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King's Lynn furniture business finding ways of coping with life after a retail lockdown

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As businesses spring back into life after lockdown suspended animation, there are now at last some positive signs for the high street.

The Lynn News took the opportunity to pop down to local independent furniture retailer Artertons’.

Situated in Lynn High Street, the family business is owned by Colin and Amanda Arterton, where they have been in business since 1991.

Amanda Arterton at Arterton furniture store in High Street, Lynn. Each bed has to be covered with disposable paper and each person gets a new pillow case which then have to be washed
Amanda Arterton at Arterton furniture store in High Street, Lynn. Each bed has to be covered with disposable paper and each person gets a new pillow case which then have to be washed

Selling all types of furniture from beds, sofas, chairs and motion furniture to bedroom, occasional and dining furniture, the business officially reopened its doors during last month’s final bank holiday on May 23.

But life as a furniture retailer, like all businesses, has changed for the short, medium and most likely long term. Artertons’, as well as other shops, have implemented new measures to keep staff and customers safe.

Amanda, co-founder and owner of Artertons’ alongside her husband Colin, said: “It’s been good since we reopened. It wasn’t overly clear if we were allowed to reopen as the Government made homeware an essential item but we noticed other shops opening so we were glad we did.

“We’ve put up some social distancing signs, while hand sanitizers are at the door for customers and we have outlined the correct distance to stand in the store with floor markings.

“We’ve got more signs being printed to display too and we’ve also prepared the beds with disposable sheets and pillowcases for when customers need to test them.”

Artertons’ has got to grips with the new way of trading and has even kitted themselves out with visors as well as offering appointments to customers that want to come into store.

The preparations have been well planned to create a safe environment for shoppers and even before it reopened, the business made it their mission to keep customers in the loop, stating that communication has been key throughout this ‘unprecedented’ time.

Amanda said: “It’s been really pleasing as we had people even waiting for us to reopen again and we have a really good order book. We have maintained our communication with customers and we’ve written to them a number of times during the lockdown to keep them updated.

“Thankfully they have all stuck with us. I think our customers appreciate our approach and now we’re open again, we are beginning to process the orders and get new stock in.”

Colin echoed: “I think we are great communicators but that comes from our theatrical background. Our background in theatre has translated into our furniture store as we enjoy getting to know a customer and having a good chat.

“We have a created a bespoke mailer to each customer, which we feel they really appreciate as it gives them a personal touch. We pride ourselves on our customer service and communication is key.”

It wouldn’t be right to not sway off topic when the words ‘theatrical background’ pop up in conversation. Both Colin and Amanda have thrived in the arts throughout their careers before turning to furniture. Colin modestly revealed that he has made a “couple of films”.

The first was ‘A New Look at Manual Handling’ for an occupational physician’s conference. This was filmed at Bespak in King’s Lynn. While another film was about WW1 and was mainly shot in The Somme. Colin also has a lifelong passion for trains and has driven trains on the North Norfolk Railway for 15 years.

Amanda, who previously set up the former Laura Ashley store in King’s Lynn, has been involved in film and theatre too as a professional actress. She worked with several well known faces including David Walliams.

In addition, Amanda has been cast in several adverts, most recently for Legal and General. Amanda is a Trustee for Shakespeare’s Guildhall Trust, working with the council to refurbish the 600 year old Guildhall of St George, in King’s Lynn. It is the oldest working theatre in the UK and is home to the King’s Lynn Festival.

Back to furniture and Artertons’ reopening, the business experienced a really positive boost with sales of £5,000 during the two day bank holiday. Since then footfall has been steady with more orders being processed.

Behind the scenes, the business said the support from the Government has been a positive experience and seamless process in gaining access to grants, while the furlough scheme has helped too, with Amanda adding that in July they can bring its other sales person back part time and get its delivery team fully staffed.

“With all the shops in the same boat, we have tried to be positive and keep going. We are doing it all on our own, at the moment, from being in store to delivering products too.

“During the lockdown, our accountant has been brilliant in advising us, so our experience has been very good in terms of adapting to the system, which has kept us going.”

