Brand Buyer

Published on: January 21, 2022

As Qualita’s head of buying, experienced industry operator Adam Wray works closely with Laura Ashley and other partners to ensure the right products land on the shop floor…

What’s your industry background, and role in the business?

I’ve been in the furniture industry since the beginning of my career, which began at Heal’s with a stint on the Tottenham Court Road sales floor, before taking up a buying role in the head office with the inspirational John Jenkins. I’ve been using my design degree ever since, with a series of furniture buying and product development roles with retailers such as Harveys, Linley, Tesco and Laura Ashley.

At Qualita, I’m responsible for the product development of all furniture products destined to be sold through our licensed channels. That includes the highly successful Laura Ashley license that we acquired 18 months ago, and some other new and exciting prospects that we are working on. I’ve also been able to use my experience at several high-profile retailers to help inform various aspects of Andrius’ business as it evolves from (primarily) a manufacturer into a wholesaler.

How close are you to Laura Ashley?

Very. I have a strong affinity for the brand, and having worked there as a buyer for several years I understand the existing products and customer profile. I liaise constantly with their design and development team, responding to their seasonal trend briefs with concept ideas and range plans, which then develop into fully fledged designs.

With international travel curtailed, how have you gone about finding inspiration and new product?

As you can imagine, there has been a great reliance on the internet, and I have combined more targeted searching through curated channels such as virtual exhibitions with broader Google searches (including using Google Maps). However, the most reliable results come from tapping into my existing network of contacts and suppliers. Someone once told me that “people do business with people,” and I think that the importance of historical and established relationships has been doubly important recently, when it has been harder to visit potential new suppliers.

What manufacturing bases/materials do you feel drawn to at the moment?

Indonesia has a particular ‘handwriting’ that is popular at the moment, and features in Laura Ashley’s trend briefings. There is still great skill in the region to hand-craft product but still maintain the quality standards expected by discerning UK customers. I’m also drawn to Vietnam, where I’ve seen a lot of very highly specified and high-quality product from very good factories that still have sensible MOQs.

Do you feel the role of the buyer has changed much in the past 10 years?

It probably has at some retailers, and less so at others. I sense that for some the role has become much more about commercially trading a range and less about product design and development – particularly so where the offer is brand focused. Accordingly, the skillset those buyers employ is probably balanced in a different way to one where the retailer develops and designs more in-house.

What do you look for in a manufacturing/supply partner?

It’s always beneficial when you find a partner that already understands your market and the expectations that come with it. If it’s clear that they already understand these expectations and share your values, it’s easier to focus on the fun process of product development. Although the pandemic has prevented travel to certain locations in South-east Asia, initiating a proper trading relationship with a factory I’d only visited in the past has been made much easier because they already had high-profile customers in Europe and the US, so knew what was expected of them.