MICHEL EUESDEN, Managing Director of the EWN Media Group – publisher of the RTN – went along to meet and interview Steve Day Managing Director of Oak Land Furniture Spain.
We were delighted to be able to get the interview as Steve is not well known to hold them and doesn’t like the limelight so it was certainly an exclusive scoop for the coast’s number one expat newspaper.
Well Steve, here we are at your San Pedro store and I must say it looks magnificent with such a large choice not only of solid oak furniture but also wonderful sofas too.
Firstly I would like to say thank you for allowing us this interview as I understand you don’t like publicity and interviews, may I firstly ask as it’s intriguing why is that?
Ha ha, straight to the point as always Michel, wouldn’t expect anymore from you, but that’s why I enjoy my team working alongside the EWN Media Group as it does exactly what it says it’s going to do. You have a fantastic group of newspapers here in Spain.
Thanks for the compliment Steve but you haven’t answered my question and this is only my first one!
I guess I’m quite a shy person deep down but it’s more than that, the business is not about me, it’s all about the furniture and my great team of employees, without those both the business wouldn’t achieve what it does.
I often wish wardrobes could talk as they and other items are the real success of the business!
At the end of the day if you haven’t got the quality product then there’s no longevity to your business, rather like your newspaper hey Michel! If you printed rubbish people wouldn’t read your newspaper, but as we know you deliver a great read and that’s why you have been on the coast for so many years!
It’s the same for my furniture, we deliver a full USP, 100% solid oak throughout the product, building a product that will last the client a lifetime. It’s not about me, it’s about the furniture and so I like to sit in the background and allow the furniture to stand out and do the talking, customers can come in store and see the quality of product and it stands out.
On the shop floor our ethos is the furniture sings out and the store staff just answer questions and explain procedures, we don’t employ sales people in effect as the aim is to build the highest quality and designs that stands out.
Steve, whilst we are not here to talk about my newspapers thank you again for the compliment, but yes we carry that same ethos within our business.
Now can we stick to the questions without the swing back to me?
So obviously all this lovely furniture in store, who designs it all and where does it actually come from?
Well as you can see the cuts of wood that we use to manufacture the furniture are of the highest quality, the wood itself comes from North America from substantial forests complying with all strict EU timber regulations.
We use the highest grade which is North American white oak grade 1 on all the natural oak finished ranges. These are the cleanest cuts with the least knots if any and the most beautiful grains. With our rustic oak finishes we use grade 2 as we want the slight blemishes and knots to create the rustic look.
Anyway the logs are sent to our factories in both China and Vietnam where 90% of the worlds oak furniture is produced, the factories work to our designs and produce the furniture in mass to ensure the manufacturing process is economical to be able to offer our low retail prices. So for instance we do a production run of double wardrobes and then ship 40 foot sea containers to the warehouse in Swindon of double wardrobes.
Swindon warehouse receives on a daily basis around 35-40 containers per day, every day six days a week. The designs of our furniture are all exclusive to us and design protected and are all actually designed in-house by ourselves which I feel we are very good at, but this also saves huge designer fees to which again we pass on the savings to our customers.
Designer fees are very large in the industry we are in, so as we all have an eye for design we make some great savings.
So Steve do you go to the Far East yourself to the factories and what’s it like there if so?
In the early days of the business, the answer is yes, probably spent 50% of the year there, as we had to train factories how we expected our furniture quality to be produced. I lived in Dalian which is north China, where the majority of factories are as well as Qingdao, China whilst huge is strange as different products are manufactured in different regions, although we did get down to Shanghai and Beijing many times.
North China is beautiful and not how you would imagine, lovely coast line, great sea food and clean air!
Over the last few years China has changed so much, I remember the first ever trip back in 2001 and as myself and my travel companion went down for breakfast we didn’t like the look of the food as it was quite extreme to say the least, so we decided to stick with what looked hard boiled eggs, the waiter brought them over in a basket with a pair of chops sticks, we knocked the top off the egg to discover the chop sticks were for eating the chick!
Thankfully as the years have gone by and the country has become more modern better food is now more available!
I don’t go as much now as all the production is all built up and as the business has grown, Quality Control teams are all now in place.
Vietnam we now use too, they have caught up with the supply market and chain and do a fantastic job as well. In fact in furniture making terms they are now more competitive and trips there are enjoyable, but again less frequent now as QC teams on the ground.
Lovely places to visit but now I focus my main time here in Spain in the sunshine as we have a lot of work to do as we progress through Spain, Portugal and France.
Yes Steve I saw on your website that delivery options are available to Portugal and France too, was that planned?
In truth no, it wasn’t in the initial plans but when we launched in Spain some eight months ago now, lots of inquiries came in via the website requesting it and so we set up the delivery infrastructure to incorporate the ex-pats in those countries as well. No point turning away valued business!
You haven’t hung around there then Steve, so what was the initial plan and why Spain?
