Three craftspeople to a bench was an untenable situation in the Higham Furniture workshop, says company founder Tim Higham. “I could see it turning into a bit of a Laurel and Hardy situation, each person knocking the other out with bits of wood,” he says. And he’s not entirely joking – since setting up his bespoke kitchen business 14 years ago, Higham had gradually taken over extra units on the farm conversion site in Hampshire until there was absolutely no more room for expansion.
“We’ve had nice organic growth built on good product, good customer service and good reputation,” he says of his £2.8million firm, “but we were really becoming limited by the lack of manufacturing space and our inability to keep up with demand.” It was time, he explains, for a step change.
Who are we? Tim Higham, director and owner
What do we do? Bespoke kitchen manufacturer and retailer, particularly known for its unique handleless Shaker design. 90% of sales are kitchens, 10% bedroom, bathroom and office furniture. Most sales are to retail customers, with about 25% to interior designers and architects
Price range Start from £30,000; average, £40,000; most expensive to date, £110,000.
Staffing levels 34
In February 2019, the company moved to a new 27,000sq ft workshop four miles down the road, more than doubling its production space. And in November 2019, they converted some of the London office into a design studio with a working kitchen display, samples area and presentation room. This is the first showroom for the brand – previously, clients visited the Hampshire workshop if they wanted to see the furniture.
On the first floor of a former print works, tucked down a narrow side street off Parsons Green, the studio is not in a high street location. But Higham believes serious buyers will make the effort to seek them out, and that it helps keeps prices down. “For the quality of work we do, we are more cost effective than our showroom-style competitors,” he says.
Given that the investment in the new workshop, machinery and studio amounts to some £625,000, why take the risk? “You’re right that we had a lovely little company, but over 14 years we’ve grown in confidence and competence – and we are much more willing to try new things now,” he says. “The aim is to treble the size of the business over the next five years.” Then he adds, “We don’t know how big this can get from a studio in the middle of Parsons Green, but we are determined not to set up showrooms – that’s always been our strategy – so there may be a maximum size we can get to. But we don’t feel we’ve got there yet.
“I made a mistake by not doing additional marketing before we moved,” he reveals, so now he’s spending more on photography
and social media, particularly, to “get the word out there” and generate more orders. “The thing that’s held us back has been the lack of capacity,” he says. “But now we’ve got more space in the workshop and space to put more designers in here, we just need more clients.”
What is your greatest challenge? Coping with the lumpy economy. This week we’ve had a bonkers number of enquiries, but two weeks ago, I was going, ‘Why are the phones dead?’ I can’t put my finger on why. I need to start employing and training new people and buying new machinery, but it’s difficult to know whether demand like this week is going to continue.
What is your greatest opportunity? The new workshop and the new studio, giving us the capacity to realise our growth”
Strange but true Downstairs is a recording studio with a little garden at the back. One day, Siobhan smelt cigarette smoke drifting upstairs across her desk, which she didn’t much like. She leant out of the window to ask the smoker to stop, when she realised he was Sam Smith. I was tempted to ask him if he needed a new kitchen.