Alexander Rose – Fine Garden Furniture Alexander Rose was formed in 1994 as the UK selling company for quality outdoor hardwood furniture manufactured in Ghana. Current managing director, Borge Leth, who had previously been the factory director in West Africa, started the initial enterprise, and remains integral to the ongoing business. Garden Centre Update paid a visit to the company’s offices in Burgess Hill, West Sussex to speak to Borge and find out more about the organisation and its products Alexander Rose has just launched a complete new furniture collection at the SOLEX show during what can only be described as difficult trading conditions. The company has built a strong brand awareness and has a quality image so we started our interview with MD, Borge Leth by asking him to explain a bit about the company, its products and ethos. Tell us about your company. How, when and where it started? The company started when I was still working in Ghana as general manager for Scanstyle because one of our big UK customers, Ashford Leisure, that we supplied with garden furniture went bust and we were stuck with quite a lot of stock in our factory. So we worked with the agent for that company who helped sell this excess furniture for us. We then got the appetite to actually start wholesaling furniture ourselves, and with the continued support of the UK sales agent we set up our UK operation with the name Alexander Rose in 1993. There is some debate about where this name originated, but I believe it is named after the winner of the 1993 RHS/RNRS Award of Garden Merit the ‘Rosa Alexander’, and it has served us very well as it is a nice solid English name. How many people work at Alexander Rose? The company currently employees 35 full time staff at our Burgess Hill facility and we also have a number of sales agents spread around the country. We also have European sales agents representing the company abroad. What is your company ethos? Alexander Rose takes its environmental and ethical responsibilities very seriously. Sustainable sourcing for products, combined with the utilisation of factories that possess good employee conditions, has long been our way of business and fundamental to our core beliefs and values. This ethos runs through the entire operation and to ensure this we have set up a number of our own factories in various locations around the world including the island of Cebu in the Philippines where we employee 250 weavers. Where are the products manufactured? As mentioned, we have the 6,000m2 factory in Cebu for hand woven products. The majority of the wooden products are made in our own 25,000m2 factory in Santa Cruz in Bolivia which employees around 5,000 people. This factory is one of the founders and works with the organisation to improve sustainability of wood products. We also buy in some pine products from Poland and stainless steel from the Slovak Republic, so it is a truly global operation. You offer a wide range of quality garden furniture made from a number of different materials. Where do you get the inspiration for these products? I am actually a cabinet maker by trade so I have a lot of input into the design of many of our products along with our in-house design team and some freelance designers as well. We use the outside designers in order to get fresh ideas and make sure we don’t get stale. For instance, around 10 years ago we worked with a Danish designer to produce some furniture in stainless steel and teak which has become somewhat of a classic range. We have also worked with a Swedish designer to produce some other contemporary pieces. If you look at our current and new product ranges, I believe we are trend setters in the garden furniture industry. However, we also produce some furniture which I would call ‘classic’ that always has a market and never dates. Much of this is inspired by traditional English furniture designers. What makes your products different and stand out from the rest? Two things; the design and the quality. I believe if something is worth making, then it is only worth making properly. This comes down the correct choice of materials and also the construction methods, two things as a company we concentrate on. How do you market your products? We go to many trade shows in the UK, the main one being SOLEX. We are also considering the Spring Fair next year. One of our key strengths is our sales reps. We mainly use in-house reps as they are able to service our customers properly and give them help with sales and marketing activities. We have also started a new trend by supporting the effort of our retailers with the use of social media for marketing. This enables us to engage with consumers and make them more aware of our brand and retailers. What sort of delivery time do you offer? We are able to offer a delivery time of 48 hours. Our stock success rate is 95 per cent as we have invested in a large warehousing facility that utilises high bay racking that turns our 20,000ft2 warehouse in to the equivalent of a 100,000ft2 of storage space. We hold almost £5 million worth of product (£10 million in retail value) at any one time. How important is it to get the price right? Pricing is important, but more so is our aim to provide the best quality aspirational products but at an affordable price. We don’t get drawn into price battles, we maintain our pricing and have always made a profit. What are your main concerns about the current economic climate and what factors affect sales of your products? Our business is not really affected too much by the economy, but we are totally weather dependent. We have an excellent quality product at an affordable price and this will always be the case, but purchasing of garden furniture is decided a lot by the weather. This year has been challenging because of the poor summer, yet we have still managed maintain a good level of sales. With 70 per cent of our business being in the UK and Ireland we are obviously reliant on the British weather. Our next biggest market is Germany, followed by France. We also do business in Greece and Italy and have found an interesting market in West Africa which has resulted in more sales than expected. Any plans for the future – new lines, products etc? This year has seen our biggest launch of new products. When faced with difficult trading conditions many companies scale down their R&D activities, but we have decided to do the opposite and our stand at SOLEX was full of new products. We spend around £250,000 a year on product development, so around two per cent of turnover. What does your company do to offer repeat business? We have special trading terms and in the UK we have dealt with the same 400 account customer base for many years, so there is not too much potential for growth from new customers. With our new range we do expect to see a substantial uplift in sales. I expect more growth to come from increasing market share in Europe. What are your ‘top tips’ for in-store marketing? What could your customers do better to increase sales of your products? We are doing more than ever to support garden centres with the display of our products as this is crucial to increasing sales. How our furniture is presented in retail outlets is very important and we are working with our customers to display product that makes it easy for consumers to find it. Therefore our sales reps are always available to offer help, support and advice. More information To find out more about Alexander Rose, please take a look around our website or follow on Twitter @Alexander__Rose or like on Facebook at Facebook.