Big Interview with Kevin Slade

Kevin Slade, Director of Growth at DUXIANA, talks about how his role has developed since joining DUX, future plans and why the customer experience is vital for retailers.

Let’s start with you. Can you share a bit about yourself and your background?

I actually started out in construction some 25 years ago and then have been involved in retail over the last 20 years, particular creating customer experience and high-end retail. In my history, I’ve worked with Harrods, Selfridges, WHSmith, Furniture Village, John Lewis, as well as a number of other brands too. The last 10 years has been more about building brands in retail or hospitality and I came into DUX almost five years ago as their Head of Next Gen and ‘Next Gen’ was about taking the company into the next generation. This had two literal meanings, one being to help with the transition from the third generation to the fourth generation, and the second part was to help the CEO bring the company forward. Next Gen was anything that was forward-thinking or forward-facing for the business and included things like a new global website, new marketing strategies, new corporate strategies and new retail concepts.

What is your current job role and key responsibilities?

I’m the Director of Growth for DUX and DUXIANA and that is all about growing the brand and business. I’ve spent the last three years with my team building all the foundations, as highlighted above, and we’re now delivering that, so our focus has shifted to growth.

What do you love about your job?

I love that I work with a forward-thinking business and a very dynamic brand. Being fourth-generation family owned, there’s no board to go to, which means if we have an idea, we’re all communicating together quickly to make a decision. The brand is ready to take the next step forward and I consider them as a ‘sleeping lion’, it’s a big brand that has been around nearly 100 years and we’re in 35 countries around the world and has an amazing heritage. I get a lot of freedom and flexibility to grow and my mantra when I first came in was to take the business from where we are now to doubling, and even trebling, the business. It’s great to be part of that journey and having a voice that is heard at ‘board level’, while making a difference every day, is brilliant for me.

What time is your alarm clock set for?

I work internationally, so my day can start from as early as 5am and not finish until 1am the following day. I travel almost every other week; I took more than 80 flights last year! Time zones are whenever they need to be really, so there’s no official alarm for me.

Why did you choose to work in the furnishing industry?

I didn’t choose to work in the industry as much as I did for this brand. I have a background in consumer electronics, hospitality and a number of different industries, and I came across this brand that was looking for someone to take it forward, which happened to be in the furnishing industry.

Who do you most admire in the industry and why?

Sounds cheesy, but the Ljung family. Every generation of DUX has pioneered something. Our founding father Efraim created the DUX Bed and unique spring system, his son Erik pioneered the furniture growth and the collaboration with Bruno Mathsson. Claes has then pioneered the DUXIANA retail concept as well as the Pascal spring system and now Henrik is pioneering the digitalisation of the business and further growth. As a family, they really inspire me and the fact that each one is leaving their mark on the company history and their own legacy is truly inspiring. The word ‘DUX’ in Latin means ‘leader’, so their mantra is to ‘always lead, never follow’.

Have there been any special moments during your career?

I would have to say it’s while I have been with DUX. The partnership I have built with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is one that most people think I did on purpose (as I’m a lifelong fan), but actually to come across a brand that takes what we do so seriously and saw the benefits of it, as well as sharing the same vision and ethos on rest and recovery, to then build that relationship to what we have has been something very special.

What is your favourite item of furniture you own and why?

My DUXIANA Super Spider chair in sheepskin. It’s the most comfortable place I like to be and I often joke it’s the place I’d like to die!

What do you think is trending within the industry at present?

I do see that people are being more wholesome with sustainability rather than ‘green washing’ and as a brand we are making great strides in our own efforts. It’s not just about using sustainable materials, but also what ends up in landfill. With our new collection, our component-based design, which has always been a philosophy at DUX, we’ve now dialled it to the maximum, as it really is a bed for life as you can change components during its life, meaning it will never end up on landfill.

What would you change in the industry?

For someone who hasn’t been in the industry for very long, I do think it is an archaic thinking environment. I do think there are quite a lot of old-fashioned ways of working, and some retailers carry on doing what they have always done. But the consumer wants more now. I absolutely love retail. I don’t think bricks and mortar will ever die, however, what will die is ‘boring’ retail. We have to give the consumer a reason not to click online and come and experience it. If there is a reason in store, a customer journey that is encouraging people in, people will come. Personally, I would still rather go into a store than buy online and with furniture and beds, the consumer really needs to experience the products and journey. They want to understand everything now, it’s not just about displaying a line of product and that’s it.

Can you share an insight into your future plans?

My title gives it away really as we are focussed on growth. It’s a two-pronged approach for us. It’s improving what we have as we operate in over 300 stores across 35 countries, while also we’re aiming to grow where we are not, so markets like the UK, France, Spain and Italy are a major driving force right now, but we’re doing it in a strict and stringent way. We are only looking for partners that will fit with the brand and understand what we are trying to achieve. Back to boring retail, we don’t want to put a bed on a shop floor, we want to create a customer experience. We sell physical comfort, so we want to create a retail environment of comfort too – nice smells, soft rugs, good lighting, those elements. Our growth strategy has been in place for the last 18 months and we’ve already opened eight to 10 new locations across Europe and we have the same on the horizon.

What do you enjoy most outside of work / free time?

I don’t get much time, but when I do, I like to spend it at my own home. I travel so much, so there’s nothing better than sitting at home with my wife and little dog with a nice glass of wine to relax and unwind. Oh, and the occasional Spurs game of course!

What might someone not know about you?

I have a real passion for baking! I’m a self-professed pretty good baker and I make some fantastic cakes. I’ve done giant Jaffa cakes, three-tier cakes, you name it!

If you had a different career, what would it be?

There is nothing. I absolutely love what I do!

Finally, if you were an item of furniture, what would it be and why?

The DUXIANA Super Spider again. It feels like a big hug of a chair and I’m built for hugging!

Five Fun qs:

1) If you could hack into any one computer, whose computer would you choose and why?

Steve Jobs – to see what was never released.

2) What fact amazes you every time you think of it?

Two things – the number of bottles of diet coke sold in day and also the Michael Jordan and Nike collaboration, with Nike’s expectations vs what was delivered ever since.

3) What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

I’ve been known to just jump on flights away with no notice!

4) What is the most important object you own and why?

Probably my mobile phone – due to the international demands of my job, it’s never more than arms reach away, unfortunately!

5) What did you think was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

I was a big jungle music fan and now when I try and educate my son and listen back, I do question myself as to why!

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