The small businesses breaking sales records thanks to 'WFH renovating' and the stamp duty cut

Along with Zoom quizzes, baking banana bread and a constant loop of TikTok videos, home improvements have been on the rise during the course of the pandemic.

This is largely a result of more people working from home and having more time to redecorate while being keen to improve their new work spaces.

Meanwhile, some may have been inspired by TV shows such as Interior Design Masters, fronted by Alan Carr this year with the final earlier in the week and the rise of ‘influencers’ posting redecorating tips on social media.

For those that have been lucky enough to stay in full-time work, it’s likely they will also have extra funds from not commuting, eating or going out and other day-to-day expenses.

Luxury bathroom designers and manufacturers Lusso Stone continued growing throughout the pandemic with new hires and increasing sales despite supply chain constraints

Luxury bathroom designers and manufacturers Lusso Stone continued growing throughout the pandemic with new hires and increasing sales despite supply chain constraints

Meanwhile, the stamp duty holiday has encouraged many to move home or buy another property and so renovations have been well and truly underway for those too. 

Earlier this month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the holiday will be extended to the end of June, with a tapering system in until the end of September, so this trend may well continue, or even grow. 

Businesses in the homeware or home improvement sector have seen a boom in sales over the past year, and in some cases have achieved record-breaking sales.

For example, UK-based Flooring Superstore reported a 142 per cent increase in sales over the past 12 months, crediting the rise to the pandemic-driven consumer trend for home makeovers. 

In December, trade and DIY store Wickes announced it was handing back £50million in business rates relief and furlough money as it benefited from the DIY boom and construction recovery. And it’s not just large corporations.

The final of Interior Design Masters, hosted by Alan Carr, was aired earlier this week

The final of Interior Design Masters, hosted by Alan Carr, was aired earlier this week

SMEs have, on the whole, struggled more than any other type of company due to the lockdown but the rise in home improvements has helped those in the sector cushion the blow.

This is Money spoke to three British small businesses that have managed to navigate the challenges thrown at them by the pandemic, and found out what has been most important to them for achieving success.

Not being undeterred by uncertainty 

Home-decor brand, Lick, launched the day the UK went into lockdown, but has already raised almost £4million, partnered with leading online furniture brand, fulfilled more than 40,000 orders and achieved 62 per cent growth month-on-month.

It says it revolutionises the way the modern consumer shops for and decorates their home with its wall paint, wallpaper and blinds.  

Moving away from the overwhelming collections of their competitors, Lick offers its customers a carefully curated list of just 49 paint colours and 25 wallpaper designs, combatting what it calls ‘decision fatigue’.

Lick launched the day UK went into lockdown

Lick launched the day UK went into lockdown

Its signature offering is its ‘peel and stick’ sample patches, turning away from messy, expensive and wasteful sampling pots.

Co-founders, Lucas London and Sam Bradley dreamt up the business on the premise that decorating has been stuck in the past for too long and that people lacked confidence to give it a go themselves. 

Lucas said: ‘Think countless trips to-and-from DIY stores, endless aisles of choice with no support or guidance and wasteful sample pots.

‘We knew there must be a better, more environmentally-conscious way.’

The duo had always planned to launch in March 2020 and even despite growing concerns around the pandemic, went ahead with their schedule.

‘There were the inevitable, “Should we? Shouldn’t we?” conversations when lockdown started due to the sheer amount of unknowns around our supply chain,’ added Lucas. 

‘But we decided that we were a business that could support people in their homes when they needed it most – and so we should do what we could.

‘It’s been incredibly rewarding to see how many decorators have been busy transforming their spaces, using the power of colour to change their mood.    

‘We’ve been blown away by the reaction to Lick. Our decorating community on Instagram reached 115,000 followers in 12 months which is a testament to the strength of our brand, and unique positioning in the market. 

‘In particular, customers resonate with our sustainability mission which is a huge part of our business – in fact, for every tin of paint sold, we clean 18g of plastic from the ocean (with charity partner 4ocean) and for every wallpaper roll or blind, we plant a tree (with One Tree Planted).

