DFS reaffirms Yorkshire roots with new store opening

Ian Filby, CEO of sofa manufacturer DFS
Ian Filby, CEO of sofa manufacturer DFS
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DFS has reaffirmed its Yorkshire roots by returning to the county for its latest expansion.

The company, which was formed in Doncaster 44 years ago, celebrated the opening of its 101st store in York earlier this month.

Its head offices and largest factory are also based in South Yorkshire, bringing more than 800 jobs to sites across the region.

The latest addition to its retail estate created eight jobs at Clifton Moor Retail Park, while developments in its Adwick-le-Street factory have added almost 100 skilled roles to the area.

DFS chief executive Ian Filby told The Yorkshire Post the firm is “very proud” of its heritage.

He said: “We’ve now got 11 stores in Yorkshire, having added stores in Huddersfield, Sheffield and York in last three years.

“There’s also been an expansion of jobs in head office and in this factory - a big chunk of the business is in Yorkshire.”

Customisation and “cutting out the middle man” remains central to the customer’s ethos, Mr Filby said.

“Right from its inception, there was the idea of making direct from the factory to drive value,” he said.

“If you go into one of our stores, you see a suite but it can typically have up to 10 different pieces with multiple variations. It is genuinely hand-crafted.”

The Adwick-le-Street factory, which employs around 300 skilled fabric cutters, sewing machinists and upholsterers, assembles and ships more than 1,000 pieces a day. A piece can be anything from a stool, to an armchair chair or a four-seater sofa.

It is the busiest of the firm’s three factories by volume, with its Derbyshire factories producing between 600 and 900 items daily.

A major focus in recent years has been cutting lead times, with DFS head of manufacturing Harvey Ellis managing efficiency across the factory sites.

The company can manufacture and deliver in as little as two weeks from store contact to installation, which is “extraordinary for a customised product”, Mr Filby said.

Capacity at Adwick was increased by introducing double shifts, boosting the workforce from around 200 to 300 staff. A similar proportion was added in its other sites.

DFS currently manufactures almost a third of its products at its factories. More than 50 per cent of its inventory is manufactured in the UK. The majority of its items are made within Europe, Mr Filby said, with additional items imported from China.

The proportion of its products made within the UK has climbed from “mid-40s” to its current level in recent years.

Mr Filby said the firm will always want a “healthy proportion” of its products to be made in house, there is a question of balancing demand with staffing levels.

“Customer demand isn’t constant through the year, we need to get the balance so we can work people here 100 per cent of the time,” he said.

Business efficiency plays a central role in the factory, with each process designed to minimise waste. Computer Aided Design (CAD) programmes are used to minimise fabric waste, while foam padding is precision cut to limit excess.

It is not just about reducing costs, but also an issue of carbon footprint. Recycling processes are in place throughout the estate, with packaging returned and recompressed and wood waste burned to fuel its mills.

An initiative to recycle used DFS sofas through donation to British Heart Foundation stores has not only reduced the number of suites headed for landfill - the partnership has raised more than £4m in the last 18 months.

With its head office housing DFS’ essential customer services staff, in addition to its designers and £2m-a-year training operations, and the pivotal role its Adwick factory holds, DFS has no intentions of diminishing its role in the Yorkshire economy.

“We’re still very proud of our Yorkshire roots,” Mr Filby told The Yorkshire Post.

History of iconic Yorkshire retailer

Formed as Northern Upholstery by Lord Graham Kirkham, the company moved from its original home in a former billiards hall to Adwick, which is now home to its busiest factory

The company rebranded as DFS after acquiring a Derbyshire business using the name. In addition to its 101 stores nationally, the company owns three factories in Doncaster, Long Eaton and Alfreton, and two wood mills, the most recent of which
was acquired in the last 18 months.

The business saw its most successful year to date in 2013, with sales climbing 7.4 per cent to £670.8m and profits up 4.9 per cent to £82m. While its third quarter 2014 results saw a 13 per cent drop in profits year-on-year due to business investment costs, sales growth continued at 5.9 per cent.