Leather specialists Furniture Clinic are on course for significant growth after expanding into the US.
The leather cleaning and repair business began life more than 10 years ago when Keith Staerck travelled around the UK, displaying his products and services at home exhibitions.
But a major step change took place in 2004 when his son, Ben Staerck, then a 17-year-old sixth former, designed and built a company website. After a slow start, Ben Staerck explored ways to maximise the company’s digital presence, resulting in huge sales growth – enough to ensure his dad no longer needed to travel to exhibitions.
In 2005 father and son went into business after the sixth-former ditched plans to study business and economics at university, and Furniture Clinic was officially incorporated. Two years ago, Keith Staerck retired and his son became managing director.
Six years on, the firm has maintained a base at Burnopfield and boasts 11 branches around the UK, employing more than 50 people.
Turnover for the year is expected to top £1.7m – a figure set to substantially rise following the opening of its first office in New York, US, a move made last year in response to demand for the firm’s services and products across the States.
In addition to leather cleaning and repair kits, which can be bought online, Furniture Clinic offers repair and restoration services to businesses and consumers. Customers are able to send their items to a workshop where a trained technician will repair, re-colour or restore their items using its specialist product range.
Managing director Staerck said initial revenues from the 3,000 sq ft premises in the US show he expects the office to bring in around $500,000 (£311,000) sales which could see the New York base grow to five full-time staff.
The company has also seen a recent surge in international sales through its website, which helped it finish this financial year with 25% growth. Nine new staff members have been taken in the past six months to help meet demands.
“It has been a rollercoaster,” said Staerck. “I always knew I was going to go into business with my dad and I took over two years ago when he retired. It has been a fantastic few years for Furniture Clinic and we are looking ahead to the future with real excitement and optimism.
“All of our products were developed in-house, here in the North East and the fact we are supplying customers around the world is a real achievement.
“Our customers really love our kits and we’re always looking at ways to further expand the business and improve our product range and services.”
With a large amount of stock being exported to the United States, Furniture Clinic took the decision to open the New York office to provide a better service to US-based customers and allow it to further increase its reach in the country.
In addition to providing a distribution hub for online sales, the New York office offers a walk-in service to allow customers to seek advice and purchase products in-store.
Staerck said: “We had been considering Furniture Clinic’s expansion for a while and as the business continued to grow we felt like it was the right time to go ahead with our plans. Many customers in the US can be put off by a company that does not have a base in the country. Customers were also paying more in delivery costs for the products, so this will bring costs down all round.
“We also felt that the opening of this office would really help us to expand as a business and firmly establish our brand internationally.
“At the moment we have distributors all over the world – in Hong Kong, China, Russia, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Japan, Vietnam – and we have customers who will buy online from all over the world.
“Overseas sales account for £360,000 of turnover – about a quarter. Our future plans include the opening of further offices in the United States and hopefully other areas of the world. Additionally, we’re hoping to increase our presence and workforce in the region and the rest of the UK.”
There are currently three employees at the New York office and there are plans to increase the workforce over the coming months. Craig Boyd, who is from Sunniside and originally worked as general manager at the Burnopfield branch, is heading up the New York operation. All products will continue to be manufactured in the North East and will be exported to the US for distribution.