Feather and Black founder returns to sector with two online ventures

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IT IS 18 months since he jumped ship from the bedroom furniture retailer he founded in 2001 but Adam Black has re-entered the bed market with two new businesses.

The former managing director of Feather and Black has launched bed linen etailer Secret Linen Store and bed and mattress company Button and Sprung.

Adam Black

Adam Black

By staying in the mid-market bed industry he is competing with the company he left behind but he told the Yorkshire Post he has created a more efficient business model.

“It got to the point (at Feather and Black) where I realised I’d got a good hand of cards but I was sitting at the wrong card table,” he said.

“With 36 stores we had a cost base where we couldn’t compete with the likes of Made.com even though we were selling to the same customers.”

Yorkshire-born Black left Feather and Black in March 2013 and insists he remains on good terms with the Wade family owners.

With no idea what he was going to do next, he began talking to private equity companies about possible opportunities.

“It became apparent that I knew more about this sector than anyone else,” he said. “For me to decide to do something completely different would have been like Wayne Rooney leaving Manchester United and becoming a golfer.”

Black, 46, is part of the well-known Black family in Yorkshire.

Keighley-based Peter Black Holdings, which was founded by and named after his grandfather in the 1940s, became one of the UK’s largest suppliers of shoes, handbags and gift packs to Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Next.

In November 2013, Black teamed up with investors including ex-Asos international director Jon Kamaluddi and Asos’s former head of IT strategy Martin Strotton to launch Secret Linen Store.

The online bed linen firm is run by his former Feather and Black colleagues Molly and Harriet Freshwater and Black is non-executive chairman.

Secret Linen Store dispatches straight to the consumer from its supplier in Portugal, meaning it can offer products at up to half the price of rivals.

“We have no rent and no storage costs so our fixed cost base is really low,” Black said.

Secret Linen Store was set up ‘in the Yorkshire way’, he said, with an investment of £50,000. It is expected to make a £150,000 turnover in its first year.

But although Black has a stake in the company, his day job is running a new bed and mattress business, Button and Sprung.

He teamed up with Matthew Hardcastle, formerly of eBay and Shop Direct, to create a niche player in the market with a website and one showroom.

“My belief is that the alternative to Amazon and Ebay is the guy who is the very best at what he does,” Black said. “I saw an opportunity to create a very focused bed and mattress company.”

Its pocket-sprung mattresses are made by Leeds-based manufacturer Harrison Spinks. Most of its upholstery is manufactured in Poland.

Again, there are no warehouses and products are shipped to customers directly from the manufacturer.

There are no plans to open any more Button and Sprung UK showrooms, although Black sees potential opportunities in cities such as Paris and Milan.

“If you start opening up showrooms it adds to the cost and dilutes the offer,” he said.

Black said there was a ‘huge opportunity’ to cross market products across both companies and Secret Linen Store’s products already dress the beds in the Button and Sprung showroom.

Looking at the wider market, Black said home retailers needed to learn how to make money out of lower gross margins and believes the key to the future of retailing is owning your own brand. “If you don’t own your own brand, the likes of Amazon will eat you for breakfast,” he said.