Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

2001 Mike Browne, Chief Executive, ScS Upholstery, Sunderland; NORTH EAST BUSINESS EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR 25th Anniversary

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

2001 Mike Browne, Chief Executive, ScS Upholstery, Sunderland; NORTH EAST BUSINESS EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR 25th Anniversary

Article excerpt

HE was a headmaster's son, but prepared even so to take any job when he left home in County Mayo searching for prospects in England.

"There wasn't much in the way of work in the west of Ireland then," Mike Browne says of his 1963 decision. "You haven't much idea at 17. I wanted any job to pay the rent. I wasn't academic. I had no qualifications. But I wanted to get on in business. I really liked selling."

He found a steady job, in Newcastle as it happened, with Hardy's Furniture. He was paid "a pittance" to switch furniture around, drive trucks, work in the warehouse and show his skills with a sweeping brush.

"I've worked in every aspect of the business since," says today's chairman of ScS, the Sunderland-based national sofa specialist. But he still had far to go after moving up through Hardy's ranks. He joined Times Furnishings.

By 1972 he was managing Wade's department store in Grainger Street. Three years later the crucial move: Sunderland, and a family firm established in 1890 as A Share & Sons. From the warehouse there he formed his own thoughts on furniture retailing.

Specialist furnishers were coming in.

Mike believed Sunderland Suite Centre, as the Shares' business later became, should specialise. It did too, and when the last controlling family member decided to retire, Mike saw his chance.

"The formula had already succeeded. I wanted to expand it. I knew everything about that business, like it was my own," he recalls. He became the majority shareholder.

ScS's four stores of 20 years ago have become a network of 97. It had eight town-centre branches in the North East then opened a large store at the MetroCentre in Gateshead in 1988.

Sales there indicated the future lay in out-of-town retail parks.

The firm occupies mid-market, which draws 80% of suite buyers. ScS also spotted early a trend of upholstery styles and fabrics being increasingly influenced by clothing fashion: colours and designs spotted on catwalks of Paris, Milan and the USA often appeared on suites sold 12 months later.

Leather, too, accounts for more than 45% of ScS turnover, against a sector average of 15%. …

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