Fairway’s flagship refurb

Peter Harding, Managing Director at Fairway Furniture, shares a deeper insight into the ongoing refurbishment at their flagship Plymouth store.

Earlier this year, South West independent furniture retailer Fairway Furniture announced a £1.5m internal refurbishment of their flagship Plymouth store, with the work commencing in April and expected to take around six months to complete.

This includes the removal of the entire existing interior and installation of a completely new store layout, enabling an even wider range of product to be displayed within a fresh, contemporary shop-fit design – in partnership with store and interior design specialists Spaceworks Interiors. This collaboration formed when they met at the Associated Independent Stores (AIS) annual conference some five years ago.

Planning the refurb has clearly been years in the making, as Peter explains: “We first started planning the refurbishment in mid-2019 when we began working with Kate Rowe at Spaceworks Interiors on researching and developing an initial design concept.

“I felt they were a good match to our requirements – more so than other suppliers – and ultimately, you don’t know whether you’ll get the inspirational design you desire unless you start a process. The brief I gave Kate was relatively loose, in the sense that by giving ‘free rein’, I hoped it would provide opportunity for more radical thinking. Our only real parameters were the physical restrictions of the existing building, a desire to better layout the existing departments and that there had to be a ‘wow’ factor.

“However, like many things in 2019, the pandemic intervened and forced us to put back any thoughts of progressing the work. It was a further two years until we revisited the project, with Spaceworks carrying out a comprehensive research process through late 2021 and then putting forward a design proposal and budget costing in 2022. We then opted to defer progressing until mid-2023, when the detailed work began.

“The scope of the work is essentially a full ‘ground up’ internal refurbishment. The store’s interior was last fully refurbished in 1995, though it has had updating work at regular intervals since. Therefore, this project will see the entire existing interior removed in four phases, allowing us to continue trading from 75% of the store’s space throughout the 23 weeks of work.

“The work will see hard flooring replace carpet, a totally new lighting scheme that will allow us to showcase products far better, new divider-delineated room display layouts, a beds & bedroom ‘store within a store’ concept and a new streamlined carpet and flooring department. The aim is to reinforce the store as Plymouth’s biggest and best, as well as making it a real destination for furniture buyers across a wide age range.”

The huge investment is testament to the retailer’s proactive approach at not standing still in such challenging times, with Peter stating that reinvesting in the location that has served the business well over the past four decades, is key to the continued and future growth of the company.

“The past four to five years have been among the most turbulent in big ticket retailing of the past quarter of a century. The pandemic boom saw us deliver record sales levels as people upgraded their homes, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resultant energy price spikes and interest rate rises have significantly impacted consumers’ disposable income.

“However, in a competitive market, we want to secure our position and the need to update the Plymouth store’s interior was clear. Having traded successfully on the site for approaching 40 years, we’re excited to be making such a big investment, signalling that we see a strong future for the company trading in Plymouth and serving the surrounding area.”

The store project adds to Fairway’s other investments from the past few years, with the company committing to a net-zero target by 2030, as well as completing the roll-out of solar power generation at all retail sites, which has cut their electricity usage and made the company over 40% self-sufficient. Furthermore, their non-delivery vehicle fleet is also being electrified as and when vehicle replacement cycles are reached, backed by an investment in electric vehicle charging facilities at all sites, including its distribution centre. 

“We are currently working on plans to enable customer charging using this infrastructure while shopping in store,” Peter said, continuing: “We are also planning to carry out a major external refresh of the Tavistock store during 2024, which will transform its appearance.”

The continued investments, which also include sales training via Furniture Sales Solutions, has seen the business finish its trading year at the end of January with double-digit sales growth, while the start of the 2024 has seen the business continue this “encouraging sales uptick”.

Keeping a close eye on consumer behaviour to boost performance too, Peter shared a number of shopping changes. “We have seen a noticeable rise in eclecticism, with consumers looking to add incrementally to their furniture. Outside of sofas, chairs and beds, other product sectors have become far more challenging – consumers value comfort far more than anything else, and with limited spending power they are focusing on those areas of the home that improve their relaxation and sleep time.

“Within product sectors, upholstery is seeing a big shift towards additional comfort features, such as adjustable lumbar and headrests on sofas. We’ve seen growth in sales of models with these features outstrip more conventional formats considerably over the past 12-18 months. In beds, there is a definite shift towards making bedrooms an oasis of calm and somewhere people like to spend time. Hotel style big headboards are very in vogue and in terms of sales by size, people are trading up to the largest bed they can fit in their bedroom.”

With work now fully underway in Plymouth, Peter expects completion by early September and will hold a special relaunch event for the Autumn to celebrate the occasion. “We will be holding a formal relaunch event for customers later in the Autumn once the new store interior is finished, to maximise both the anticipation of what we’re doing and then the finished impact of our investment.”


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