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How Julian Charles has grown sales through a digital-first strategy

Julian Charles puts recent success down to strategy of trading online and on the high street. Image courtesy of Julian Charles

Julian Charles has put a digital-first strategy to work over the last year. The home furnishing retail brand was running at a £2m loss when it was taken over in 2020 by SKG Capital. Just over twelve months ago, it launched a new website and ecommerce-led strategy. Today the retail brand says a fifth of its sales are now online following fast online growth.

The Manchester-based linen and bedding business was founded in 1947 as Rectella Limited, which has since grown into a leading UK home textiles business that sold direct to customers as Julian Charles. The business was running at a £2.1m loss when it was bought in June 2020 by SKG Capital. Its new owners put digital to work in the business, with a focus on making it easier to buy online. Today it sells online and from more than 75 UK stores and concessions. 

Digital-first strategy

Julian Charles launched its new ecommerce platform in November 2020, designed around better customer experience and usability, and selling an expanded range that now includes kitchen accessories, artificial flowers, candles and scents as well as bedding. 

Online orders are delivered free of charge, while a new self-service process has been introduced for returns. A virtual assistant handles many customer enquiries. At the same time, the retailer has worked with affiliates to grow online sales. It has, for example, given discounts to emergency service staff through the Blue Light Card. 

Ecommerce sales have grown as a result, driving overall sales at the business. Julian Charles reported a loss of £2.1m in earnings before interest and one-off costs (EBITA) in the 18 months to October 2020, but broke even in the six months to April 2021. At the same time, it posted revenues of £4.2m – around 20% of which was online. 

So far in the current financial year, online sales have grown by 30% year-on-year and now account for 20% of all sales. That’s up from 15% over the whole of the previous year – and from 9% in the same period in 2019. Currently, bedding represents half of total sales, with luxury bedding sales growing by 45% online compared to last year.

Simon Peck, Julian Charles managing director, says: “It’s great to see the increase in our online sales this year. We have emerged from the pandemic with significant opportunities for growth, both online and in store.

“The growth of our online proposition is introducing the historic Julian Charles brand to a new generation of customers for the very first time. We continue to focus on growing both our high-street and online presence across the UK over the coming months and years.”

Neil Taylor, partner at SKG Capital, says: “The success of Julian Charles’ digital expansion is reflected in the business’ strong online performance. By investing in the digital platform, extending our online range, and improving the customer experience across the board, Julian Charles is fully prepared to take advantage of the new retail landscape.”

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