Insight provided by Lavinia Watts – Lenleys Furniture Buyer & Marketing Manager
It was down to a coin toss. School friends Leonard Watts and Stanley Adsett couldn’t agree on a name for their furniture shop – Lenleys or Stannards, a mix of the two gentlemen’s names. The sign above the door on Roper Road tells you who was the victor.
As the third generation to now work at Lenleys, Lavinia Watts is ushering in a fresh new approach to the company, which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year.
The shop has been a fixture in her life since she was a young girl. From running around the showroom with friends tapping away at the display computers to getting to know the regulars while she worked in the shop’s cafe, Lavinia has seen the shop grow into a much-loved Canterbury business.
Lavinia and her team have recently brought on a new selection of high-end brands, including Cattelan Italia, who are synonymous with architecturally influenced tables and chairs. The lighting department has also been a part of Lenleys’ new direction, featuring many contemporary products you’ll be hard-pressed to find locally.
In the new offering, you can find a rustic dining range made from reclaimed wood, or even a sleek table and light pairing that could stand alone in a room. All tastes are catered for.
But Lavinia insists that although it’s a big change all-round for Lenleys, there’s very much staying the same.
Many of the relationships with suppliers established in Lavinia’s grandfather’s day are going strong, even today. Heritage brands like soft furnishers Sandersons, and Parker Knoll, a British manufacturer of sofas and chairs, can still be seen on the shop floor.
“Our suppliers’ styles are changing,” says Lavinia, “but we know them well, and can carry on sourcing quality products that people have come to expect from Lenleys.”
This also carries through to their staff, and many of their customers too.
“Our clients on the whole haven’t changed either, but their style and tastes have. It’s an opportunity to change our offering and move forward. We must buy for our customers, and keep in mind what it is they want.
Sourcing Lenleys stock takes Lavinia and the rest of the buyers across Europe to meet with existing suppliers and find new ones.
“A show like Milan is incredible, seeing the standard of products and where the industry is going!
It is also an opportunity for the Lenleys team to see the craftsmanship that goes into the furniture and furnishings that will eventually end up on the shop floor.
“We can pass that information onto our customers,” Lavinia adds.
The business was founded as a chain of shops that dealt with each aspect of the home; soft furnishings, flooring, and furniture.
You can still experience this level of expertise at Lenleys today, across the entire store.
“Our sales people don’t move from department to department,” says Lavinia.
“They’re experts in their fields and sell only what they know.”
The business was previously passed on to her father Jonathan Watts, who is still involved in the day-to-day running of the business.
“There’s a bit of pressure when people find out that you’re one of the family,” says Lavinia, “and I aim to live up to their expectations. I want to carry on the great work started by my dad and grandad.”
“We’re proof that local family-run businesses can still thrive.”