Nicolle Hockin, Managing Director at Devonshire Living, reflects on taking over the family business and why her father has played such an inspirational role in her life, while also sharing a view on product copying in the industry and future plans.
Let’s start with you. Can you share a bit about yourself and your background?
I live in beautiful Devon with my husband and cat. I left University in 2013, travelled around for a bit trying different jobs and locations (with a stint in Australia), and then came back to join the family business, Devonshire Living (or ‘Devonshire Pine and Oak’ as it was then), in 2016. We import and wholesale wooden cabinet furniture to retailers across England, Wales and Southern Scotland, founded 31 years ago by my father Peter Hockin. As you can imagine I’ve always been involved in the business from a young age; starting off putting cardboard boxes together, then moving on to manufacturing drawer boxes, and helping out in the showroom during summer holidays.
What is your current job role and key responsibilities?
I officially took over the company in 2019, so am now the owner and managing director – which means ultimately everything that happens within the business is my responsibility! Luckily, I have a fabulous team around me so I can usually focus on my favourite things. I like compiling data, which means you’ll usually find me deep in to some elaborate spreadsheet, and I also enjoy the creative side, pushing new product development and also sticking my nose in to marketing (I’m sure much to Gemma’s annoyance). I spent my first few years in the business behind my desk, so recently I’ve been trying to delegate more so that I can get out and visit customers and trade shows more often, as I find a lot of value in simply talking to people about business.
What do you love about your job?
No two days are ever the same, and I learn something new every day. I love getting involved in every different area of the business; from transport, to maintenance, to sales, to product development, etc. I have a knack for seeing things from various perspectives, so mainly I enjoy problem-solving and having the overview that I do, I like to see how all the little pieces of the puzzle fit together in the ‘big picture’. Although this does mean I play devil’s advocate a lot!
What time is your alarm clock set for?
I don’t function well in the mornings, so I try and get up around six, cuddle my cat for as long as he’ll let me (usually somewhere between 0.3 seconds and two minutes), and then muddle about until it’s time to leave the house at 7.30. I don’t know where that hour and a half goes, but I do always make sure to have a good breakfast, get some morning sunlight, and stretch. I mainly sit at my computer all day, so stretching is important! Once I’m in the office I’ll usually have a decaff coffee for the placebo effect, as too much caffeine makes me jittery.
Why did you choose to work in the furnishing industry?
The family link was of course the main reason, I went out on my own and tried different things but at the end of the day the opportunity to take over the family business and build on the legacy was too great of a challenge to turn down. To take something already well established and try to improve and build on it is both empowering and also terrifying. There’s a very steep learning curve, and authority and respect can’t just be handed over – they need to be earned, especially when a lot of long-serving staff have known me since childhood. Furniture itself is such a wide industry, there’s so many opportunities in terms of materials, styles, functions and trends, and also externally in terms of logistics, operations, etc. I enjoy learning about these different areas and how we can utilise them effectively.
Who do you most admire in the industry and why?
He’s not in the industry anymore, but I’d probably be disowned if I didn’t say my dad! He built Devonshire from the ground up with no prior business or financial training, so he’s the epitome of ‘you can do anything if you work hard enough’ (and have a bit of good luck). He’s always been someone I looked up to in terms of work ethic – plus his knowledge of manufacturing is second to none. He achieved some truly inspiring results during his time heading up the company. Outside of our business, I always enjoy talking to people in a similar role to myself who have perhaps been doing it for longer than I have, to glean their insights and experience.
Have there been any special moments during your career?
Taking over right before Covid means I haven’t seen what some people refer to as a ‘normal’ year yet, so nothing stands out in particular – but when shipping rates came back down to realistic levels earlier this year, that felt pretty special! Looking forward, hitting particular turnover and profitability goals will be those moments I strive for.
What is your favourite item of furniture you own and why?
Easy – my dining table. It is a sample we brought in as a potential addition to our best-selling Dorset Oak range, a small fixed-top table with gorgeous parquet-inspired criss-crossing of panels in the top. We didn’t run it because a lot of staff were concerned about the extensive grooves being ‘crumb catchers’, but every time I look at it, I wonder if we should have run it after all. You never know, we still might!
What do you think is trending within the industry at present?
I feel Scandi styles are coming back around, and Industrial has hung around a lot longer than we expected. Other than that, I feel a lot of companies are trying new things but nothing seems to have stuck recently. There is so much choice out there now and certain styles have become over-saturated; so especially now with the internet, trends can come and go much quicker than before which can be difficult to keep up with.
What would you change in the industry?
The amount of product copying. I find it a real shame when you go to a trade show, for example, and see practically the same range on multiple stands. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely hard to come up with new designs regularly – but I also don’t see the point in producing something identical to what someone else is already doing. The industry is saturated enough, without multiple businesses trying to run practically the same designs with no USPs and just ending up in a price war to the bottom and then repeating the cycle.
Can you share an insight into your future plans?
Product development is our key focus at the moment – there are certain styles and concepts that we’re missing in our offering and we’re working on improving that. Many of our ranges are the typical oak and painted safe styles that we’re well known for, so something I’m looking to build on over the next few years is our use of colours and materials, whilst still keeping it commercial and mass-market (which can be a very fine line).
What do you enjoy most outside of work / free time?
I feel my answer to this is pretty generic, but I enjoy sports like running, weightlifting and swimming, and I love reading although don’t feel like I ever have time to do it; so, I’ve started listening to audiobooks in the car to and from work. I have a real struggle with staying focused on projects or tasks, so I’ve been getting really in to productivity podcasts lately, especially ones which are science based and go deep in to human behaviours and the chemicals and hormones that affect motivation. It sounds nerdy, and it is! No shame in that.
What might someone not know about you?
If you had a different career, what would it be?
I actually have a Batchelor’s degree in Marine Biology. 18-year-old me was going to move to some warm coastal country and do conservation and renewable energy science. What they fail to mention when you’re choosing university degrees is how competitive the field is – and to be frank, that it doesn’t pay very well!
Finally, if you were an item of furniture, what would it be and why?
I suppose maybe a bookcase? So, I could hold all that knowledge and fantasy ready to share with whoever needs it. It sounds cheesy but I love the escapism and inspiration that books can offer. Although would I then become obsolete due to the rise of the E-reader?!
Five Fun qs:
1) If you could hack into any one computer, whose computer would you choose and why?
Well firstly that is illegal, so of course I wouldn’t … But probably the US Secretary of Defence. The safe answer would have been some successful entrepreneur or world leader. But what we all really want to know is if there has really been alien contact or not?!
2) What fact amazes you every time you think of it?
Cleopatra lived closer to the release of the first iPhone than she did to the building of the pyramids of Giza.
3) What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Moved to Australia. It was supposed to be for a year and I only stayed for three months, but I met my husband on the boat home so everything happens for a reason!
4) What is the most important object you own and why?
If anyone doesn’t answer this with their smart phone then they’re lying. But that’s not a fun answer, so… my car. Because if anyone has been to Devon, you’ll know that everything is at least a 30-minute drive away, and the buses aren’t reliable.
5) What did you think was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?