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An ambitious plan by this leading sofa manufacturer to raise and align its brand, environment, production design and culture to the same level is laying solid foundations for further future business growth.
Company directors Vernon Goldberg and David Bramwell bought QFC, previously known as The Quality Furniture Company, 22 years ago.
Based in Grantham, Lincolnshire, QFC is one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of sofas and sells its products to leading high street retailers including DFS, Laura Ashley, Home Retail Group, John Lewis and Next. In 2014, it made 290,000 sofas and turned over just under £40m.
Growth was driven initially by a decision taken in 2001 to reduce product ranges and dramatically cut production times (from the industry standard of seven weeks to just one) to drive growth and fend off competition from manufacturers in the far east – China, especially.
However, by 2013 market conditions had changed and QFC needed a fresh market differentiator. The management team began considering ways to strengthen the business’s brand. But with no in-house marketing team and
little branding experience, they needed some external support.
What we did
Design Council and Ellis were instrumental in putting together a detailed strategic brief and introducing us to the right design agencies.Vernon Goldberg, QFC Chief Executive
Design Council assigned Design Associate Ellis Pitt to work with QFC’s management team.
“QFC had become a leading player by cultivating a strong business ethic, placing an emphasis on quality and innovation while shortening delivery times, and working with external consultants to embed various forms of best practice,” Pitt explained.
“But with competition catching up it was clear they needed to do more. Through detailed analysis of the business, we identified a range of opportunities for a more strategic use of design which would help the management team achieve their ambitious business goals.”
Several design projects were identified, discussed and prioritised to ensure they would each deliver quantifiable improvements to QFC’s performance and capability. One was rebranding the business. Another was to create a new, dedicated design studio that would also be used as a showroom. A project to evolve the business’s new product development process in order to more closely align sales with production was also discussed.
Pitt worked closely with the directors to fine-tune their business strategy and vision.
The first step was to rebrand to make it clear to staff and customers where our business is heading.Vernon Goldberg, QFC Chief Executive
Vernon Goldberg, QFC’s Chief Executive, explained: “Competitors were catching up on quality and lead times, so the time was right to move to the next stage of market differentiation - design - and our ability to develop popular and stylish ranges. The first step was to rebrand to make it clear to staff and customers where our business is heading.”
With Pitt’s support, a detailed design brief was written outlining the requirements and parameters of the rebranding project and ensuring they were closely aligned with business goals.
Pitt then introduced the company to several design agencies with the right fit and expertise for QFC. London-based brand design specialist The Allotment was appointed in early 2014.
We learned the staff lacked understanding of the business’s vision and values, so these needed to be clarified and embedded more deeply.Paul Middlebrook, Managing Partner of The Allotment
“Design Council and Ellis were instrumental in putting together a detailed strategic brief and introducing us to the right design agencies,” Goldberg said. “We’d not done marketing before - or brand development - and without their help we would not have known where to look.”
The designers’ first step was to undertake further detailed research among staff and customers to better understand perceptions of the brand. “We learned that staff lacked understanding of the business’s vision and values, so these needed to be clarified and embedded more deeply,” said Paul Middlebrook, The Allotment’s Managing Partner.
A new brand identity was designed in which the ‘Q’ of QFC would stand for ‘question’, not ‘quality’ as it had previously. The thinking behind this was that ‘quality’ was no longer a winning strategy, but a given. The new branding was launched in September 2014.
The QFC rebrand
Over the months that followed, QFC approved two further design projects identified and planned with the help and guidance of Ellis Pitt.
In January 2015, work began on creating a dedicated, inspirational design department at QFC's head office, working with design agency McDaniel Woolf. Previously, QFC’s product designers sat in a cramped, conventional office space. The new design studio will sit at the heart of the business, next door to the factory and the marketing, sales and prototyping teams, providing a great impression for visitors and enabling better internal communications.
Then in March, a review of the business’s entire approach to design and manufacturing got underway with external consultant Ian Oliver and industrial design specialist Amos Marchant.
The review of QFC’s design and manufacturing process is intended to take costs out of the business by streamlining its product range.
Bringing in external expertise to challenge the status quo is always useful. In this case, however, it prompted a complete strategic review.Vernon Goldberg, QFC Chief Executive
“The involvement of someone like Ellis has provided a catalyst for some fundamental rethinking of our business and what we want to do with it,” Goldberg observed. “Bringing in external expertise to challenge the status quo is always useful. In this case, however, it prompted a complete strategic review.”
An understanding of the strategic business value of design is now embedded throughout the business. A head of marketing has been appointed and the in-house design team has been expanded from two designers to four. All of this is indicative of a new approach to product development, with an emphasis on innovation and design.
Goldberg explained: “Our plan will take a good couple of years before it has been fully implemented and the true impact will only become evident once people see the new products we sell into the marketplace. It won’t happen overnight, but we are on our way.”
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