Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bedlinen Sellers Sheets Ahead with a Direct Approach

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Bedlinen Sellers Sheets Ahead with a Direct Approach

Article excerpt

Byline: Alex Lawson growth capital

SURROUNDED by plush sheets and plumped pillows, the founders of Secret Linen Store could be forgiven for snoozing on the job. As it is, they've been getting in to bed with their suppliers. The online retail business specialising in bedlinen has spent its maiden year busily building an attractive niche by dispatching only from manufacturer to consumer.

It is a business model used effectively by fast-growing furniture site and is also employed by Secret Linen Store's sister firm, Button & Sprung.

Adam Black is behind both beds businesses. The chirpy founder of discount furniture retail chain Feather & Black, which has 33 stores across the UK, set up Secret Linen Store a year ago before launching mattress specialist Button & Sprung this summer. So why did Black trade the chain he built up since 2004, and which carries his name (along with that of co-founder Robbie Feather, now Sainsbury's online chief ), for two digital start-ups? "I had the right cards but was at the wrong table. For the last 20 years, the retailer has had the whip but now the supplier has more power," Black explains amid the airy surrounds of Button & Sprung's showroom opposite the River Cafe in Hammersmith. "I now have two hands of the right cards at the right table."

He adds that the secret behind the online linen store, of which he is nonexecutive chairman, is specialism: "If you sell lots of different products, you have to integrate supply chains. If you want to be the best at, say, cabinets you just do cabinets."

"I do not need showrooms up and down the country. I need to encourage you to come and see me at this showroom. It's a very different experience to the tired shops on every High Street and allows us to be significantly cheaper than High Street competitors."

Black's comments could be mistaken for an ill-judged pronouncement of the High Street's extinction, a death frequently foretold. However, he explains: "We are opening up a model of market that did not exist in the recession. With premium and discount performing so strongly in retail, you cannot get caught in the middle like Morrisons and Tesco have.

"Feather & Black has a discount model but it cannot be as cheap as Marks & Spencer is caught between Primark and Asos at one end and the likes of Jigsaw. It's possible to survive, but you have to have a niche."

By cutting out the costs of running shops -- from landlords to shop-floor staff -- he is confident his business can outgun larger rivals including John Lewis, Heal's and The White Company in specific categories. Retail runs in his veins as his family business, Peter Black, was once a general merchandise supplier to M&S. In a PS280 million deal in 2000, it became one of the largest companies to go from public to private. …

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