THINGS may have looked bleak for one of Wycombe’s best known – and last remaining –furniture makers but Stewart Linford is busy crafting a new future for himself and his employees.
Last month news the firm Stewart Linford (Chairmaker) Ltd was going into administration sent shockwaves through Wycombe’s business community.
But the move was not one of defeat – it was part of a bid to save the core business and its employees.
A pre-packaged administration process allowed the firm to buy up old assets and reincarnate as Stewart Linford Luxury in Wood, with a new base in Coronation Road, Cressex, alongside upholstery firm Greengate. And now it is looking firmly to the future, concentrating on what it does best.
Stewart said: “Now we’re busy getting to grips with the Greengate range of furniture – understanding the models.
“They have a fantastic array of fabrics people can choose from. It’s quite exciting, learning about their products.”
The new firm will be doing the same as the old: designing and making custom chairs to order, making old favourites and carrying on with its trademark limited edition chairs.
And by sharing space with Greengate, customers have the best of both worlds and can choose how they want their furniture upholstered, whether with a vast array of fabrics or even leather, chosen from the firm’s selection of hides.
Stewart said that although the move was wrenching, he knew it would be best for the business in the long run – and was already seeing the benefits, with its new location an improvement on its old Kitchener Road site, where it had been based since the late 1980s.
He said: “Geographically it’s better. There’s more parking, it’s a purpose built factory.
“You can look after everything for the house here and it’s a relaxed place - people can spend as long as they like here. Our goal is to turn it into a thriving showroom where people can come seven days a week and have their dreams turned into a reality. There’s an enormous amount of expertise here.”
Stewart said he’d realised drastic action would have to be taken during the middle of last year.
By the end of December the move to Greengate had been mapped out.
The seeds of the plan for the two firms to share premises were sown at an Institute of Directors event hosted by Stewart at Kitchener Road in October, where he spoke to Peter Hearn, director of Greengate.
Stewart said: “It became clear there were obvious synergies between what we’re doing and what they’re doing.
“There was very little reason not to do it - the two families combined in one building and it should improve dramatically both our futures. That was the outlying principle.”
Stewart praised the Hearn family for their support and commended the staff for making the new arrivals feel welcome.
The old business, founded in 1976, had been facing difficulties for some time, he said but the final straw was its having taken on a rate swap product from a bank.
The complicated arrangements see banks offer customers the right to fix the base rate on a loan at a certain level to make sure any interest rate rise would not leave a company’s borrowing costs spiraling out of control - but around 30,000 SME's are thought to have found themselves in dire straits through these products due to the unexpected impact they have had. The Financial Conduct Authority is now investigating the situation. Stewart said: “We’ve made a radical move in the right direction and the rate swap was the catalyst.”
The moment he had to break the news to the staff had not been easy, he says. For obvious reasons the details of what was coming remained secret, even though his employees realised something was afoot.
Stewart said: “On the January 10 I gave a speech. My family came down. Basically I said we have got to go through this process and we need to dramatically change our cost structure and so we’re going to move. We literally started to pack up after that speech.
“They were shocked but everybody rallied round and we moved over the weekend.
“Everyone did a magnificent job and just got stuck in.”
Now, Stewart says, the focus is on making people aware of the new location and getting on with what this revamped business does best once again.
The firm’s new showroom is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm on Sunday.
A special open event is being held on March 13, and going into the weekend of March 14 and 15, and all are welcome to visit.