Industry Insight: Jeremy Stein, BCFA managing director
In our latest industry interview, we sit down with the BCFA’s managing director. We discuss sustainability in the sector, how the furnishing industry has shifted, and how to handle ongoing pandemic uncertainty
Jeremy, you’re a man who’s worn many different hats over the years – tell us a little bit about your career to date?
Well, this is pre-history! In brief, I started off in the finance world, but after five years I realised it wasn’t for me. Back then, a connection in Hong Kong said to me “come out to Hong Kong and see how you get on.” Within a month, somehow I was the general manager of a publishing house over there and I absolutely loved it.
After another five years, I felt that I’d spent enough time overseas, so I moved home at Christmas 1995 and joined a London based publisher as their Sales and Marketing Director and Commercial Publisher. After 10 years I decided to make a major change. Print publishing was changing and digital publishing was just coming into play. So, I joined an organisation called DACS, the Design and Artists Copywriting Society, which represented some 60,000 artists at the time, who we sold licenses for commercial use of their works. That was incredibly exciting. I represented Warhol, Bacon, Banksy, Picasso, Lichtenstein – you name it.
And when did you make the move into furnishings and join the BCFA?
Following DACS I moved to a consultancy for a couple of years, but I missed the membership side. As luck would have it the BCFA needed someone who was commercial, and someone with a membership background too. So, I joined in 2015 and I’ve not looked back.
How has the furnishings industry changed in the time you’ve been with the BCFA, then?
I’d say the whole industry has shifted. There’s been a big structural change towards online working that really started with the 2008 financial crisis, designers spend much less time with sales people these days. Of course, this has been accelerated by the pandemic too. When I joined the BCFA, one of the first things we did was to prioritise our development of our Design Insider website – I used my publishing background to really commercialise the site and make sure it could fulfil the role of being a hub for the industry.
Back then, the site was getting around 2,500 visitors a month. Now we get 13,000-14,000 visitors a month. We have an editorial team who publish industry news and who run stories on behalf of members too. The other thing we did when I joined was to move our events programme up-market – to make sure that our events really represented the industry in the best possible way.
Sustainability is a huge issue right now. How is the BCFA responding to this?
We set up a sustainable network within the membership two years ago and the response has been really impressive – even more so during lockdown. We’ve all had time to think about it, I suppose. It’s been fascinating to support members at different stages of their sustainability journey; some have already built sustainability into their systems from beginning to end for years now, others are just starting to take their first steps. Either way, we’re putting tools and guidance in place to help members to consider their carbon footprint, recycled materials, accreditations, supply chain issues, manufacturing processes – the lot.
What have the last 18 months of pandemic life been like for you?
The difference between this slump and 2007-2008, which I worked through at DACS, is the uncertainty. Back then, we took the view that we just had to grind through it for a year or two, but this one’s been tougher because business hasn’t known what’s going to happen and we’ve had to go into lockdowns over and over, and over. The uncertainty is the hardest thing.
What advice have you given to BCFA members on handling the rest of 2021?
We’ve been advising members simply to be as prudent as you can, manage your cashflow and don’t over-extend. If you’ve got a hungry factory, you want orders coming in, but chasing every order can cause more problems in turn. In this climate, you’ve got to make sure you’re going to get paid and that you can still make the right margins.
On a lighter note, what’s coming next for the BCFA?
We’re starting to plan to return to physical events, which is exciting. Our next is the Clerkenwell Open, which we’re running in partnership with Women In Office Design. Essentially, it’s a curated showroom trail for designers and experts to attend workshops, seminars and visit a variety of showrooms around Clerkenwell in September. We’ve got 50 showrooms signed up so far, but by the time it comes around we’ll have 60 or so. I think it’s going to turn into something really quite special.
Learn more about the BCFA and Clerkenwell Design Week at thebcfa.com