The US homewares group has a strong reputation and is eyeing the UK market. But where would it sit in this struggling sector and what is its point of difference?


Williams-Sonoma is a US homewares group. Its brands include Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, PB Teen and West Elm. It has more than 600 stores in the US and about the same number overseas.

Set up by Chuck Williams, the first store opened in 1956 in Sonoma, California, and the group now caters for products for every room in the home. The group grew pre-tax profits by 9.2% to $323.1m (£198.4m) on sales of $3.5bn (£2.14bn) for the year to January 30, 2011.

Why are we talking about it now?

It is understood Williams-Sonoma wants to make its UK debut in London next year. It has hired property agency Harper Dennis Hobbs to search for sites.

Is it a big deal?

Williams-Sonoma is one of the biggest names in the US home furnishings market, along with rival Crate & Barrel. The eponymous chain is well known for carrying the best brands in kitchenware and the stores also provide retail theatre with cookery classes.

Pottery Barn is a casual home furnishings retailer selling products either designed internally or sourced globally. Its profile has risen thanks to references in Friends and is known for both quality and value.

Where will it fit in the UK?

Williams-Sonoma is likely to go head to head with the likes of John Lewis, Lakeland, White Company and smaller, niche furnishings retailers.

Is there room for it in the UK?

The furniture and homewares sector has taken a hammering lately and many retailers have exited the market, with Habitat being the latest casualty. With the squeeze on disposable incomes customers have cut down hugely on non-food, with non-essential items such as furnishings being the first to be sacrificed. It’s difficult to know whether the sector will have improved next year if it makes its debut then, but the likelihood is it will be a slow and steady recovery.

Williams-Sonoma will therefore have to steal share from other home retailers to grow in the UK. Competitors such as John Lewis and Lakeland are formidable so it will be tough, but it has a good brand and many Brits will be familiar with it already.

Have other US homewares retailers made the move to the UK?

There has been talk recently that Crate & Barrel wanted to debut in the UK. Although it has previously said it won’t launch here because the rents are too high, it is thought to want to bring its CB2 brand here.