[Indie Interview] Mandy Brown of Harrison & Brown
Earlier this month, we heard how furniture retailer Harrison & Brown were supporting local independent businesses. Now, we sit down with Founder Mandy Brown to find out more.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I started in retail when I was 17 on the same street my shop is now today. I have always lived and worked in Sunderland where my family are from and I love supplying local customers, most of which I’m pleased to say have become my friends. From my first job at Thomas Lynn’s Ltd, I moved to Joplings as the Hotpoint demonstrator and worked my way up to assistant buyer for electricals and beds until I was head hunted by Michael O’Connor for the store I’m in now. I never really intended to open my own shop but when my boss announced he was moving to Florida, I made the decision to take on the Sunderland store as my own. I created a new company called Harrison and Brown and the rest, as they say, is history.
What does your company do and when did it launch?
I opened Harrison and brown – a supplier of fine furniture and accessories – more than 4 years ago.
What is your USP?
I supply quality furniture from around the globe to the customers of the North East of England. I would like to think that my USP is our customer service because we always strive to go above and beyond and I treat everyone who comes through the door as I would like to be treated.
Who are your customers?
I supply a huge range of customers, from people are just embarking on their first home through to those who are older and may be retired. We have a very loyal, local customers base but we also welcome customers from further afield across the region.
Where are you located and how do you operate?
The store is located in the centre of Sunderland at Holmeside and has five large floors of fabulous furniture. We are a physical store and mainly trade that way although customers can also browse our ranges online. I’m delighted that most of our customers return to shop with us time and time again.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2022
While retail has gone through an incredibly challenging time recently, I have found that with an outpouring of support we have been lucky enough to grow over these last two years. An increase in online shopping is always a challenge facing the high street and I hope consumers will continue to shop local going forward and recognise that the best service is still from people you are able to meet face to face, rather than through a computer screen.
What challenges are retailers facing right now?
The uncertainty around staying open has certainly been a challenge, along with price increases and furniture delivery lead times going sky high. I can see this continuing for some time yet and I fear we are not over the worst of it as we have had four occasions where we have had to disappoint customers by informing them that their order won’t be with them for Christmas. Thankfully they have been extremely understanding and happy to wait, which I think is helped by the fact we have been honest and upfront with everyone at the time of ordering and explaining the delays. On the other hand, we have also had a lot of orders coming in early so those customers are especially pleased with that. We deal predominantly – where we can – with British made furniture even then some small parts may be sourced from abroad. Delays and price hikes have made things a little unpredictable, but honesty is always the best policy with customers.
How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?
We will continue to grow through word of mouth and the quality of our customer service. We also recently set up a giant Christmas giveaway with products, experiences and services we purchased from other local traders in the city. It’s so important to support the businesses on your doorstep, whether you’re a customer or a fellow trader yourself.
What is on the horizon for you as a company?
We are looking forward to an exciting new year for the company, pushing on with new designs and supply chains for the 2022 season. We are also investing in TV advertising to spread the word about the store to customers from further afield and help them turn their houses into Harrison and Brown homes.