Stores Direct’s burning ambition to open showrooms around UK

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A FAST-GROWING Yorkshire based retailer which specialises in selling wood-burning stoves could open showrooms around Britain as part of its expansion plans.

Stores Direct, which is based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, has confirmed that it is considering establishing a showroom in the south, as soaring energy costs increase the popularity of alternative heating systems.

The company, which has 14 staff, and is expected to achieve a turnover of between £6.5m and £7m this year, specialises in selling stoves, fire places and furnishings.

Company director David Duffy said the firm’s success had been driven by “a mixture of teamwork, grit and determination”.

He added: “We’re a small team and we keep everything in the business really simple.”

The company was founded by entrepreneur Mike Birtwistle, who spotted an opening in the market for a wood-burning stoves retailer.

“Mike was a property developer,” Mr Duffy recalled. “He went into a house and there was a hole for a fireplace, and a builder said, ‘a wood-burning stove would look nice there.’

“Mike found one, put it in and thought it looked nice. He was sure he could get one a bit cheaper.”

Mr Birtwistle started selling the stoves, after contacting a Bolton-based distributor.

Mr Duffy recalled: “He was loading them into his Vauxhall Corsa, and selling them from his garage at home.

“A friend had a hire shop in Elland. He brought a couple over and stored them in his shop. It grew from there to become the country’s largest supplier of wood-burning stoves.

“That was 10 years ago. Initially, the business was run from a showroom only. Then somebody said, ‘Why don’t we put them on to the internet?

“We thought we’d give it a shot.”

As a result, the Stores Are Us brand was born, which enjoyed “massive growth”, Mr Duffy said. Apart from the original showroom in Elland, Stores Direct has also opened showrooms in Chorley and Darlington.

Mr Duffy said: “It’s a good idea to have a mixture of online and stores. People are willing to buy online, but it’s also good for people to get themselves out to somewhere they can touch these products.

“Somebody can walk into a showroom, pick a stove and it can be delivered the next day.”

According to Mr Duffy, rising energy prices are also helping to boost sales of wood-burning stoves.

“Every household is becoming a lot more thrifty, with the increase in gas and electricity prices, people are looking at these bills and thinking, ‘what else can we do?,” said Mr Duffy.

“Wood-burners seem a natural option. Every time there’s something on the news that says the gas prices are going up, we see a spike in traffic on the websites, as people search for wood-burning stoves.

“The product is old-fashioned, but it’s no longer a black box that sits in a fireplace. They can control your radiators and hot water. They are very modern looking. Some even have remote controls.

“We’re really focusing on good customer service,’’ he added. “We want to keep being the market leader and have everybody following us.

“We may look to get further showroom presence throughout the country. We cover the north, and there’s the potential to expand into the south.”

The firm achieved significant growth during the recession. Mr Duffy said Stores Direct could barely keep up with demand in 2007 and 2008, a period when the economy stalled and then crashed.

“At the end of last year, we appeared to see some shoots of growth in the economy and confidence coming through,” he said.

“Everybody has decided to cut their cloth, get their heads down, and get out of this one way or another. If it does start to boom around us that’s brilliant,” Mr Duffy added. “If it doesn’t we’ll just keep battling on.”