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Furniture Feature - Devonshire Living

Can you give an introduction to who you are and who/what your brand is? How long have you been in business? Have you exhibited at January Furniture Show before?
 
I am Nicolle Hockin and I’m the second-generation owner of Devonshire, formerly Devonshire Pine (then Pine & Oak, then Living. We’ve learnt not to restrict ourselves anymore). We import quality cabinet furniture predominantly in pine, painted and oak across dining, living and bedroom collections. Our family run business trades out of our custom-built 240,000 square foot warehouse and showroom, located in beautiful North Devon, and 2022 marks our 30th anniversary of trading. We supply retailers across Britain (we haven’t ventured in to Ireland – yet), distributing on our own fleet of vehicles. We have exhibited at JFS before, but we only tend to do so when we have something new and exciting to show.
 
How did you start your company? 

Devonshire began as a simple furniture spray facility back in the early 90s, but with the incredible vision and determination of founder Peter Hockin grew extremely quickly and organically to include pine manufacturing, paint spraying and, in the early 2000s, importing oak. In 2019 the business transferred ownership to me, his daughter, to carry on the legacy. At the same time, we made the unfortunate decision to close the manufacturing side of the business due to the aggressive overseas competition. Although we now focus purely on imported product, we do still run the original paint shop to offer a variety of colour options on selected ranges. The extensive knowledge of the product certainly hasn’t been lost, and continues to be well utilized in the QC department and when designing new product.

We still have one member of staff from the original team back in 1992, and many of our team have been with us for well over 20 years. It is my intention to take the rich history of the company, those many years of knowledge and experience, and continue to grow the business in new and modern directions.

 
Knowing what you do now, what advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out? 

Having been with the company for just under 6 years now, it would be irresponsible of me to pretend that I didn’t still have a lot to learn about the industry and the business. Joining a company as a successor which has already been running well for 25 years can be a blessing and a curse – a blessing, because you can work with all these wonderful people who know what they’re doing, and with processes that already work. A curse, because the company has grown from something very small to very large, and that kind of growth has many layers to dissect and figure out how it all fits together, before you can start to identify improvements.

My advice to anyone taking on an already established business would be to really muck in and see how everything works from the bottom up; I spent my summers age 14 putting together the cardboard packaging, and later years making drawer boxes and helping out in the showroom. When I chose to return full-time as an adult, I started off in the customer service office and undertook an MBA before taking on more responsibility. You can’t make good, well-rounded decisions if you don’t know how they affect different departments from production, to sales, to finance, to administration. Every day I learn something new, and the best way to do that is to listen – to your staff, your customers, your suppliers and the media (with a pinch of salt!). Surround yourself with good, positive (but not complacent) people. I might be the head of the company, but it takes a cohesive team of skillful people to make it all work.

 
Can you tell us about your new collections/ranges that you’ll be launching at January Furniture Show?

This year you’ll see a new Devonshire, and the direction we’re taking the company in for the future. We’re not in this industry to race to the bottom and risk our quality, service and reputation in the process. The last 2 years have proven that for the majority of end consumers, if they want it and it’s in stock they will pay for it - and with that in mind we’ve weathered the storm extremely well and are in a great position to keep the momentum going and push forwards.

At the show we will be exhibiting 7 new ranges; 2 which we have committed to and have backup stock arriving in February/March, and 5 which we will advance depending on retailer feedback. We’re moving in to new materials and shapes this year, such as rattan and curved shutter doors. We’re also looking at where we can add value to the end consumer, such as a modular painted range where individual pieces can be fitted together in different configurations. Most excitingly, 3 of the ranges we are showing are made from reclaimed materials, as we continue working on the environmental impact of our supply chain.

 
Any personal favourites from your new collection?

Personally, my style is anything with a colour contrast, so I’m particularly fond of the ‘Oxford’ range, which is a mix of natural oak and a beautiful rich black paint finish with rattan inlay. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly eye-catching and looks stunning on promotional materials.

I’m also passionate about the 3 reclaimed ranges individually, for the environmental aspect and also because they are all unique with gorgeous design features you wouldn’t normally see from Devonshire. One of the ranges, ‘Henley’, is really far out of our current comfort zone which is great fun and keeping the team on their toes.

 
What are you most looking forward to at the show?

Our main goal of the show is to get enough quality feedback to take some of our potential ranges to mass production, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say to take some firm sales! It’s always great to catch up with current customers, as well as meet new retailers (and suppliers/agents/industry-people) that we might not have had contact with before. I also like to see what other importers are bringing in, if there’s anything new and exciting that we’ve not been exposed to yet. This year I really want to see new colours, materials and ‘value-added’ designs, as well as steps towards a more eco-conscious mindset from the industry leaders. We know from experience that there’s no simple solution when it comes to sustainability, so if everyone is doing their own research then hopefully some options will start to stick.
 
 
Do you have any highlights from the 18 months that you would like to mention?

There’s no doubt that it’s been a tough 18 months for everyone, but I’m so proud of how my team have handled the whole situation, taking everything in their stride with understanding and optimism. That positivity definitely reflected in their work and on the company as a whole; our financial year ends in August, and every measurable metric was up across the board. We’ve put it down largely to entering the pandemic with stable finances, which allowed us to keep bringing in stock even when stores were closed, and a renewed focus on customer service and flexibility. We send out regular updates to our customers and one message we keep repeating is, ‘you can’t sell what you don’t have’. This has certainly been true for us as our £4mil stockholding has been key to our success this year.

 
What’s next for the company?

Onwards and upwards! We spent a few years resting on past successes, but now we’ve regrouped and are ready to push on. As you’ll see at the show, and I’ve mentioned here already, we’re looking at new designs and materials, as well as our eco-footprint. We’re also exploring new technologies and upgrades to current processes, particularly our trade ordering platform which we are planning to also be ready to launch in January. On the side, we’re investigating new additions to our fleet, such as van options for flexibility, and developing our supply chain in to other locations such as Europe and India. Devonshire are in a new era, so watch this space.
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