AV furniture manufacturer, Off the Wall, has challenged the established model of modern manufacturing. Anna Ryland went to Bradford to find out how the Made in Britain approach can prove to be a real asset.
Off the Wall is a rare breed on Britain’s manufacturing landscape. The company sources all the components locally and maintains total control over its design and production process. The ultimate goal of its founders it to change the perception of audio visual furniture from low-value add-ons to the TV panel to products that have a purpose and quality of their own.
Off the Wall was founded five years ago by Oliver Mitchell, a furniture and product designer, and Jason Stebbens, tool designer and product developer. They met while working together for an AV furniture manufacturer and, having their own ideas for AV stands, they wished to test them in the marketplace.
“We drove round the retail outlets and demonstrated our products – this is how we got our first clients. At the beginning there were only the two of us – we made our products and sold them,” reminisces Oliver Mitchell. “We started our business in Brighouse, outside Bradford. We designed the products, sourced manufacturers of components, checked their quality, processing, wrapping etc. Only later on were we able to employ other people to help us,” adds Jason Stebbens.
Today the company’s turnover is £1.2mln and its offer consists of half a dozen ranges of AV furniture. First to the market was the Origins range. It has adjustable shelf height and adjustable bracket height on which a TV is mounted. Its USP is an intelligent cable management system and a minimalist design. Next came the Skyline range that features the same system of support and wire management as the Origins range but it shelves are larger giving more room for AV equipment. It was followed by a semi-circular cabinet, named Profile, particularly suitable to be placed in the corner.
Most recently the company released the Horizon range and Eclipse range – with soft opening doors and curved lines, in the Mono and Duo models (see Product News).
Off the Wall has also been producing custom-made AV furniture for Bang & Olufsen and for the Sony Monolithic range of television. “These products have the same quality as our other ranges,” comments Oliver.
Off the Wall has an 8,000 square feet site in Bradford incorporating manufacturing, warehousing and processing facilities, a showroom and offices.
Oliver and Jason believe that a lean manufacturing model is best for their business. “We source our components from local manufacturers. This enables us to schedule small production runs – which allows us to be more flexible. The stock levels are changing weekly – depending on what’s selling most at the time. But we are never out of stock. At any time there are approximately 1,000 units on site,” explains Jason. This allows them to guarantee a next day delivery for orders that come by 3.15pm.
Off the Wall employs 12 people; there are five administrative staff and seven people work in manufacturing. “All our staff have a hands-on attitude to business; we can all multitask and cover each other if need arises,” says Oliver.
The company’s products are distributed through the independent channel and John Lewis. They can also be found in larger chains such as Hughes Electricals, Co-op and Sony Centres. Jason and Oliver wish to expand their business in the independent channel and in specialist furniture stores.
Jason and Oliver believe that the company’s usp is the built-in quality of its products. “It’s the attention to detail which is key in our products,” says Jason. “This comes with fast delivery, flexibility of our manufacturing and having total control of the whole process.”
“We do dare to be different, to be a bit off the wall,” stresses Oliver. We want our products and designs to be individual and original. Essentially, we want to give people good value products. Yet, we like to bring out products that challenge the market’s perceptions. We don’t see them as add-ons – they are products in their own right that should give customers a good experience.
“We are not tempted to follow the fast profit market route,” argues Jason. “We have a vision for our company. It is to become the most recognized brand of AV furniture by providing good quality and better designed products than anyone else in the market.”
Trying to be more competitive is the greatest challenge for Off the Wall. “It is difficult to be competitive with people who source products and components from overseas but we are trying to be competitive within the boundaries of what we do,” stresses Oliver. “We are doing this by extending the range and giving customers more choice.”