Buying British – the joys and the heartache

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Buying British – the joys and the heartache

We’ve tried hard but it’s really not been easy. Generally, and with some very noteable exceptions, British manufacture and North East business displayed uncompetitive pricing and poor service.  Here’s the story.

We know something about industrial clusters, so we knew to take a trip to London.  (Paul Miller led the project which mapped UK clusters – here’s the Executive Summary. For more of the study, please contact us).

The UK (office) furniture cluster

This is one of the UK’s most dense clusters. All things office interior are to be found in a small patch of Clerkenwell – an area roughly between Angel and Barbican in London.

(All things home furniture are around Tottenham Court Road).

Every British, American and European manufacturer of office interior products has a showroom here alongside consultants and design studios. The area has an annual design event called Clerkenwell Design Week.

We wanted to buy British and to source locally – we were only partially successful.

There are few British manufacturers of high end office furniture. We walked into one of the biggest in Clerkenwell, had a look round and our contact details were noted;  4  days later, we got a call back.  We identified in some detail our requirements and then waited.  Two weeks after that, we got a call from the Newcastle based agent and we politely offered feedback, once again identified our requirement and once again waited.  Nothing happened.

We were also disappointed that UK manufactured products were often significantly more expensive than European competitors.

And then there’s the service and the quality.  More on that below.

(We largely achieved ‘buy British AND buy local’ in the restoration and construction of The Racquets Court – that story is here).  Our experience of purchased services in the restoration and construction of The Racquets Court – legal, connectivity, internal switches, wifi and so on – is largely good, and that story is here).

Racquets Court seating

Desk chairs in The Racquets Court

Desk chairs in The Racquets Court

We’ve got four seating types in the office:  office desk chairs, meeting room chairs, conferences, kitchen chairs and sofas.  They come from Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.  They have been purchased with lumbar support and comfort in mind.

Our desk chairs are made by Viasit in Germany and the particular model we bought is both innovative and winner of the 2017 Green Product Award.   (If you have a product to enter for next year, go here).

The chair’s innovation is in the design of the back, which combines both mesh and fabric.  So, it’s a chair that’s good for the user’s back and the environment.

Viasit also make our meeting and conference chairs.  The meeting room chairs are a new release from Viasit and was a winning entry on the 2019 German Design Awards.  Our Viasit contract was handled in the UK by Office Chairs UK and James Reid there was a delight to deal with.

Award winning Racquets Court meeting room chairs

Award winning Racquets Court meeting room chairs

Our breakout sofas and coffee tables are by Hay – Scandinavian design, from Denmark.

And our kitchen chairs are by Vitra.  Vitra is Swiss but with probably the largest Clerkenwell showroom that we stumbled over.

Our UK supplier for Hay and Vitra products was CoExistance and Alex Reddicliffe there was great.

Racquets Court tables and desks

Our desks and meeting tables ARE British!  These are designed and made by Flexiform in Yorkshire.  Nick Saunders, Flexiform’s Sales and Marketing Director, was really helpful.

Our kitchen tables are Italian, by Plank – again supplied by CoExistance.

Racquets Court flooring

Breakout sofas in The Racquets Court

Breakout sofas in The Racquets Court

Carpeting is by Milliken – a US business which manufactures in the UK.  The carpet choice is frankly daunting!  And the choice is complicated by the fact that carpet is bought by the decibel.  In other words, we had to take a view on the sound insulation necessary in The Racquets Court – not easy in a building that had once been …. well, a racquets court.

Vinyl covering is by Polyflor – and it’s British.

Racquets Court Lighting

Visitors to The Racquets Court invariably comment on the lighting – it’s ‘architectural’, designed to stand out and largely designed and made by Dorset based Dextra.

It’s not usual to find British lighting like this – often it’s Italian. We were thrilled to be able to source lighting from the UK.