Where many businesses have relied on its online division, Artertons’, which doesn’t operate a transactional website, said that when it comes to furniture, people want to buy from people, not the screen.

“We’re not online at present other than our social media channel. We used to be but we found that it wasn’t cost effective and we actually prefer being in store so we can deliver our customer service,” Colin said.

“Our clientele prefer to talk to us, when buying their furniture, between £500 and £5,000.

“With other things to consider and select, you do need to talk to people and test out the product.”

Amanda also added that with the rate of online shopping creeping up more and more, this could potentially impact health. “Eventually, if everyone thinks you can get everything online and stops going into stores, this could play a huge impact on mental health.

“You end up staring at a screen all the time. You can’t touch, feel, walk around, test products or have a nice shopping experience. We think all these things are so important when buying furniture.”

Another area of high importance for the business, is Artertons’ commitment to British made products. Boasting a variety of products from brands including Sherborne, Buoyant, Highgate Beds, Silentnight and Highgrove, to name but a few, Artertons’ prides itself on the ‘Best of British’ and the quality that comes with it.

Amanda said: “UK manufacturers tend to offer shorter lead times, because they are not importing from overseas.”

Amanda continued: “We support British manufacturers with our products and our customers like that. We do have the one swivel chair from GFA on the import side, but we predominantly stock UK based products.

“We think importers may struggle with what’s going on at the moment so hopefully British manufacturers will start to rise again.”

“I think selling and promoting British products is a good thing and compared with what comes in from abroad, some of it is really great quality, but equally, some isn’t. But we stock really great quality products from UK manufacturers,” Colin added.

In keeping with products, which Artertons’ says are always “competitively priced”, it has recently signed up with Highgrove Beds, as it has reduced the number of Silentnight models it has in the showroom.

“We were disappointed that Silentnight moved to selling to the public direct and considering we used to have such a great relationship with them, it seems that a lot has changed there and it’s sad really. We didn’t want to stop the relationship but we felt we had no choice but to look elsewhere,” Amanda revealed, adding: “We’ve just got three Highgrove Beds products in the store at the moment and they have been an instant success for us.”

With all that is uncertain in these strange times, it’s great to hear of shoppers willing to spend, especially as for Artertons’, the town has seen many shops close up – one being the HSL store, which was situated just outside King’s Lynn in Tottenhill.

“With Debenhams recently closing the King’s Lynn store, it’s a blow for the High Street. What we can do, along with the other great independents in the town, is to keep going and offer our great customer service and value, for which we have been renowned for over the last three decades,” Amanda said.

As our interview came to a close, it’s clear to see how Colin and Amanda have made Artertons’ into a family treasure for almost 30 years and, we hope, for many more to come.

“Sometimes I don’t know when to stop talking,” Colin said, “but I love engaging with customers and I’m very grateful for any purchase that is made.

“We really appreciate our customers and look forward to welcoming them back into our store.

“So, drop in for a chat at a 2m distance of course.”

Any business that can stand the test of time and all its dramas is a business that never strays away from its core values. With Artertons’ approaching its 30th Anniversary next year, albeit keeping tight lipped of future plans, its ethos of customer service has consistently delivered.

Colin said: “We think talking is vitally important. It baffles us that some people don’t like talking and go about there day glued to their mobile phones, with ear phones in and missing the world in front of them. It’s rare that you can have a good chat with people, for example on a train, anymore.”

This brings us to another interval where the word ‘train’ fired up another memory of Colin’s rich history, as he emotionally reminisced.

“My passion is railways and trains (and furniture). I once drew into Sheringham with a nice smooth stop - a must by the way - and this guy, who must have been in his 80s, looked up at me. I asked if he was ‘ok’ and I said ‘I think you’d like to come up to the foot plate and sit in the driver’s seat don’t you?’

“He did - without touching anything - and then I got off and left this guy, who clearly had a past in railways, have his own time and remember his own memories of his own history. It was wonderful. After about five minutes, I went back and he was so happy. It made me feel very emotional to be able to share that moment. The point is, we need to make time for people and communication is king.”


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