Lick founder, Lucas London, said he thinks the trend in renovation projects will last a long time

Lick founder, Lucas London, said he thinks the trend in renovation projects will last a long time

Lick has also managed to grow its team and has since hired 25 people. This year it plans to launch an exterior paint range and has a number of collaborations coming up, including with fashion designer Jessica Russell Flint, after the successful sell-out of its wallpaper partnership with Brighton-based artist Natasha Coverdale.

Lucas said: ‘Our relationship with our homes will never be the same again. We have a newfound appreciation for the role these spaces play in our lives. 

‘They’ve become nothing short of our sanctuaries, somewhere we can feel protected and safe. As a result, our homes have also become an outlet for self-expression – somewhere we can inject our personality. 

‘So it’s unsurprising that there’s been a boom in renovation projects as we look to switch up the magnolia walls, but it’s a trend we know will last for a long time.’ 

Keeping a strong relationship with customers

Though an older company having launched in 2014, luxury bathroom brand Lusso Stone has enjoyed the same trend over the past 12 months. 

In February 2021, it reported its best ever, record-breaking month with £3million in sales. Each week, 2,500 products are sold to customers around the globe including Sydney, the Middle East, New York City, LA and in the UK.

Chief executive, Wayne Spriggs, from North Yorkshire, used to be a property developer and continually struggled to find high-end, luxurious bathroom products, that stood out and weren’t astronomically expensive. 

Lusso Stone reported a record-breading £3million in sales in February 2021

Lusso Stone reported a record-breading £3million in sales in February 2021

‘It seemed ridiculous to me that there just wasn’t a company out there that did it. So I decided to do it myself,’ he said.

‘I travelled the world visiting various trade shows, learning about products and building relationships, which all helped me build the vision for what I wanted the Lusso product ranges to look like. 

‘For me, it was about allowing people to create luxury living at a competitive price, cutting absolutely no corners on the quality and design of the products. 

‘Manufacturing the products ourselves means we can offer products that would ordinarily be around 60 per cent more expensive to consumers, via our online shop.’

Over the past four years, it has seen 400 per cent revenue growth, accrued a customer base of over 54,000 and attracts 80 new customers a day on average. 

It has also been the brains behind the bathrooms of some of the world’s most prestigious hotels and venues from Claridges in London to The Equinox in New York, and has featured on several interiors TV shows such as Grand Designs and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

As with most businesses importing goods throughout the pandemic, Lusso Stone suffered from global supply chain constraints including shipping of stock and the final receipt of goods into the UK ports. 

Wayne added: ‘It was a very challenging time for the team, but one thing we do as a team is stick together, work through the issues in the face of adversity, and take the challenge on. 

‘Thankfully our customers understood and were aware of the world crisis – and we put a lot of effort into ensuring they were kept updated. 

‘In terms of sales, we have maintained our growth trajectory, so in terms of business, we have continued to employ and grow the business as we had planned.

‘With people spending so much more time at home, some households are seeing higher disposable income, and as such people may have brought their renovation plans forward as a result of the pandemic.’

Wayne Spriggs, a former property developer, launched Lusso Stone in 2014

Wayne Spriggs, a former property developer, launched Lusso Stone in 2014

Like many others, Wayne believes the stamp duty cut was a great incentive for the housing market, as he sees it as one of the main driving forces of our economy. He was pleased to see the extension but believes it should be removed altogether.

‘The stamp duty cut allowed the system to be unclogged and allowed the pipeline to flow freely, giving the confidence to purchase in an uncertain market with the pandemic and Brexit looming,’ he said. 

‘People who were watching the market, and held back from moving because of the large stamp duty fees, were now more optimistic and free of one of the many high costs of moving.’

Nonetheless the extension should hopefully see more growth for Lusso Stone and this will also be boosted with the launch of a UK flagship store and a US launch later this year.

There will also be the roll-out of two further brands, Lusso Pietra, which will feature marble only products, and Lusso Deco, for more art decor and traditional styles. 

