Our strategy since IPO has remained consistent, driving significant growth in revenues and developing our operations while continuing strong cash generation. Informed by detailed customer and market research, we have reflected on our market position, our inherent business model strengths and the changing consumer landscape we are seeing. These reflections are outlined below and as a consequence we have evolved our strategic priorities.
We have a strong business model today with inherent advantages relative to competitors.
According to independent market research our Group has over a 31% share in the upholstery sub-sector of the living room furniture market and we are over three times the size of our nearest competitor. This scale provides us with cost advantages through leveraging our buying power with raw material and finished goods suppliers and minimising final mile logistics costs as a result of our customer post code density.
Our DFS brand is celebrating its fiftieth year and from this history we have learned what works (and what doesn’t work) throughout the customer journey and we continually seek to further adapt and improve our offering. To best serve our customers, we focus strongly on our people, emphasising training and fair, performance-driven reward, and have been recognised as a ‘Sunday Times Top 25 Big Company To Work For’.
We have a strong, well invested and growing online capability that we develop and enhance continuously. Our mobile website customer satisfaction score is well ahead of the industry benchmark and last year we were the first UK sofa retailer to launch augmented reality functionality on a mobile website allowing customers to visualise a sofa in any room in their home. Our showroom estate continues to benefit from regular refurbishments and technological enhancements. Furthermore, the efficiency of our channel agnostic distribution network has improved with the use of artificial intelligence assisted scheduling and routing software which has helped to mitigate material labour rate and fuel price increases.
Our business maintains end to end control of our customer journey from design and manufacture through to delivery and post-sale customer service. Through operating across the whole value chain we can optimise manufacturing quality, reduce lead times, deliver efficiently and on time ensuring customer expectations are met whilst driving shareholder value creation.
Our made to order business model, relatively short lead times and supplier credit terms also enable us to operate with negative working capital and strong cash generation.
As a result of the above we have market leading operating margins, strong free cash flows (which we expect to be typically over 70% of underlying EBITDA), historically good rates of return on capital employed (average 18.5% over the last three financial years) and have grown our market share organically and through acquisition to create a leading portfolio of complementary brands. We are, however, not complacent and cannot stand still.
Based on customer research and direct insight, we know over 85% of potential customers research their sofa purchase online. Notwithstanding this, the primary reason for selecting a sofa is comfort and over 90% of our customers still visit one of our showrooms to sit, touch and feel the products before ordering. For most of our customers the transaction is a significant investment and they value our local showroom presence, our colleagues’ expertise, advice and recommendations and feel re-assured by our fifteen-year guarantee and in-house repair service.
Our business model is already set up to satisfy all elements of the customer journey in the digital age but we must remain on the front foot to maximise the opportunities available to us, and to compete effectively with new market entrants.
Our aim is to lead sofa retailing in the digital age. We intend to strengthen our position in the sofa segment of the furniture market and embrace the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. To achieve this, we will evolve our strategy around some key principles: focusing on what the customer truly values on the buying journey and prioritising investments based on those that generate the highest returns.
Our strategy is centered on three inter-related pillars across which we see up to £40m of incremental profit opportunity in the medium term:
- Drive the DFS core business
With 117 showrooms in the UK and Ireland and a market leading website, the DFS brand has the sector-leading omnichannel proposition which is supported by nearly 4,000 employees across our showrooms, online team, manufacturing operations, warehousing, delivery and post sales servicing teams and support centre functions.
We have a unique and differentiated sofa offering. In addition to strong promotional and core DFS ranges, we have partnerships with a number of leading lifestyle brands which together allow us to provide all our customers with a tailored range of products. Our innovation team is focused on developing new customer propositions, and we are trialing new ranges through online customer panels before piloting them through physical showroom presence.
Through continued investment in our web platform and digital engagement tools our web business continues to grow. Over recent years we have made significant investment in new DFS showrooms, opening between three and five standard showrooms a year. Having established strong national coverage across the UK, we will now focus our investment on increasing the efficiency of our existing estate and in omnichannel technologies.
- Build the platforms for growth
DFS’s market leading operating margins are a result of both sales intensity and operational gearing driven by both scale and expertise.
We have invested significantly in creating our CDC network and worked with our leading artificial intelligence partner to build our scheduling, route planning and optimisation tool ‘Apollo’ that has driven significant efficiency improvements. We believe we operate the best in class two-person sofa delivery and installation service in the industry. With the DFS central distribution centre programme complete we are now looking to develop our systems and processes to enable further Group-wide benefits. We have leveraged DFS’s existing store estate to introduce 33 Dwell and 10 Sofa Workshop showrooms, creating a national presence for these brands without increasing our property costs and leveraging Group platforms. We see further opportunities co-locate our brands to ensure we optimize our existing store estate.
We continue to work with Sofology to build on the synergies already achieved, which have come from a combination of utilising the Group’s enhanced buying power, sharing of best practices and introduction of new products and services.
- Unlock new growth
The development of Sofology to become a national chain is a clear priority for us, building on its strong and distinct customer proposition. We have put in place a new leadership team, made good progress on synergies and, are pleased with the brand’s trading performance with year on year. The five new showrooms opened in FY18 and FY19 are trading well.
Given the significant gaps in the Sofology network (we see clear potential to increase the exiting estate of 42 showrooms to between 65 and 70 over the medium term. Some showrooms could be co-located using existing Group retail assets. We also have a number of new sites already identified and plan to phase the openings as and when the right property deals arise from landlord negotiations.
Sofology has been on the front foot when it comes to creating an omni-channel customer journey. Through a MySofology account a customer can obtain additional product information, log favorites and build baskets on their phone in store, either independently or with a sales colleague, before then checking out immediately or later at home. The status of an order can also be tracked, payments made and delivery slots booked through a customer’s MySofology account. We see further opportunities to enhance this brand’s innovative proposition.
Sofa Workshop and Dwell
We are making good progress with the Sofa Workshop and Dwell brands both brands now have national scale. We see further opportunities to open new Dwell and Sofa Workshop showrooms increasing each of their estates to 40-45 showrooms and to share the Group’s digital and marketing expertise to drive profitable sales growth.
We have been testing and trialing various promotional activity in the Netherlands and have also been refining our product offering to further adapt it for the local market. The trading results are encouraging and we will continue to work on various initiatives to improve the financial performance of this business.
We intend to take a balanced approach to assess the overall success of the strategy and over time we will target and report on the following areas:
- Customer satisfaction – As evidenced by our established customer NPS;
- Our people – We will measure our progress with reference to our colleague engagement score;
- Innovation – Evidenced by new process and product introductions that are generating positive financial returns;
- Market position – We expect our investment will strengthen our share position in this challenging environment, positioning us strongly for the long-term; and
- Financial returns – Growing revenues and profits with a focus on Group ROCE which will lead to strong cash flow conversion.