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Furniture maker carves out a funky future

When Kevin Johnston, managing director at South Tyneside’s Funky Chunky Furniture, bought a house at auction to make solid wood furniture from, he decided to start selling his products too.

Seven years later, the business is growing rapidly, cemented by its place in Ward Hadaway’s 2021 Fastest 50 list which celebrates the North East’s most exciting, fastest growing, privately owned companies.

Funky Chunky Furniture’s Kevin Johnston and Ward Hadaway’s Katherine Richards

Alongside Katherine Richards, Kevin explains how innovation, tapping into local talent and people development have played a vital role in the online furniture maker’s success. Funky Chunky Furniture handcrafts and sells chunky wood furniture, providing a high-end, niche product in a crowded market. The company, which now boasts a 1,200 square foot workshop at Viking Industrial Park in Jarrow, has grown by more than 50% in the last 12 months.

“We’ve always been clear with our aim and that’s to provide high quality, bespoke furniture and a personalised, world-class customer service,” explains Kevin, who completed a joinery apprenticeship before setting up his online woodwork business. “I began my career as an apprentice and so I instinctively recognise the importance of training and developing people, especially from an on-the-job skills perspective. People development is a key priority at Funky Chunky Furniture as well as local job creation. It’s so important to provide a positive, nurturing environment for people to learn and develop specialist skills as well as support our community as much as we can by creating sustainable jobs locally.”

And creating jobs is, undeniably, what Funky Chunky Furniture has achieved. Its workforce has more than doubled in size in the last year and the business currently employs over 50 people. Alongside the development of a structured apprenticeship programme, the business has also strengthened its senior leadership through external talent recruitment, bringing in seasoned professionals to complement its IT, marketing and customer services teams.

The firm’s strong people-focused ethos is coupled with a level of innovation that differentiates Funky Chunky Furniture from competitors, creating a winning formula for the business. An investment in bigger and better machinery as well as virtual reality (VR) software in its manufacturing processes has raised the bar.

The technology has enabled the business to streamline its production processes as it allows the team to digitally model changes to the workshop. This adds efficiency and agility to help it meet a growing customer demand, and support sustainable business growth.

Kevin says, “We work hard, and our core values centre around being real, approachable and reliable people who create the very best craftsmanship, while tapping into innovations in manufacturing to benefit the business, and the customers we serve, as best we can. The VR technology investment has significantly reduced our turnaround time from point of sale to delivery and increased output by 30 per cent which, in turn, has led to increased sales and a wider customer base.”

And the innovative move has certainly paid off. The furniture maker’s sales have boomed since the first Covid-induced lockdown. Current turnover sits at £4.1million, more than double its revenue last year. As online shopping continues to grow, Funky Chunky Furniture is focused on developing new furniture lines and an even bigger online store with the aim of becoming a £20million turnover business by 2026.

Katherine Richards said: “Funky Chunky Furniture exemplifies the innovation, hunger and talent that’s so vibrant within the North East business community. In just seven years, the business has experienced phenomenal success, demonstrating the importance of investment in people, first-class infrastructure, innovative manufacturing processes and local community integration. The company is a shining example of the ingredients that are key to growth – especially when it comes to supporting local people and businesses.”

Despite its rapid growth, the business has stayed true to its roots. Investing in its local South Tyneside community through sustainable job creation, supply chain partnerships and talent development continues to be at the core of a business that prides itself on supporting local people as much as possible.

Kevin adds: “We’re always keen to help people, whether that’s customers, our team and our partners. We are so invested in South Tyneside and the wider North East community and gunning for its success because we want to see others do well, thrive and achieve. Nothing gives me greater pride than creating local jobs for local people who design and hand make the finest furniture. And that’s what motivates me to succeed and continue our exciting journey.”

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