As Symphony Group celebrates its 50th anniversary, marketing and retail director Simon Collyns looks to the future – he tells Amelia Thorpe what he sees on the horizon.
It was 50 years ago when the Symphony Group was founded in Leeds. During that time, kitchen design has been “completely revolutionised”, as marketing and retail director Simon Collyns describes it. But while kitchens may have come from the back of the house to the fore, one thing, insists Collyns, has been steady throughout. “We have always been guided by a set of core values: a focus on excellent service, putting our customers first, maintaining a strong partnership with suppliers, retaining staff and a duty of care to the environment,” he says.
Collyns, 60, is a man who should know. After all, he’s worked for the company since joining as a graduate trainee in 1984. “Consistency makes us stand out,” he continues. “We have a strong culture and a lot of people who’ve been in the business a long time.” Today, the Group is the UK’s largest privately owned manufacturer of fitted kitchen, bedroom and bathroom furniture, wholly owned by one of its founders, Doug Gregory, with a staff of 1,800 people spread across three manufacturing and distribution sites in Yorkshire. Turnover in 2019 was £280million. “Last year, which was challenging [due to the pandemic] was £230million, and this year we are expecting around £260million,” he notes.
While the pandemic has put paid to parties, Collyns says that the Group has marked the 50th anniversary in other ways, from a raft of new product launches to commencement of the next phase of its expansion plans: the construction of a new 300,000sq ft factory to be built to the rear of the present factory at the HQ at Penn Hill Estate, Barnsley. “As we did with the recession in 2007/8, we’ve taken the long term view to keep going with our plans, so that we are in good stead in 2022 and beyond,” he says.
The company is also redesigning its 20,000sq ft marketing suite to include its recent launches, including the new Harvard kitchen collection which Collyns describes as a “crossover between contemporary and classic Shaker”, in colours which include a deep Hunter’s Green, Charcoal and Pebble. “We’ve been through the ivory and grey phases, and we’re looking ahead in terms of colours,” he explains.
The Group divides its operations between housebuilding and retail channels, selling its products to about 500 retailers, including independent studios and merchants, and is looking for more retailers in a few selected areas. Products cross the mid to upper sectors, and include core retail kitchen brand Gallery and premium brand Laura Ashley. It has an accessible kitchen collection Freedom, plus fitted bedroom brand Urbano and premium Laura Ashley bedrooms, and Aquadi bathrooms.
Given the fact that the Laura Ashley company went into administration in March 2020, before it was acquired by investment firm Gordon Brothers and re-launched through Next, how is the brand faring? “While it went through a challenging time, it’s re-emerged as a strong brand in terms of the support that Next is putting into it,” says Collyns.
“Lifestyles are changing, which creates huge opportunities for us and for our retailers, whether it be furniture for compact kitchens, home offices, bedrooms and bathrooms,” he says. “We’ve just launched a range of pantry units and will be introducing utility rooms into our core range next year, and there’s potential for looking at living spaces too.”
“We want to continue as we have done, focussing on supporting our retailers,” he says. So, come 2022, you want to be back at the turnover levels of 2019? “Correct – and there’s every sign that we will be.”