vibe. I worked my way up, and became their youngest area manager at the age of 19,” he recalls.

From there he had a brief spell at Bhs, then joined Habitat in 1988 where he discovered his penchant for furniture. He has been selling homewares ever since, other than a five-year stint heading Orange’s retail business. With all his retail experience, Moore is well aware of the need to get close to the consumer and is investing in customer research as well as training staff in customer service.

Moore wants shoppers to have an experience at his stores. “We’re not just a furniture shop,” he asserts. “We want people to know that when they come in they’ll be made to feel a bit special, like Jo on the fabric department recognising you and remembering you are redecorating your front room. That’s how Conran sets itself apart.”

All sewn up

Age: 46

Interests: music, water skiing, football

Career History

  • August 2008-present: managing director, Conran Shop

  • 2006-2008: managing director, Natuzzi

  • 2000-2005: director of retail, Orange UK

  • 1988-2000: variety of operations roles, latterly head of group retail concept, Habitat UK

  • 1987-1988: commercial manager, Bhs

  • 1981-1987: variety of store manager roles, latterly area manager, Our Price