Belle Maison exclusively b-to-c


Furniture manufacturer/marketer Belle Maison is no longer a
wholesaler. The company axed its business-to-business arm at the
end of last year, just months after cofounder Mark Essex told
Catalogue e-business he was mulling the sale of the
business’s direct arm.

The reason for the change of direction: Essex and his wife,
Rebecca Dale-Essex, want to focus on “quality rather than
quantity” and achieve good margins on all sales. “By
our no longer selling to the trade, the product has become that
much more exclusive, and we are not competing on price with those
whom we supply,” Essex explained. “There are still
people out there deluding themselves that the key is to get to
critical mass to bring economies of scale. Whilst running Belle
Maison and supplying some of the key players in the kids’
furniture industry-including Aspace, Letterbox, and Urchin-it
soon became apparent that more deliveries simply brought more
problems. The key is to make maximum margin on as few deliveries
as possible.”

Belle Maison was conceived as a manufacturer and retailer in
2001; in 2002 it began selling to the trade. It didn’t add a
direct sales arm until 2006.

Sales for 2008 were up from the previous year, said Essex, who
aims to grow turnover to £2 million in the 12 months from
1st April. He is viewing the direct-only iteration of the
business as a new venture and said that £2 million is a
“conservative estimate based on the proportion of direct
sales the old organisation did”.

Although the cofounders remain involved with the business, they
no longer run it on a day-to-day basis. At press time, Essex was
close to finalising employment contracts with a new management
team.

As part of its revamped business model, Belle Maison has already
unveiled one new feature: Make an Offer, an auction facility on
the Belle Maison website that allows customers to bid on selected
seconds, returns, and end-of-line stock. “Of course you get
the jokers who might try their luck with a silly offer,”
said Dale-Essex, “but generally people bid what the product
is worth and more than we would have reduced it to had we wanted
to price it to move.” Also, added Essex, “it allows
us to move a large volume of certain lines quickly without being
tied to a price.”

So far response has been “phenomenal,” said Essex,
who has applied to patent the software in order to expand the
facility in future. “I suspect we could have made an awful
lot more from [the software] than we will selling
furniture,” he said. “But if it achieves our aim to
move stock we no longer want, we will settle for that.”

Another route Essex is considering is making acquisitions in the
multichannel retail sector, particularly “existing
ecommerce companies on a good web platform”. He revealed
that Belle Maison had made a bid for failed children’s products
cataloguer Urchin in March and got as far as agreeing to an offer
with the liquidator. Due to last-minute complications, however,
Belle Maison pulled out of the deal. Essex said he remains open
to and is actively seeking other opportunities to acquire
complementary brands to join the Belle Maison family.

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