Why Laura Ashley fail in Furniture Icon creation

I have followed Laura Ashley for many years working around the Chelsea scene as interior designer, finisher and project manager, and joined them in 2005, but what amazes me is the lack of will to create a true design statement – finding the icon has alluded LA.

Why is that?  and let’s face it, the problem is not isolated to LA alone… John Lewis could also be accused of falling short on designing the iconic range across key categories, but at least they drive well planned NPD strategies.

Looking at Laura Ashley Plc  it is an organisation based on two strengths:  customer loyalty and … customer loyalty.

But faced with the inevitable client lifespan issue what new is pitched at the younger audience?

LA suffer a staffing turnover issues and this is driven by many things not least of all a lack of genuine product design initiative.  The leaders simply survive on comp shopping and grabbing the nearest the ‘move on’ feature – frankly any design middle weight can do this!

A classic example is in their bedding ranges which are stagnant when considering the scope of opportunity that stands before this category.

From a purely superficial design perspective the model above represents a range that continues to do well yet is marginally in decline according to LA HOD Gillian Farr.

”… we are facing an overall gradual decline …we’re trying some upholstered beds… see how they go”.

The product development on this model amounts to a sideways glance at NEXT plc and a quick half or false step.  But what’s wrong with that?  I hear you say… yep they’ll ignite some fresh numbers on this twist…  but in a world where design must drive via clear commercial strategy, what of the crucial spin off aka real design fuelled customer perception… or rather lack of it?

Where is the small yet hugely significant step toward practical, beautiful design innovation?

Touching on another range Gillian jumped to the defence of the Arielle collection, a mirror and rosewood bedroom set which according to staff in the Yeovil shop wasn’t a great performer – but on Gillian’s turf it was… ”Sorry but that range is doing very well I might tell you.. we got it straight off the hook because we were the first to start this line a few years ago and since the opposition are selling it at near cost we needed to get something at a price-point… it’s done very well…!”

Perhaps she hadn’t been to Yeovil recently.

Design Innovation… whattha?

Because Laura Ashley score virtually zero when it comes to innovation over elegance (yet IKEA or HEALS excel), the ranges remain short of genuine iconic quality which innovation harvests… and what I mean by that is – they lack the original English design DNA that is needed to generate wider international consumer momentum and expectation… and even win a few design awards?

The design triad should surely follow:  Client expectation – Brand ID – Original Design Innovation

When Laura Ashley set up her work rooms she had a clear vision of motif and market placement.  Undoubtedly that would have needed some skilful crafting  in order to stay abreast of change… but innovation would certainly have characterised her strategic thinking alongside customer loyalty.

ABOVE Vintage Iconic 1940s Long Tailored Black Wool Crepe Flared Coat UK

Fabulous in every department… a design museum in motion

Today high street retail design swirls 20 year cycles without the fuel of innovative design expectation, the day-to-day tasks of the product design staff  remain mundane and hence, spur loss of zest while spawning high staff turnover malaise.

Going forward is made the more challenging for design heads as they struggle to shape their winning team. Farr stated ”LA don’t pay that well..” The motivational impetus needed is virtually stifled at birth and lapping the zero.

This really marks the final nail because once you have staff looking at joining John Lewis at the first opportunity, for a range of reasons, your whole process runs on next to empty because the vision and commitment of the designer is lost… and so the energy that infuses Zara for example fizzles among the stack of mundane ‘moving-on’ that staff at L A can never escape.

It sounds like stating the obvious but in order to hold on to a team and grow depth healthy remuneration is crucial.

The result is the grabbing at the simplest but worst possible design route… Canton Fair pick-n-twists, and bridging continual staff shortfalls.

Vision at every turn

With the UK and the capital city brimming with young and senior design talent it is astonishing we think far too often of IKEA when it comes to modern retail furniture iconics…

It may be a brave vision but until the Malaysian directors embrace the importance of fully planned brand design strategies, and product design management understand the importance of the long term view, Laura Ashley will wrestle with it’s self made churn, survive on a starch based design diet and struggle where it could well soar… and for a company born of genuinely fabulous design DNA it is nothing short of a crime.

Nick Garrett


Retail design: Hybrid design is for which generation?

Just reading an article about the Chevrolet Volt Hybrid and apart from the chronically high price point it started out in prototype forms a muscle bound street machine with loads of appeal.. And now looks like a Vauxhall.

In an age where design thinking has been such a buzz word it certainly appears to have fallen foul of price point error and complete misread of the opening Market for hybrid machines.


Ageist marketing foul

Today we need to get the Market level and rrp absolutely (so they tell me) right in order to boost recovery and ramp up regeneration of quality local industry.  And agepoint destination really is up for a rethink.

Yep that’s right… Globalisation is reversing out in many of the gassed up sectors and yet retail and manufacture share the same ability to narrow market appeal rather than expand it.

So how come manufacturing still thinks inside the box when it comes to energy saving technology and destination market? Why do we have to be 60 something in order to appreciate (nay afford) electro powered autos?

I remember the fall of auto design in UK during the eighties while the Germans grabbed the opportunity with both hands.  While we outsourced  ‘Triumph Acclaim’  bodyshells from Honda. which were frankly a design failure at every level (funny that, can’t think why? Considering we sourced them from our main adversary… ).

Volks Wagon hatched the Golf no less.

Today just as the near sighted and yet fashionable terminology ‘design thinking’ fails to ignite the real design industry of retail and light the way indisputably, so too does the lack of price point design fail the ecology, the wider consumer and UK economy combined.


Recover undeniable Designnovation leadership

Uk and London is still the design HUB of Europe and for many, the world.  I believe it.

Recovery will work for UK  if it is centred around driving innovation and new practice networking across all groups and ages. Linear concept, lateral solutions and multiple linear market placement is what will sell our economy around the corner of truly meaningful social consumerism and recovery.

Perhaps it still suits the few boardroom honchoes to entrench the retail design mechanism in plots that are touching on the new yet remain truly past century… that stagnates so many in so many different ways… by design, non-adventure and misconcept.