Decisions: Toby Ash - New Heights, Co-founder of the Furniture and Sofa Group

MY BEST ... was to refocus our expansion of the store network in the past year back onto London and the south-east.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

We started in Cricklewood, London in 1999 and after that went into secondary (non-high street) locations in Battersea, Kingston and Tunbridge Wells. Then we discovered that it was hard to secure properties at the right price in the south-east; it was easier to find them in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.

But we've found in the past year that for return on investment, our heartland is London. So we've opened stores in Putney and Guildford. Usually, you have to ramp up the opening of a new store to let people get familiar with it, but in Guildford this was almost unnecessary.

In London, there's a density of population and more disposable income. Being cash-rich and time-poor, people make decisions more quickly and there is an appetite for new brands. The London stores have become real drivers of the business, giving us the breathing space to focus on Sofa Workshop, which we bought last October.

MY WORST ... was cutting back on advertising spend in the market downturn of 2003-'04.

Operationally, we're a very efficient company and everything is tight, so it was our natural instinct to see where we could make cuts to keep costs down. But we should have thrown caution to the wind and spent wisely on marketing, because we were trying to build the New Heights brand.

To weather the storm, we needed to throw more money at advertising, and only in the past six months have we made this investment. We've really gone for it now and it's actually paying dividends - this May, New Heights was up 8% on like-for-like sales in a tough market.

It was an interesting lesson, because it showed me that with a lot of decisions you are still informed by people on the board. We don't have any marketing people on our board but we have a lot of people who know about operations, money and logistics, so we tend to focus on those areas. Furniture is a long-term game and you have to invest in it to break through.


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