New management in Fort William proves itself with record sales in 2015
PEOPLE in the West Highlands are canny buyers, but they are also loyal customers often preferring to support local businesses over a vast corporate conglomeration.
But when it comes to spending on large value items, like furniture, that doesn’t mean they don’t want something that is competitively priced, good value and gives them pleasure to look at or use.
Blackbridge Furnishings knows exactly where its customers are coming from - in all respects.
This Highland family-built furniture company, which was set up by James Morrison Fraser in Inverness’s Waterloo Place more than 30 years ago, has had two generations of experience to come to understand what its customers are looking for.
Originally a second-hand furniture shop, the business changed to selling new goods when James Fraser, 41, took over as owner and director 14 years ago and moved Blackbridge Furnishings to Thornbush Road in the city.
The 10,000-square-foot showroom and warehouse in Inverness now employs 12 people, and three years ago the same size space in Fort William was opened to customers on the west coast.
OPPORTUNITY James came into the business straight from school, having helped his father out in the shop from the age of eight upwards.
He saw an opportunity to supply his customers with the best quality of furniture at the most competitive prices by bringing in stock directly from sources in Vietnam, China and India.
Blackbridge Furnishings has a huge network of contacts among suppliers which gives the business a big advantage when to comes to sourcing items quickly and sourcing more unusual, asked-for items.
‘The way we buy our stock is directly from the source and ship it here in containers so we are super- competitive,’ says James.
Available from the showrooms are solid wood furniture for living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms as well as leather and fabric suites.
There are special offers on sofas, suits and corner units at the moment following a shipment and the company is keen to allow people to take advantage of the affordable prices that Blackbridge Furnishings brings by buying directly from the source.
‘One of our main advantages is that we have stock that people can take home straight away,’ says James.
‘We carry more than a £1 million of stock in our warehouse. People like the fact that they can get it straight away,’ he adds.
‘They don’t have to wait for about six weeks; they can get it straight away.’
‘We have people turning up with vans or sheep floats or trailers and they just load it on.’
One of the reasons why the Fort William store was opened three years ago was because the Inverness store was getting a lot of customers from the west coast, including the islands.
‘Things have really taken off this year since Adam Brown took over as manager in the Fort William store.
‘We had a few teething problems initially but sales have increased by 80 per cent compared
to the same six months last year.’
‘ We are trying to get ourselves known more on the west coast.’
Fort William manager Adam Brown explained that initially people were under the assumption that Blackbridge’s furniture would be more expensive because it was all new.
‘I have never been beaten on price,’ he said. ‘We are always open to negotiation. I can say that because we get them at such good prices ourselves.
‘I have never turned anyone away; if they have come in with a quote for a piece of furniture, I have always beaten it.’
Adam was born and brought up in Fort William before moving away to study mechanics in Inverness and a BSc in motorsport management and logistics before achieving a Masters in business management and finance.
He moved back to Fort William to be near to family and friends and started working in Blackbridge Furnishings’ store in Ardgour Road, Caol.
COMPETITIVE Since April he has been convincing people on the west coast that Blackbridge Furnishings has the most competitive prices around - and it is working.
‘We have a mixture of people coming to our store: from people who want to take out our nine months’ interest-free finance to people who are high earners.’
One of the most popular lines, says Adam, is Blackbridge Furnishing’s Kincraig oak range, with its rustic but clean, simple lines in a variety of options for the living room, dining room and bedroom.
While in the sofas, the Novella range has proved to be everyone’s favourite with its extraordinary plump comfort, relaxing positions and durable leather at astonishingly good prices.
And of course, because it is in stock, it can be picked up there and then or delivered within a matter of days.
‘It all depends on how important it is,’ said Adam.
Deliveries are made from Inverness to the Fort William store twice a week or if necessary in between times and the company delivers directly too.
‘How far do we deliver? Anywhere. We have delivered even to France and Spain,’ says James. ‘I make it happen.’ He cited one customer who wanted a mattress by the Friday of the same week, but delivery would not normally be until the Monday.
‘I had the mattress made by our supplier and delivered by the Friday,’ said James.
‘ We have been in the trade for a long time, so know the right people to go to.’
These business relationships allow Blackbridge Furnishings to make requests for bespoke items within the ranges on offer - bigger coffee tables and plasma television stands are popular.
‘We go to furniture shows two or three times a year to see what is happening to designs, although trends are slow to change,’ says James. ‘ Some of them never catch on!’
‘We do have some things in our showrooms which are out of the ordinary, to catch the eye, for instance, we have a patchworkquilt-style sofa and a range of aluminium furniture called Aviator, which people might buy one or two pieces from, like a lamp table or coffee table, as a statement piece.
CUTTING EDGE ‘We can do cutting edge if it is wanted, as well as the more traditional,’ he adds.
The majority of the furniture comes ready-assembled or part-assembled like wardrobes or beds, in order to get them into homes, but there is a range of flat-packed Mexican pine furniture called Corona, which, Adam says, unlike some flat-packed furniture, has stood the test of time in its showrooms, despite much handling and moving around.
If required, Blackbridge Furnishings will offer an assembly service for those who are not able to do so themselves.
‘And if anyone has issues with the furniture, it can be returned and replaced within days, unlike with the big brand stores in the central belt, where it can take weeks,’ says Adam.
While Blackbridge Furnishings does have a website at www.blackbridgefurnishings.co.uk, the best way to see the full ranges on offer, get a feel for their solidity, build quality, comfort and ask questions - and of course negotiate! - is to visit the Fort William or Inverness stores.
The way we buy our stock is directly from the source and ship it here in containers so we are supercompetitive
James Morrison Fraser
New manager Adam Brown