Northern Enterprise Awards 2022

24 | Northern Enterprise Awards 2022 Oct22447 Furniture Retailer of the Year 2022 - North East Right in the heart of Sunderland city centre, you’ll find Harrison & Brown Furniture Ltd. Stocking an extensive range of furnishings and accessories, the company’s collections sprawl over five floors of prime north-eastern real estate. Harrison & Brown’s reputation for choice, quality, and customer service brings clients back for more, time and time again. One industry that saw increased spending through 2020 and 2021 in the UK was furniture and furnishings. Statistics show that consumers spent more on improving their homes whilst they were limited in other areas such as holidays and entertainment. But for physical furniture stores, it’s been a bumpy ride. And it’s not over. With inflation and fuel prices on the increase and endless mentions of recession in the media, what strategies do independent companies have to ensure survival? One independent furniture retailer that’s buckling up and getting ready to face the latest challenges is Harrison & Brown. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we got used to buying pretty much anything we needed online. We had no choice. For many, it’s become a habit. For high street stores, tempting consumers away from the online marketplace post-pandemic hasn’t been easy. It’s taken a lot of hard work and a laser focus on the customer experience. Thankfully, Harrison & Brown’s reputation for quality and fair prices has stood the company in good stead and it’s managed to keep its loyal customer base intact. Harrison & Brown founder, Mandy Brown says, “At the moment, we need to keep the boat steady. I think we’re in for a choppy ride over the coming year. We’re ready to battle and push through to survive.” A Sunderland native, Mandy never dreamed she’d be running her own business. At the age of 17, she started working in retail for an electrical store on Holmeside, the same street that Harrison & Brown occupies today. As Mandy’s career progressed she became an assistant buyer and then a store manager. She was eventually put in charge of a group of four stores for the furniture company, Michael O’Connor. Everything was going great until uncertainty hit. One of the company’s directors decided to move abroad and it made the decision to stop trading. Mandy explains, “I wasn’t sure what lay ahead for my colleagues and me. I thought about it long and hard and decided to take on the store where I was based. With some amazing help and support from many manufacturers, Harrison & Brown Furniture Ltd was born.” Four years on and Harrison & Brown has become a fixture in the city’s central district. Selling a dazzling array of upholstery, dining furniture, cabinets, beds, wardrobes, and beautiful accessories, the store is also home to Harry Thursby Carpets and Curtains. In fact, there’s so much choice packed under one roof, a recent advertising campaign likened Harrison & Brown to Doctor Who’s Tardis. Let’s take a walk through the store. The ground floor gives customers a little taste of everything they can expect to see instore. Harrison & Brown’s leather sofas and Italian dining ranges are displayed on the first floor. Moving on to the second floor, we find traditional sofa collections, main dining ranges and the company’s mobility range. The third floor is all about the bedroom, showing off comfy beds, mattresses, and storage solutions. And it reserves its stunning loft space for beautiful contemporary collections and new ranges. There’s even a café where shoppers can relax and enjoy a cuppa and a cake. The store is pet-friendly too. And, on a Sunday, visits are by appointment only – imagine that: the whole store to yourself! Mandy says, “Our main aim is to offer a relaxed, hassle-free shopping experience for our customers. We’re here to help and we don’t believe in pushy sales tactics. All too often our clients tell us how refreshing it is to be free to browse, knowing that we’re close by and ready to help if they need us. “We want our customers to experience the very best service. This begins as soon as they enter the store and continues all the way through to delivery by our wonderful logistics team, and beyond.” As well as keeping the customers happy, Mandy understands the importance of retaining a passionate team. She tells us, “We don’t have a high staff turnover. In fact, we’re still the same team as when I started the company in 2017. We also welcomed one new member of staff this year. I believe we’re never too old to learn; the team need to be able to listen to what the customers want and learn from that.” Stock issues in the furniture industry are still ongoing. Shortages of raw materials such as foam for upholstery, rising shipping costs, and frequent changes to supply chain arrangements are all keeping Harrison & Brown on its toes. Mandy says, “Making sure that items pass quality control and match the customer’s requirements sometimes feels like a constant battle. We’re always on the lookout for new manufacturers and are proud of the number of British companies we currently buy from.” Of course, at the moment, preparations are well underway for Christmas in the store. This time last year, Harrison & Brown championed other local independent businesses by featuring their products in its giant Christmas giveaway. Local florists, hairstylists, cobblers, cafés, and more were all showcased on the company’s social media website to encourage a spirit of collaboration in the city. What will Mandy and the team come up with this year? Contact: Mandy Brown Company: Harrison & Brown Web Address: