Furnishing a home takes time as well as money. The recession years destroyed many of the solo traders within the furniture industry. The middle market was wiped out with the number of shopping options decimated. As well as the job loss impact and empty units failing to deliver rental yields, it left shoppers with little choice unless you opted to go very high end.
Homemakers responded by buying online, further compounding the problem by sending their money overseas. Oftentimes those buying online also discovered that while the pieces looked gorgeous in beautifully lit home setups, the reality was that seating was not nearly as comfortable to sit on as it looked in the online images and other pieces were not nearly as sturdy as they first looked.
Enter Grainne and Arthur Cassidy, a husband-and-wife team from the borderlands of Ballyconnell, Co Monaghan and Keady, south Armagh respectively, who have opened Pieces, a small furniture shop on Dublin's South Great George's Street.
The Cassidys had first-hand experience of this dilemma and were themselves frustrated by the lack of choice when it came to buying furniture for their own homes.
‘It all looked the same’
"What was on offer was very traditional. It all looked the same," recalls Grainne Cassidy. "We felt there was a market for affordable furniture that fitted the proportions of our first home, an apartment, in terms of size and style and that represented us and our pockets."
They fitted out their first home, on Pearse Street, mainly with furniture bought online, having to traipse north to pick up some items from companies that didn’t deliver to the Republic.
When they sold up in 2015, the buyer, an investor, liked what they had done so much that he asked to purchase it fully furnished. It made them think about opening a shop catering to this market. They knew exactly what their customer base wanted.
From apartment living they traded up to a house in Rathfarnham and started looking at Pinterest and newspapers for inspiration on how to furnish it. Everything was too expensive or the company didn't deliver to Ireland so the couple started attending trade shows, contacting suppliers direct, and trawling Pinterest and Instagram for references to new suppliers.
Their big breakthrough came when they went to Shanghai and could see what was on offer if you bought large quantities. "We had huge checks to do in terms of what we could afford to buy and quality control but Arthur's background in accountancy helped us figure out margins and cost prices to afford us to sell the range at our price points," Grainne explains. Her background experience in project management came into play when they started to bulk buy, to invest in container loads of furniture.
Research across Europe, Asia and the UK
Pieces, their shop in Dublin's city centre, on South Great George's Street where affordable Danish design chain Sostrene Green and local independent decor shop Designist are already in situ, has been the fruits of four or five years of research across Europe, Asia and the UK. When they go to shows they split up so they can cover twice the amount of ground. It also allows them to travel to shows like Paris-based Maison et Objet on daytrips, helping to keep costs down.
“We stock trendy yet affordable furniture,” Arthur explains. “Price is key. Our first sofa customer told us he couldn’t get over the prices.” While 50 per cent of the stock is sofas, the shop also stocks some really good accent buys. Coffee tables cost anything from €125 to €379; fabric beds, upholstered in a poly velvet or a felted poly wool, fabrics that they believe to be more durable, cost from about €749 to €899 for a double-size; armchairs start from €299 with luxurious, on-trend velvet styles, named after Irish writers such as Joyce (€459), Beckett (€499), and Behan (€599). Their containers of stock are stored at the company’s warehouse in Co Meath.
Setting up the business took the guts of €200,000, monies that were financed by the sale of their Rathfarnham home last April. It’s a huge cost to outlay, Arthur admits, noting that they could probably buy a very nice house in Cavan or Monaghan outright for the same money.
Bankrolled this venture
Their house sale has bankrolled this venture. Pieces opened its doors last November. The footfall at the city centre location is another key element to the shop’s success. Its busiest time is weekends when couples pop in to browse the two-storey outlet.
They are still getting used to demand. Heaney bookcases, named after the nation’s most popular poet, have sold out far faster than expected and a neat Pearse sideboard, at €499, a solid wood design with powder-coated doors that doesn’t take a lot of space but offers a lot of storage, is also selling really well. It suits city living, Grainne says.
The pair has also expanded into the fit-out business having just completed its first showhouse in Duleek for Ashcroft Developments. The word is out with interior designers also starting to pay the store a visit. "We are keen to get more exposure in this area to meet with developers and restraunteurs looking for styles that they can't find elsewhere," Arthur says. "We don't use suppliers that are already in Ireland so we're not competing with existing shops."
Brexit is a big concern. The couple, who grew up in a time when there was a physical border, have no appetite for its return but their main concerns are over delivery schedules and tariffs that make pricing difficult to project. “For winter 2019 we’ve done a lot of business with UK-based Coach House and we’ve no idea how we’re going to get that stock out of the UK,” says Arthur.
The couple is already delivering to the commuter counties of Kildare and Wexford and setting up an online shop is the next step, but in the meantime how do you keep the place looking fresh? With more containers of sofas and chairs on the high seas, they move the stock around, bringing in new pieces from the Co Meath warehouse and moving others out to it to give them the physical room to make that visible changes that will keep regulars returning.
“Customers have to be able to come in here every week and see something new,” Grainne says.
For now, the couple run the business with Arthur personally delivering all purchases, which takes its toll on non-work time together. The pair hope to be able address this later this year by hiring staff.
Pieces, 14 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2