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Archive for 2009

What do our customers make of Plumbs in the current economic climate?

Plumbs' customers are generally part of the ever increasing community of Silver Surfers, the over-50s generation of new online visitors. So with the current economic gloom and the constant media messages talking us all into a recession, we decided to ask our customers what their views were of the whole situation and why they bought from Plumbs.



    • The vast majority with savings and pensions couldn't see the point of keeping their money in the bank because they're not getting anything from it due to the drop in interest rates. They're taking the attitude, they'd rather see something for their money and enjoy it!
    • Many that were in the process of selling their homes found there were too few buyers on the market so decided to take it off and instead make home improvements. They can then benefit from enjoying their home and have it looking great when the market eventually picks up.
    • The more active of our customers are finding themselves going out less and staying in more, which is giving them time to sort out all those little annoyances such as worn sofa upholstery and out-of-date curtains. These items are far longer lasting than going out for meals and other leisurely pursuits.
    • Decent furniture doesn't come cheap, unlike a lot of poorly made imports that have flooded the market over the last few years. Customers who have paid several thousand pounds for quality furniture are finding it far cheaper to re-furbish than to buy brand new similar quality furniture.
    • Often our customers are so attached to their loved pieces of furniture they don't seem care it can cost more than to buy new, so will still pay for refurbishment.
    • To keep up with the latest fashions most new pieces of furniture use low backs and can be quite big and bulky. These styles are often not loved or enjoyed by our customers.
    • The environment still plays a big part in people buying decisions: guilt about throwing out something that there's not really anything wrong with, it's just the fabric is grubby and the cushions have gone saggy. Or they've tried giving it to charity, who've refused, because of fire safety issues! Not even the homeless can have it!

The biggest irritation expressed by our customers seems to be directed at the media for 'talking people into recession', however this comes with the belief it's important to spend and keep the economy going.

The Silver Surfers seem more determined to spend and enjoy it!


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Plumbs Sponsor the Ugliest Sofa in the UK competition

To coincide with the launch of the Save Our Sofas (S.O.S) campaign. Plumbs have sponsored the "Ugliest Sofa in the UK 2009" competition. All sofas are submitted and voted on by the public, the winning or ugliest sofa will then be re-upholstered for free by Plumbs.

Both the campaign and competition aim to highlight the growing need to consider the environment before throwing household items away, which usually go to landfill. S.O.S tries to educate people about the alternatives of Re-using, Refurbishing or Recycling sofas and other soft furnishings.

Why not help promote the campaign and competition by entering your sofa! You never know, you may get it re-upholstered for free.

Ugliest Sofa in the Uk 2009

Google luck!


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How Does Plumbs make 1000 different covers orders every week

It’s not often that you get the chance to use the word ‘unique’ and get away without being accused of exaggeration. But Plumbs of Preston claims the right to be described this way.

Although there are plenty of local and even regional companies in the market, Plumbs is the only manufacturer of fitted furniture covers to offer a nationwide service. Each week about 25km of material is converted into more than 1000 made to measure loose covers for armchairs and sofas.

Started some 45 years ago and still owned by the Plumb family, this Lancashire factory has over 300 staff on the payroll. But this is only part of the story as there are another 150 self employed consultants who deal with customers in their homes. Consultants show customers fabric samples and photographs demonstrating the different fabrics on offer and generally giving advice on the available options. After agreement is reached, the consultant measures up, sends in the details and will ultimately fit the products once complete and shipped.

With over 1000 orders a week to process and at least 200 designs and colourways to contend with, it follows that holding stock of raw material is hardly practical. Instead, Plumbs uses its experience to forecast the likely demand for each fabric and colour alternative which it then passes on to its four major and 16 minor suppliers. It takes around four to six weeks to process an order, from the moment measurements come in from the consultant to the point of delivery. The first stage of the process is to check the measurements and set up the documentation. During this time we expect the material to be delivered from the supplier just in time to go straight onto the Lectra cutter.

In a process still very much dependent on skilled sewing machine operators, of whom the factory employs more than 70 plus a few other machinists installing zips and making-up valances, there is a limit to how much automation is possible. But over the years Plumbs has invested heavily in state-of-the-art automatic cutters from the French manufacturer, Lectra - machines that even ten years ago had a £100,000 price tag. “We have worked closely with Lectra for 15 years,” said production director Arthur Diamond, “and now have seven of their cutters. Because each order is unique, every job has to be cut single ply, but even so our productivity in this area has risen enormously.”

It’s not as simple as saying the Lectra machines have made a four-fold improvement in productivity as savings at the cutter need to be offset with time spent in the firm’s drawing office working on CAD systems to feed the cutters with digital data. But, overall costs and training timescales are down, plus, by using a computer to arrange the numerous pattern pieces on the fabric, maximum material utilisation is being achieved.

One of the biggest problems Plumbs has is appealing to a younger market. When they think of Plumbs loose covers, many people think of the brown knitted stretch fabric on granny’s favourite chair. However, with the continuous development of polyester knitted fabrics, a high quality cover with little stretch is now available with all of the easy-care benefits and they still account for 50 per cent of sales. But nowadays there is much more interest from the market in cotton fabrics which has seen the Traditional Cotton brand grow enormously.

For those customers who want a tighter fit from their covers, but without going all the way to re-upholstery, Plumbs is busy building a network of what it calls ‘technical designers’. So far there are 155 of these independent re-upholstery specialists who receive firm orders, generated in the normal way, but who make the covers to much tighter tolerances. Rather than have the field consultant measure up, details are passed to the technical designer who takes his own measurements.

There is an increasing demand for full re-upholstery which Plumbs now offer as a service throughout the United Kingdom.

Plumbs has a terrific reputation, as a completely dependable, friendly, family run business. An obvious extension to the loose cover range are curtains; not the imported, ready made variety, but rather a top of the range product complete with a full design and fitting service. Currently, curtains such as these account for around twelve per cent of the total sales which includes our internet curtain ordering service.

The life of an order in the Plumbs factory can be seen here 


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