Two schoolmates who started their online furniture business aged just 18 are in the hot seat after sales soared to £17 million just seven years later.
Monty George and Dan Beckles, both aged 25, started Furniturebox straight after leaving Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School in Salisbury.
They are now making annual profits of £2.4 million which are being reinvested so they can rival Dunelm, Habitat and Ikea as one of the UK’s leading furniture brands.
The two entrepreneurs, who both live in Bristol, have invested £3 million in a new 88,000 sq ft new headquarters and warehouse at St Modwen Park business estate next to the Junction 17 of the M4 at Chippenham which will allow them to do next day deliveries on orders placed at 8pm the previous day throughout the UK.
They have just broken into America and expect the 95% sales growth of the last three years to accelerate as they push into new markets internationally.
They are part of a new breed of UK ‘Gen Z entrepreneurs’ creating ecommerce businesses worth millions. They employ 53 staff at the new HQ which has transformed their fortunes.
Beckles says: “Moving into the new warehouse has been incredibly exciting because we can increase our capacity by fivefold and it is so easy to dispatch orders being right next to the M4. We are running an incredibly efficient model which means we can easily access all the markets which are important to us – from our own website to other big online sellers such as Amazon, Robert Dyas and many more.
“The business has really grown over the last three years and now we are looking to expand internationally with that solid foundation behind us.”
Monty George is a serial entrepreneur who was turning over up to £200,000 a year selling products such as computer tablets and phone cases on eBay when he was still at school.
He persuaded Dan to turn down a place at university and join him in setting up Furniturebox in 2015.
They chose furniture because few companies then were selling furniture online and there was a gap in the market.
George says: “I could see that there was a huge market for furniture and it was very under-developed online. I bought a couple of containers of furniture and persuaded Dan to join forces with me to sell it online. That is how the business started. It has been an amazing seven years of growth. We know that the model we have now is highly efficient for profit generation. We feel we can roll that out in other markets – in America, Germany and elsewhere. In the furniture industry, there aren’t really any other ecommerce companies doing the same thing as us.”
Growth exploded during Covid with most furniture shops closed and customers stuck at home with cash to burn and sales have risen from £9.4 million in 2020 to £16.7 million.
Last year, Furniturebox was ranked as the fastest growing small business in the south west in the Sunday Times’ list of the UK’s most successful private companies, as well picking up the same accolade in the popular ‘Lightning 50’ league table which tracks growth rates for hundreds of online businesses across the UK.
Beckles says: “We saw huge, huge growth during Covid. Customer service is really important to us – we have such good reviews and lots of people started buying furniture online for the first time knowing that we were a trusted brand.”
The key to managing the explosion in sales was bringing in retail operations software specialists Brightpearl, who transformed their online operation when it was introduced five years ago.
Beckles says: “Brightpearl has been incredibly important for us because we sell through nine different channels in the UK but we are now expanding in the US through the big furniture store Wayfair. Without Brightpearl, we were having to draw data from different channels and everything was being done manually. Monty and I were cutting and pasting orders onto Amazon on a Sunday night before starting the new week on a Monday. It was exhausting.
“Suddenly all those orders were inputted electronically and it revolutionised the business.
“Finally we had an automated central hub for all our activities – from sales to stock management. Customer service can leave comments on orders and our shipping was so much more efficient.
“It meant that we have been able to cut back on staffing doing manual administration and reinvest those savings in other areas of the business.”
Furniturebox expects global sales to grow from 5% to up to 50% of the business over the next few years and Brightpearl will be central to managing that transformation.
Beckles explains: “We have forecasting tools so that we can manage stock effectively and it is all centralised around Brightpearl. It has made us incredibly lean when we go into new countries because we have a tech model that works and is easily integrated.
George adds: “As we go international, we have set up various warehouses and Brightpearl will allow us to manage stock worldwide. It allows us to liaise with our partners in real time to do stock reconciliation and it has the ability to look at different currency cost models which will help from an accountancy perspective.”
Just 10% of UK entrepreneurs are from a BAME background (black, Asian and minority ethnic) and Beckles is proud to be flying the flag for diversity as a businessman from a mixed race family.
He says: “I hope that my example will lead to more people from a BAME background starting their own businesses.”
Beckles and George were football mad schoolboys at a rugby playing grammar school. Goalkeeper Monty played for the Bournemouth and Portsmouth youth teams while central defender Beckles was on Bristol Rovers’ books.
It was their closeness on the pitch which made them realise they could work well together in business.
George says: “We bonded because we wanted to play football whereas our school pushed us towards rugby.”
Beckles adds: “We saw how competitive we both were on the football field and we knew that would work in business.”