Future Proof: Noel Ross, director, Royal Upholstery
Family firm survived recession as people realised real value of quality furniture
Noel Ross of Royal Upholstery: “Our mission is to get the word out that furniture can be salvaged and made to look new”
Noel Ross started upholstering furniture in 1980 when Ireland was in the depths of a recession. The business, which has seen plenty of changes over the last 36 years, has now grown so much that he now employs his entire family.
“I registered as a business from a workshop at the back of my house in Donaghmede. As the business grew, I had to move to a larger premises and 15 years ago took a unit in Kilbarrack Industrial Estate,” he says.
Ross was a sole trader before his move to Kilbarrack but, with the growth, he found employment for his eldest son and has since taken on his other son and two daughters.
“Our mission is to get the word out that furniture can be salvaged and made to look new,” Ross says.
Ross saw his client base change when Ireland was in the midst of the Celtic Tiger. People wanted bespoke fabrics in their suites of furniture and the only way they could do this was to have it reupholstered.
“People became fussier and had more money to spend during the boom. In 2006, people were throwing out good pieces of furniture and suites, especially the younger generation. Then they realised the value of refurbishment when the economy dropped,” he says.
Ross has noticed that some customers see value in an heirloom or become attached to a piece that was bequeathed to them, wanting the piece updated but still holding on to the memories of their family member.
Ross’s daughter Anne Marie is graduating in interior and architectural design from DIT this year, which will help bring all the facets of the company together. His other daughter, Catherine, maintains the office and is first point of contact for his clients.
The move to actually selling new furniture happened organically 10 years ago.
Ross found that, as people started to value items in their house, there was scope to provide quality that would last rather than turning to the foreign imports found in many stores.
“It was an offshoot of our refurbishing business and we now supply handcrafted pieces from suppliers in Northern Ireland who produce quality rather than the quantity customers will find in the larger department stores,” he says.
“We aren’t trying to be like the large furniture outlets; small means being able to maintain standards and personal service.”
Ross has found that quality fabric ranges have proved more popular than cheaper fabrics and the same holds for carpets. He sources his floor coverings from the TCS range and Waterford Carpets.
However, in recent years, it has been made difficult for small businesses to pitch for Government-controlled business contracts due to the huge amount of paperwork required. Originally seen as incentive to provide employment for the building trade when austerity measures were brought in around 2011, it has given larger companies the edge on the smaller businesses, edging them out of contracts.
His advice to business is clear. “If more companies realised that we can do a full upholster on their office furniture, it would save them money and prevent the need for so many landfill sites. Sometimes it’s only a small detail like a wheel that needs to be fixed or torn fabric repaired,” he says.
Often, in Ross’s opinion, the business sector brings expense on itself. The throwaway behaviour of the boom has left a legacy that could be turned around to save money for all customers, be they in business or thinking of their homes.
“A good quality suite that cost a few thousand euro to buy new can be reupholstered for a fraction of the cost and made new again,” he says.
After 36 years in business, his advice for survival is simple.
“Forming a business doesn’t mean you will automatically make money. The most important way to survive is to adapt and grow as the market for your product changes,” Ross says.
“The changes we have had to make to survive in the furniture business have been positive. We are busy and it is great to be able to employ the family.”