At my age don’t have time to hang around these days Michel! If I was as young as you maybe I would have more time!
For someone who claims to be shy you are a bit of a charmer that’s for sure! Now back to the question why Spain?
Firstly I have always loved Spain and it was a good excuse to move here, but more importantly we could see the potential, we had customers on a weekly basis inquiring in the UK operation if we delivered to Spain, at the time we didn’t and customers were paying a small fortune to ship the furniture over themselves.
So clearly there was a market opportunity and a service to provide. Customers obviously know our product and brands so in realistic terms it made sense.
Many people reading this could be thinking about starting a business here themselves, how did you find it to the UK and how different is it?
Patience is required for starters and few deep breaths at times but overall it’s rather much the same although trading patterns are very different to the UK, the main reason being that the ex-pat market is very spread out along the coast in the main so we get less people to the showroom and more through the website, as the ex-pat knows our brands and products from the UK and of course see the UK adverts on TV here in Spain we had to build the infrastructure internally to cover all options to enable us to deliver further distances from our Malaga-based warehouse.
For instance delivery vans at home go out for a days work but here in Spain they can go out for a weeks work. It took a lot of planning and selecting the correct delivery teams was important too. Yes of course we have the product but we have to back the product up with the service.
Yes I agree, the customer should always receive good service, I’ve taken a look at the reviews on your website and see that you have a 9.8 five-star rating on the independent review website Trust Pilot, that’s very very impressive!
I’m sorry it’s not impressive enough, it should be 10.10 in my book, but we will achieve it. Yes it’s a great score because we work so hard to deliver the full customer service at all times, but I always believe there’s always room to improve. Everything is about the customer within our company.
As we cover so many thousands of miles on delivery routes so our customers can enjoy the benefits of our furniture, we have to strive hard and we do with a great delivery infrastructure as well as fantastic communication channels from the team to the customer.
So Steve simple question what’s your biggest frustration?
Honestly, foot flow to the store, yes I know that the trading patterns are here different in Spain, but I still can’t get my head around it totally.
Yes I get it’s a modern world and people use the internet and website, I get they know our quality product and brand but it still frustrates me, that’s probably because I’m used to large store foot flows, the store manager Nik probably holds the largest conversion rate ever because everyone who comes to store purchases in the main as they have already done their homework via the web.
I guess I’m just an old fashioned retailer but I will always find it strange that a customer will order say from Mijas on the web when the stores only 15 minutes away.
I guess it doesn’t really make any difference to us but we do like to show off our fantastic products and showroom. Just a personal frustration really, just an age thing I guess!
Okay that’s your frustrations, but do you have a pet hate?
I try not to have them as it’s never the end of the world, but there are a few.
Advertising reps calling the store phone number has always been one for 30-odd years now, the phone line is for our customers to inquire about furniture not a free tool for advertising reps who can’t be bothered to call in store and show what they have to offer.
It does really wind me up that one especially as the phone line could be engaged whilst a customer is trying to get through. I can’t believe that advertising reps can’t see its so annoying and reduces their chances of obtaining business!
I have to say we don’t get it too bad here as we have carefully selected our media partners like yourself Michel but it’s a pet hate of many years. Calls have dropped in recent years but at the same time spam emails have gone up which are just as bad. I believe if you have something decent to offer go out and demonstrate and sell it.
So with the showroom open in San Pedro, the website clearly fully operational and the delivery structure all in place with deliveries basically going out on a weekly basis across Europe to what appears rapid rate what’s next?
The first thing is always to both maintain and improve where possible standards and customer service. You have to establish solid foundation to ensure when you do further expand you are ready for it and that it doesn’t effect current business and customers.
We have though launched a website in full Spanish for the Spanish nation, we love Spanish people, their way of life and thank them for allowing us to bring our business to their country, same time I hope they will enjoy and take advantage of of our great product ranges and quality furniture. The website is www.oaklandmuebles.com
We have employed recently the lovely Lola Lopez to work both at the showroom and operate the Spanish website. It’s a very important project for me at present.
We also have as many customers know a superb choice of sofas at the finest low prices so we have also added www.sofastorespain.com
Another store Steve?
Yes for sure, the next one will be in the Costa Blanca somewhere in 2018 I would imagine but it may change route dependent on how the Spanish website performs. Things never go to plan so it’s a matter of how it all unfolds, maybe your readers could tell us if they want a store in Costa Blanca, if they do they can let me know by emailing
Steve it’s been an absolute pleasure to meet you today and thank you so much for the interview.
I know you don’t like doing them so it’s an honour for us as the Euro Weekly News to have one. Thanks again and I’ll leave you to get on with your work as I see the email inbox on your computer is filling up. Thanks again Steve.
Never an issue for you Michel and thank you for the amazing services you provide to Oak Land Furniture Spain.
Shall we go for a pint now? All this talking has made me thirsty in this heat!