February 12, 2016
A Q&A with Joanna Ferguson of Lorfords Antiques
Joanna Ferguson, the Operations/Marketing Manager for Lorfords Antiques, gives us insight into one of the most successful antiques furniture stores throughout Europe. Learn about Lorfords' new projects—specifically the conversion of former airport hangars into one of the most coveted antiques destinations around.
by New York Spaces
NYS: Lorfords is one of the most beautiful antiques shops around. What is your shop in Tetbury known for?
Joanna Ferguson of Lorfords: Thank you! We have been a fixture of the English antiques map for over 10 years, and have built our reputation on supplying unique and beautiful furniture with the highest quality service. The buying experience has always been at the heart of Lorfords success; from styling the showrooms to personal deliveries, the enjoyment and inspiration of our clients is our priority.
NYS: What do you think sets Lorfords apart from other antiques stores?
JF: Our business model is quite unique within the antiques trade, and it works really well for both our clients and our dealers. From the client's perspective, we have a choice of stock that is unrivalled in Europe, from 40 renowned antique dealers. With a dedicated team of 12 employees, we are able to deliver an exceptional level of service, with the ease of dealing with just one supplier.
In terms of our dealers, showing at Lorfords allows the freedom to be on the road, finding beautiful things, whilst we handle the rest of the business; cataloguing, photographing, running a website, manning show spaces, marketing, deliveries, paperwork etc. We all benefit from economies of scale, and can offer our dealers all those services for less than it would cost to rent their own shops.
NYS: The core team behind Lorfords is quite lovely and unique. Can you tell us a bit about the makeup of the company?
JF: Lorfords is a family-run business, co-owned since 2005 by my Mum Lesley and her partner Toby. For 8 years they ran the core business between them, together establishing Lorfords as a destination in the European market for decorative antiques. Having watched the business grow over those eight years, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of its future when I joined in 2012.
For a year and a half it was mostly just the three of us working on every element of the business—getting systems in place and running the shop during the day, whilst spending evenings in a freezing storage unit photographing and cataloguing stock. We didn't have a delivery team, and we didn't have a photographer, but we made it work; it was fun, if a little haphazard!
By 2013 we had tightened things up and were in a position to expand further. We took on a World War II aircraft hangar close to the shop, which we converted into a display space for 20 English and European dealers. At the same time, the Internet was growing rapidly in importance to the business, and we were working on our new website, which launched in March of last year.
We now have two hangars showcasing stock for 40 dealers, and an in-house team of 12 working on sales, photography, showroom management and deliveries. The three of us are hoping to get to a position this year where we can move away from the day-to-day running of the showrooms, and look to the overall management and future business development. It has been a very busy few years, and we are delighted to now have a team in place that will make this possible!
NYS: What is a day in your life at Lorfords?
JF: My current role at Lorfords is Company Operations/Marketing Manager—this means I am responsible for the systems and processes that allow us to offer an exceptional level of service. So my days can be quite varied; from the marketing side of things our website is key so I am responsible for tying together all the content, and sending out our e-marketing campaigns, which involves weekly stock update mailers, and our bi-weekly inspiration mailer; 'The Weekender'. I also handle all our press enquiries, design our promotional materials, and organise all elements of our branding. Operations wise I handle all the HR, recruitment, operational strategies, service delivery, website analytics etc.—as part of a core management team of three it can be quite busy!
NYS: What are some of your favorite new arrivals at the shop?
JF: As a 20th century enthusiast, this 1970s modernist design table is top of my wish list. As well as this 1980s modular leather sofa by de Sede. And this mirror has to be one of the most stunning items we currently have! It is contemporary, totally unique, and has been made with vintage floral fabric that has been interwoven with hand silvered plate so that the pattern appears through the reflective glass. The pictures don't do this one justice—it is incredibly beautiful.
NYS: Lorfords is know for choosing avant-garde locations to set up shop in—The Lorfords Antiques shop in Tetbury is housed in a former bus depot on Long Street—but we would still love to hear the story behind what convinced Toby Lorford to turn two aircraft hangars from a former WW2 Air Force base into an antiques destination?
JF: Lorfords has a long history of working with other dealers, and as the economic recovery took hold in 2011 we connected with a number that we had previously worked with. At the same time, we had outgrown our storage space and were looking for something larger that could also incorporate a photographic studio. Toby went to view the original hangar with a view to using it for storage, but as soon as he walked into the huge space he could see the potential to create something magical (despite the steel crates and filth everywhere)!
A bottle of wine and a chat with a dealer friend that evening cemented the plan, and one very busy summer later, we opened the steel shutters to the first hangar.
NYS: What was that process like of setting up and outfitting the original acquisition, Hangar Two?
JF: It was more than a little chaotic—we were working to a very tight timeframe, and at the time we were still only a very small team. Luckily family and friends chipped in, including my carpenter brother-in-law Chris, who single-handedly built every dealer stand from scratch. Industrial vacuum cleaning, building, painting and scrubbing; it wasn't the most glamorous couple of months, but the dealers put their faith in us converting this 'filthy tin hut' into something awe-inspiring, so we had to make that happen!
NYS: How many dealers do you house in Hangar Two?
NYS: We understand you are now working on building out Hangar One. When do you foresee it opening and how many dealers do you expect to house?
JF: The first phase of Hangar One opened in Spring 2015 – we took on the additional space as we had a waiting list of dealers, and the timing was just right as the iconic 'Core One' collective in London closed its doors whilst we were opening ours. We welcomed an important group of six dealers at that time, and the expansion of this show space was the natural next step. Work on the double-floor expansion has been underway since the end of 2015, and the showrooms are planned to be open for business at the beginning of March 2016.
NYS: Can you confirm the names of any of the new residents?
JF: Three of our existing residents actually snapped up 75% of the new space as soon as it was announced; Lee Wright Antiques, who will be taking a central 1250 square foot double ceiling height space; Andy Gibbs of Blank Canvas Antiques, who has secured the entire left hand side mezzanine; and Dean Gipson of Dean Antiques, who is also taking a large double ceiling height space on the ground floor. We are really excited to see what they do with these huge, unique spaces.
The remaining spaces will be divided into areas of diverse style and atmosphere, with some more intimate and moody areas, an art gallery space, and some more conventional stands along the right hand side mezzanine. Names include Arc Angel, JOE Antiques, Hetman Gallery, Original House, Seventeen-Twentyone, Doe & Hope and Edd in the Clouds.
NYS: Lorfords sponsors the Antiques Young Guns movement. Would you tell us a bit about the movement and what these young antiques dealers are accomplishing?
JF: We have been involved with the Antiques Young Guns since 2014, when we sponsored their 'Young Gun of the Year' awards by offering a space in Hangar Two to be rotated between the 12 finalists over the course of the year. We fully support the ethos of AYG, and two of its leading members are joining us as part of the expansion: James Gooch of Doe & Hope, and Edd Thomas of Edd in the Clouds.
NYS: What is on the horizon for Lorfords now that you have transformed the area into one of the most sought-after destinations for antiques?
JF: Watch this space!
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