To Russians with love: ‘It can be nice doing business with you’
Yorkshire property and interiors firms are surviving the recession by winning Russian business. Sharon Dale reports.
RUSSIAN oligarchs are thin on the ground in God’s own county but that hasn’t stopped determined Yorkshire businesses from chasing the rouble rich.
Entrepreneurial property and interiors firms have targeted Russian clients by tailoring products and services to suit their taste.
Leeds-based James Hare is a prime example. The company is renowned for producing beautiful, top quality silks and has just developed a range specifically aimed at the Russian market.
Sales director Saffron Hare says: “We are a family concern and we love to travel so we enjoy going out to find business.
“We targeted Russia about seven or eight years ago and it is now a good proportion of our export market. In fact, I was there recently. We sell to shops and interior designers there and we’ve been very successful because the Russians love luxury fabrics and they love classic English interiors.
“We have just developed some new silks with them in mind. They love sheer fabrics and we have used a traditional paisley pattern, which we think will appeal to them.”
The Russians also love warm colours, says Saffron, because they have such cold, long winters.
“Their tastes have changed a lot in the past few years. When we first went over there, the predominant style was very opulent, heavy and dark. Now it is still opulent but super chic and very smart.”
Yorkshire-based interior designer Carolyn Parker agrees. She is working with Leeds-based developer Richard Burt, of Staunch Ltd on a £15m property in Weybridge, Surrey, aimed at Russian buyers.
“They are very discerning and love quality, natural materials such as marble, wood and silks and gildings. Elaborate decoration appeals as it is part of their own history,” she says.
“Here they want a solid, English look with high end finishes and beautiful, bespoke furniture made by craftsmen.”
Richard says Staunch targeted Weybridge because it hadn’t been “battered by the recession” and there was a market for luxury homes.
“We designed the house with Russian people in mind, which is why it is Regency style with a contemporary twist. These people have homes all over the world and they don’t want them all to look the same. They want their home in England to look English and their home in France to look French,” he says.
“Inside it is all about opulence. If you are paying £15m plus you want the best of the best. I’m happy to say we have used a lot of Yorkshire companies to supply products and we’ve also used cabinet makers from this area. The site might be in Surrey but Yorkshire has benefited.”
Royal Oak Furniture in the Dales village of Grassington has capitalised on the Russian love of quintessentially English furniture.
It has a booming export order book for bespoke cabinetry supplying everything from tables and chairs to ornate panelled rooms and four poster beds.
Owner Paul Kent says: “We first started getting interest from all over the world through our furniture displays in Harrods during the 1990s and it seems that the level of craftsmanship and service we offer is really appreciated abroad. True cabinetmaking skills all but died out in the Eastern Bloc under communism, so beautiful, handcarved furniture is now very highly valued in that region.”
The team has been busy with one large order that is about to be shipped out and has produced everything so that it can be flat- packed for transportation. Paul remains on stand-by to travel over to Russia to re-assemble the pieces.
“The magnitude of the order and the relationship with the interior design company in Russia stands Royal Oak Furniture in good stead for more work in the same vein,” he says.
Stone specialist Lapicida, which is based in Knaresborough, and has just opened a new showroom in London, is also popular with oligarchs.
Managing director Jason Cherrington says: “We have a great many Russian clients and the market is growing as more and more of them are buying properties in the UK.
“Russians are highly selective; they want products which offer them the ultimate in quality, luxury and glamour. They love the aristocratic look of natural stone, but they don’t do shabby chic. Everything has to be supersleek and highly decorative, so marble is a big favourite, as are semi-precious stones such as our rock crystal basins, carved from a single block of crystal. Gold and gilt is another popular theme and our new metallic stone walls are proving a big hit with our Russian clients and their interior decorators.”
Finding these mega rich clients is down to networking and legwork.
“It doesn’t come on a plate,” says Carolyn Parker. “You have to be prepared to travel and usually the client will have a facilitator but if you do deal direct I have found them to be excellent. I worked for a Russian lady and she was absolutely lovely. Just great to deal with.”
Saffron Hare also testifies that Russians make good customers and says traders have nothing to fear from trading in the former Soviet Union.
“We find that Russian are actually a lot like Yorkshire people. They are very blunt and can sometimes come across as rude but they are very straightforward and easy to deal with.” Useful contacts: Carolyn Parker Interiors Design, www.carolynparker.com
Staunch developments, www. staunchltd.com
Royal oak Furniture, www. royaloakfurniture.co.uk
Lapicida, Knaresborough and London, www.lapicida.com
James Hare www.james-hare. com
Royal Oak of Grassington has won Russian clients for its traditional, bespoke furniture, while Lapicida’s marble tiles and rock crystal basins are must-haves for luxury homes. James Hare’s silks have also captured a place in the Russian market for luxury textiles.
Russian clients love luxurious materials, and they also like a touch of classic English style, especially for their UK homes.