Neptune: From Hammocks To International Lifestyle Brand
It being the month of love, I thought I’d dedicate my articles this week to one of my favourite brands. Today I’m going to explore how the hugely successfully lifestyle brand, Neptune, went from selling hammocks to becoming a global interiors retailer. And the lessons you can draw from Neptune’s success and apply to scaling your own business.
Founded in 1996 by sailing friends John Sims-Hilditch and Giles Redman, Neptune has become renowned in the UK for its exacting standards, timeless aesthetic and expert craftsmanship. Just like building a boat, John and Giles believe that the way something works is as important as how it looks. So when Neptune creates a new product, the design team thinks through every last detail. While their designs are both stunning and practical, the products themselves are underpinned by technical excellence and skill and craftsmanship.
Neptune’s very first product was a hammock, stitched at the kitchen table by John’s wife and Creative Director, Emma Sims-Hilditch. Within the company’s first year, they had sold more than 5,500 hammocks and Harrods, the world’s most famous department store became a stockist. Twenty one years on, that hammock has evolved into a collection of beautiful homeware, furniture, and cabinetry, and a hugely successful British business.
Run from its 145,000sqft headquarters in Swindon, Neptune has 18 Neptune stores trading in the UK and Ireland, with a further 6 set to open this year after a seven-figure funding package was secured from HSBC. In addition, the company works with third party stockists and has licensing and franchising agreements with partners in the UK and abroad. Its overseas network is established in Norway, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
Last year the company made £38.2 million and it has net assets of £7.2 million.
Neptune may have changed out of all recognition since the early days when two men assembled hammocks in the kitchen, but there was always a bigger plan, which started with clarity of mission.
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One of the first things Neptune’s founders did, inspired by Sims-Hilditch’s time in the Coldstream Guards, was to come up with a mission statement. The mission was founded on three core principles of design, quality and value. Because they wanted to set up a kind, generous and long-lasting company that customers engaged with and liked, they added service to their three core principles.
An Ambitious Vision
The company’s strategic vision is to open 50 stores in Britain so that everyone is within half an hour’s drive of a Neptune. When it comes to design, traditional craftsmanship with a modern twist is their compass. But the company also likes to look overseas to track down iconic British design that has been reinterpreted in other lands.
From its early days selling hammocks, the company grew to become the largest UK trade maker of mid-range garden furniture. But big summer-to-winter fluctuations in sales made the business hard to run. In early summer, sales exceeded £1million. While in October, with the British summer over, sales were just 1% of that number. This seasonal fluctuation meant the company was always either under or overstaffed.
With the help of Sims-Hilditch’s wife, an interior designer, Neptune conceived a range of dining furniture. From there, the company moved into fitted kitchens. It now makes wooden furniture and cabinetry for every room, as well as sofas and a full range of home accessories.
Scaling The Business
The company expanded into Europe and Asia through a network of franchisees (one of which is a short drive from my home). The company’s signature contemporary classic look, with elements of the classic English home, also incorporates Scandinavian, US and Italian design. This international flavour explains why the company has clients and a network of stores all over the world.
Neptune builds its furniture at three production houses it built and owns in Qingdao, China. The decision to manufacture abroad was taken to keep down the cost to customers. The company insists that quality remain a top priority.
In 2014, Neptune won HSBC’s Global Connections initiative – a yearly programme that recognises and rewards the UK’s most innovative, ffastest-growingbusinesses. Successful entrants are awarded lending and expert advice to encourage further development, especially in exports. Last year, this relationship with HSBC paved the way for a seven-figure funding package, and the opening of another 6 stores.
In Part 2, I’m going to explore what I love about Neptune’s marketing.
Question: Are you familiar with the Neptune brand? If so, what do you love about it? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.
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