"In a small business, if you want to do something you can be fashion-conscious and make decisions quickly. I could visit Milan or Cologne, then come back and implement what I've seen within seconds."
At OX we love small, local businesses who display a true passion for attention to detail, artistry and pride in what they do.
Each month, we shine our Spotlight on a small-to-medium scale enterprise who we think embody these values and celebrate the best of Oxfordshire’s small business. For June, we’ve spoken to Graham Jackson from home interior and outdoor living specialists Bell, who have recently opened a branch in Thame.
Hi Graham, how did you get into the interior and outdoor living business?
I've been in this business for quite some time, if I'm honest. I've been lucky enough to work as retail director for Heal's of London, and prior to that I worked for IKEA. As I've got older, home interiors have become a passion of mine – perhaps for around 15 years now.
How have you seen your industry change over the years?
Oh, gosh, well in the last ten years I've seen more radical change in the industry than in the rest of my adult life put together. It hasn't just been about home interior trends, either, it's been about retailing in general. The main change has been the rise of digital technology, with internet shopping and social media both revolutionising consumers’ ability to be much more informed and have much more choice. It really has changed every aspect of retailing. Luxury retailing, like we do, is not immune to this. We're completely immersed in it and I'm actually a social media freak myself.
How is Oxfordshire treating you as a business environment?
We were desperate to get into Oxfordshire – we'd been in Northamptonshire for 120 years and we felt that Oxfordshire offered us an opportunity to spread our brand. Thame was our first choice location, just because it's a beautiful town. What we also like about Oxfordshire is that it has the mix of being a commuter area but also feels incredibly rural, high streets are full of independent shops which give the area real character, and clearly we fit the mould for that.
How has the actual structure of your business changed over the years?
We've grown quite dramatically. Bell is a family-owned business which opened in 1898, and we were at the forefront of design for about 70 or 80 years. Then, in the more recent 30 years, we've become a retailer as well as just a manufacturer, and I joined the business five years ago in an attempt to modernise the business and make it more contemporary. Bell was always a fantastic brand, trusted by a huge amount of customers, but we now aim at a slightly younger demographic and we are a unique retailer in that we offer every part of the home, in furnishing terms.
What, in your opinion, makes a good small business?
Well, what I think the best thing is about small businesses in general is their ability to be fleet of foot. Having worked in corporate businesses, everything's done by committee and by policy, whereas in a small business, if you want to do something you can be fashion-conscious and make decisions quickly. I could visit Milan or Cologne, then come back and implement what I've seen within seconds.
Finally, what makes Bell the best?
We're 120 years old, but what really makes us the best is our people. We are very fortunate to have a mix of massively experienced kitchen salespeople and the best designers – people with huge passion and flair for designing kitchens. When people come to us, they don't just get a kitchen, they get something that's truly individual and truly unique. We then back that up with the Northampton branch, which broadly offers any aspect of home design and it means we really are a 'one-stop' service.