Winsor Change – Stockholm’s Story

Published on: February 23, 2022

One of the biggest wins for Lithuanian manufacturer Qualita in 2021 was securing the rights to manufacture and supply Stockholm, a classic collection that comprised the bulk of Winsor Furniture’s revenue – before disaster struck in January 2021, and Winsor’s MD, Mark Devany, was forced to make alternative arrangements. Here, Mark recounts the story behind Stockholm’s new home …

There’s no denying it – Stockholm is in its own league. It is clean – almost Scandinavian in appearance – and very easy on the eye. It’s also practical, with soft, round, sweeping corners that are very child-friendly.

Stockholm’s timber selection is strict – a lot of oak products on the market use a myriad of different-coloured timbers, mixing shades of green, pink, yellow, grey … and they come together to produce a look that’s rustic, but not that sophisticated. Stockholm’s colour and grain are very specific. Couple that with the fact there’s no external handles (it’s all recessed), and you have an extremely appealing design, with nothing customers can take any offence at.

When shopfloor staff communicate these characteristics to the public, customers find it hard not to make comparisons thereafter. They go into rival stores and see the mismatches, and notice where corners have been cut. Stockholm sets a benchmark.

And it accounted for some 70% of our business at Winsor Furniture before last January, when a fire gutted the factory in Vietnam where we made it.

I tried negotiating with various other plants to take on production of the range, and they (inadvertently) wasted a lot of my time, going a long way down the line of pricing and sampling before deciding it wasn’t for them.

You see, Stockholm was made in a very specific colour and material, including American solid oak and veneers. A key feature of the collection is its doors and drawers – the same veneer runs across the whole unit, making it look like it’s been cut from one big piece of wood, and that’s very difficult to achieve.

Standard veneer suppliers might only have 5% of their stock that’s suitable for this purpose, and the factories we approached after the fire just couldn’t get secure supplies, or commit to prices. I was told China was swallowing a lot of the American oak – if they could get hold of veneers at all, factories were giving prices, then ramping them up just weeks later, or pushing back the delivery timelines.

The pandemic made finding a new manufacturing partner so difficult. We moved samples around three times – that’s even with QC people on the ground, and our original partner trying to help us make the transition. If you were handing a new collection to an established supplier, there wouldn’t be such a problem – but for a new proposition, and busy factories, it was proving very hard to get a foot in the door.

And we didn’t want to work with just any factory. We needed to make sure their output was of a sufficient quality that we wouldn’t be fighting our own fires once we’d taken stock of the goods in the UK.

Then there was the shipping crisis, running in parallel to all this. When container delivery hit $18,000, we had to contact our stockists to increase prices on any orders placed before January 2021.

We communicated with our existing stockists at every step of the way, and they were very accepting of the 10-15% price increase. Some even tried to help us achieve continuity by feeding us information along the way, offering up their own trusted contacts in the hope that we’d be able to make it work with them. I guess they recognised the size of the hole Stockholm would leave in their turnover.

By late summer, all our negotiations in the Far East had failed. Vietnam went into lockdown, so we were looking at a delivery date of April/May 2022, which was just unthinkable – so we started looking at the possibility of making Stockholm in Europe.

We need a partner who already understood the concept of direct retail supply – and struck up a conversation with a Lithuanian manufacturer, which seemed very promising. But, when we started drilling down into the particulars, and the compromises they’d want to make (including some fundamental changes to the range), it became clear that it was the wrong path.

To be honest, I was close to breaking point. I knew someone, somewhere, could make it happen, as there was so much value in the range, and its UK stockist base was excellent – but I was hitting a wall at every turn.

Then Qualita stepped in. They had a very sophisticated set-up, so the quality wouldn’t suffer (if anything, it’d be better). Rather than having us wholesale it to the UK, they wanted to purchase the design rights and supply it directly.

As far as retailers are concerned, the deal will appear the same, and I think pretty much everybody will reorder some living and/or dining models. Stockholm’s not made from American oak any more, but the quality is very impressive – and Winsor’s agents are working with Andrius to help spread the word (I also think Stockholm will complement a lot of Qualita’s existing retail space).

Given its popularity, and the number of people we asked for help last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if another supplier tried to take advantage of our misfortune and came up with their own version of Stockholm. To that end, we issued a statement in the autumn, with ACID’s help, clarifying that we wouldn’t stand for any imitations.

What will come of the remaining Winsor ranges? I’m not sure yet. Winsor still exists, as a company with assets, but not trading. After fighting so many fires for so long, I’m looking forward to taking some time out after the January Furniture Show – but at least I know Stockholm is in good hands.