Wayne added: ‘The roll-out of these two new businesses will also see the Lusso Group move into home furnishings, which will fall under Lusso Luxury Living. 

‘This is in addition to new product development, team expansion and continued revenue growth and we are more excited than ever.’

Helping people enjoy their homes the best they can

Meanwhile, garden furniture brand Club Rattan has benefited two-fold from pandemic-induced changing lifestyles: the rise in home improvements and the increasing desire for outdoor spaces.

Being stuck indoors only saw people desperate to be in parks for social distanced meet ups and before that was allowed, and for those lucky enough to have their own gardens, wanted to improve theirs to make it a more comfortable place to be in.

The online-only store has been selling garden furniture since the late summer of 2018, when Essex-based co-founders Iris Meijer and Wayne Prince wanted more people to enjoy their gardens better. Club Rattan sold more than 1,200 garden sets in its first three months alone. 

Over 2019, this increased to more than 3,000 and in the lockdown summer of 2020, this accelerated to more than 7,000 – a rise of 600 per cent.

Club Rattan's best selling garden set is its Harmony Corner Sofa with a Rising Table in Grey

Club Rattan’s best selling garden set is its Harmony Corner Sofa with a Rising Table in Grey

Iris and Wayne said: ‘We really pride ourselves in great customer service and believe that this has helped us grow at the rate that we have. 

‘Our customers really like the way we talk to them – we’re not overly formal, so it’s like talking to friend and we build good relationships that way.

‘We also get a lot of positive comments from customers who are impressed by the quick delivery and value for money when their Club Rattan garden set arrives. 

‘Our Harmony Corner Sofa with a Rising Table in Grey Rattan is our bestseller – consumers love that it can go from a lounging set-up with coffee table to a more formal dining set-up easily.’ 

Club Rattan also achieved success by not taking pre-orders during the pandemic, and instead listing all items on its website as soon as they arrived and shipping them out as soon as orders were placed on the day.

Its busiest day saw 78 garden sets arriving at the warehouse and 980 customers trying to buy them at 10am. Every garden set was sold in under 60 seconds.

Iris added: ‘Some customers tried 10 times before they managed to order a set – due to COVID restrictions we couldn’t get more stock in, but we didn’t want to increase the price either as people were trying so hard to get their hands on our garden furniture.’ 

Iris Meijer is co-founder of Club Rattan

Wayne Prince is co-founder of Club Rattan

Co-founders Iris Meijer and Wayne Prince launched Club Rattan in 2018

The duo envision the demand for garden furniture to continue this year as people make the most of reuniting and enjoying time outside.   

‘Although people spend more money to have a house with a nice garden or an apartment with a great balcony, it’s often used for storage and an eyesore every time you look out of the window,’ said Wayne.

‘Lockdown has made us use our whole house and all our outdoor space, every inch of it. You need a lot more space when you can’t go out.

Club Rattan plans to launch its new BBQ range this Spring

Club Rattan plans to launch its new BBQ range this Spring

‘We fell in love with the garden when we bought our house. We wanted to make it our oasis; we saw the potential. Not going on holiday, not going out, we are now spending our money to create that dream garden.’

As Iris and Wayne highlight, the demand for private gardens has dramatically increased over the past year, and has been a must-have for those looking to move house, or even encouraged others without gardens to move house.

The stamp duty cut has of course given people the nudge to take action and Iris and Wayne say the extension should help get rid of the backlog. 

It feels unfair if you bought a property based on the stamp duty holiday and due to other circumstances, you couldn’t complete before the deadline.’ they said.

This year, they are hoping for a more stable 2021 in terms of easing restrictions but are looking forward to a higher appreciation and use of outdoor spaces – alongside the launch of Club Rattan’s new barbecue brand, Fogo and Chama, which they hope will bring people even closer together.

The duo added: ‘For us, that is what 2021 is all about – spending time with friends and family. Our gardens are the first place where we can get together and we’re so looking forward to it!’ 

Small Business Essentials

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