Living the Gold Standard of Quality - Vida Living

by Margie T. LogartaFrom

LogartaFrom L-R, Ian, John and Ronan

After beginning as a predominantly “off the shelf” Irish furniture wholesaler in 1983, Vida Living – known as Furniture Link International up until 2015 – decided to look to Asia to source for domestic indoor options. It was one of the first companies in the UK or Ireland to venture from established boundaries.

Vida Living Founder and Executive Chairman John Wogan, who has been engaged in furniture retail since 1974, conducted early transactions in Taiwan, but by the late 1980s, did more business with Malaysia and Singapore. A decade or so later, he discovered the potential of Chinese manufacturers and started to import increasing volume of furniture from there. Vietnam also stepped in with its own range of attractive products.

Today, Vida Living’s top suppliers are led by China, followed by Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Furniturelink, which spawned Vida Living, still exists and is very active in the UK market. Wogan’s son-in-law James McConnell and daughter Siobhan Wogan now run the business. It actually competes with Vida Living, but it is a healthy competition, say their respective owners.

Wogan’s son, Alan is Vida Living’s Sales Director, with another portfolio added in 2016 to his responsibilities: New Product Development head.

Warehouse & Office Ireland

Almara 1+4
Aspire Console Table
Aspire 1+6

Vida Living is found in most top independent stores in the UK and Ireland. Customers buy either from direct containers shipped from Asia, or through its weekly delivery service in a warehouse, measuring over 30,000 sq m. located in the UK and Ireland. The company regards itself as both a furniture design and distribution enterprise.

While its main clientele is based in the UK and Ireland, others come from Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Norway.

In the early years, Vida Living specialised in cabinet furniture as well as bedroom and dining furniture. When it started dealing with upholstery companies in China and Malaysia, it moved into the upholstery arena until upholstery comprised of 45 percent of the total company turnover. Today, upholstery accounts for an estimated 30 percent of the company income.

While Vida Living was traditionally a supplier of low to mid-range domestic furniture, the past 10 years, however, have seen a change in its offerings. Customers can now expect a more upscale range of furniture and furnishings.

In the early years, the abundance of rubberwood from Malaysia and Singapore made it the popular material. Currently, marble dining pieces form a core part of the collections, as well as contemporary style pieces.

Wogan notes a marked contrasts in taste between its major markets, the UK and Ireland. He observes: “Funnily enough, we have quite contrasting marketplaces in many ways.

“The UK market tends to favour a more contemporary blend of features, which requires that we utilise a lot of glass and metal in our designs.

“For Ireland, we design a more traditional style of product, using timber (predominantly oaks, pines and some rubberwood). Heavy and chunky styles are still favoured.”

Some years ago, Navinzi, a sub-brand under Vida Living (then Furniturelink International), was conceptualised but was phased out in 2012.

According to Wogan, the UK and Ireland “have been performing very well for some time now”. Ireland experienced some hiccups during the economic downturn in the West between 2009 and 2011, but succeeded in rebounding. The UK continues to record buoyant growth despite the impact of the Brexit referendum in 2016. It has gone back to pre-Brexit rates.

Wogan adds: “We have a very strong presence in the independent sector in both the UK and Ireland. Vida Living also caters to three large multiple groups in the UK, to whom we offer exclusive product ranges.”

To ensure commercial success and customer satisfaction, a number of factors must be maintained, the veteran furniture salesman stresses.

He cites quality, without which Vida Living “would be nothing”. To achieve the goal, his team employed a network of quality controllers in China and Vietnam, which reported to the company staff on the ground in those countries. “We increased our investment in quality the past year,” Wogan said. “Our packaging specs have been greatly increased too so as to ensure that the goods reach our customers in the same condition that they leaving the factory in.”

Another condition involves design. “We now employ designers under contract in the UK and Ireland for both cabinet and upholstery. We share our vision for product at the start of each year, and work with our design team to bring this vision to fruition. Our own designs provide a uniqueness to our product, and hopefully give our customers a uniqueness that allows them to command greater margin in a competitive retail market,” Wogan explains.

Lastly, the issue of price, which Wogan reports “is not as important as in the past, but is still a factor… if, however, our products have enough uniqueness in their designs, the price can be less of a factor.”

Carmen Bedside Cabinet
Carmen Chest of Drawers

Carmen Console Table Half Moon
Carmen Display Cabinet

Carmen End Table
Carmen Nest Tables

Carmen Occasional CoffeeTable
Carmen Sideboard
Carmen Rectangle 8-seats

Carmen Wardrobe
Carmen TV Unit

In fact, he sees that customers in the UK are prepared to pay a premium for out of the ordinary products. They are also increasingly conscious of where their purchases come from (ie country of origin) and are more concerned about the issue of sustainability of resources, particularly in the area of timber and the effects the industry has on the global community.

“This sentiment will only strengthen in the coming years,” Wogan predicts.

In terms of colour choices, grey has trumped over other shades in the past 18 months, but lately, there has been a marked move towards taupe and pastels. Given the existing welter of distribution options, Vida Living still prefers selling through predominantly bricks and mortar retailers. There are some online re-sellers though who show some notable successes with their collections.

The internet, which has shrunk the world, has revolutionised the furniture industry. Small independent retailers – traditional marketing channels – have been closing down with undeniable speed, while new channels (principally internet based) are presenting new opportunities. Such conditions have led Vida Living to regularly assess its strategies, desiring to value for its clientele in a rapidly changing environment.

Donantella SideBoard
Donantella 4 Seater
Helmsdale 3 Seater
Kalmar 1600 Rect Table & 4 Evoque Chairs Grey

Mirelle - LS (3)
Mirelle Bedroom Units

Summing up the company’s driving philosophy, Wogan stands by the gold standard of “quality”. “We have always believed in quality and not being merely motivated by price. Quality of the product and quality of service.

“We are completely confident that we are the service leaders in our industry in The UK and Ireland. Our ‘in-stock’ rates are measured weekly, and our minimum standard is to hold over 90 percent of our stock ranges in available stock all the time.

“It’s this quality in our service and delivery reliability that really sets us apart from our closest competitors. A large chunk of our marketing feeds from these principles.”

As expected, Vida Living furnishes the usual afterpurchase services of a helpline, repair, delivery, refund, exchange and warranty features. And while it may be a B2B provider, Wogan says: “We understand that our customers are facing the end consumer in a competitive environment. We can solve the majority of our service issues very quickly, and most issues can be resolved within seven days.”

After 35 years in the business , how does Vida Living, view the next 35?

Says Wogan: “We will push as we always have for design innovation, harnessing the areas that give us the best sales and margin in our markets. We understand that the biggest challenge of the independent furniture retailer, who is our main customer, is to offer a unique product to the end consumer, along with strong personal service in order to stand apart.”

“We intend to grow the business at the current high rates.”

Such mindset certainly ensures that a company like Vida Living – committed to customer satisfaction and product excellence – will be around for as long as there is need for well-made furniture and the dream of a stylish home.

Snapshots of Vida Living Booth and Products at Trade Fair