Nick Saunders, Sales Director retires from Flexiform

Nick Saunders will be leaving Flexiform after 19 years in the position of National Sales Director. Nick Saunders, alongside our Managing Director, Nick Hewitt, and Financial Director, James Downs, completed a management buyout of Flexiform have been running the company since. Nick has played a huge part in making the business what it is today.

While everyone in the office, our suppliers, and clients are sad to see Nick go, we’re really excited for him and wishing him all the best as he embarks on his next adventure. We caught up with Nick to find out more about the highlights of his time at Flexiform.

You have been in the furniture industry for many, many, many years, a lot of people in the industry know you from your Project days, but when did you start in sales and what made you turn to furniture?

I originally worked for site accommodation and steel erecting company and did everything from cleaning out portaloos to selling buildings and propane water boilers from the back of an Austin Metro van so when I saw an advert for selling office furniture in the North East, I thought that would be a lot easier. How wrong I was! I joined Project Office Furniture and I really enjoyed working in that team. I realised my love of selling in those days and that has never left me.

You bought the business with Nick Hewitt and James Downs in 2004, how has the business evolved since the Management buyout?

To be honest it’s changed beyond all recognition whilst being exactly the same! We took Flexiform from a loss-making £8m business to a profitable £28m business so the change is huge but the vast majority of the team in place when we bought the business has stayed the same. That is a testament to the quality of the people we have in Flexiform and their willingness to work with us through thick and thin. It is a source of great pride that we have over 160 employees now, supporting families across the UK. We are a business first and foremost but knowing that we have more than doubled the workforce is great given that we achieved this through the financial crisis and everything that went with it.

What was the biggest challenge when you took the driving seat and has it been fun?

The biggest challenge on day one was to turn a loss into a profit. That was the key for us at all times and took up 90% of our time. In many ways it still does!

Everyone in the company was focussed on that goal but I hope we never lost our sense of humour and enjoyment so yes it has been a hell of a lot of fun. Unbelievably hard work and a few edgy moments but a lot of fun.

Young Nick at a Tradeshow in 2001

Nick Saunders (Front Right) during the early days – 2001 exhibition

Can you tell us about your favourite moment, or your top 5 moments, if you can’t pinpoint them?

The best moment has to be when we did the deal to buy the business, it was a huge decision for all of us but we believed in Flexiform and the team around us and fortunately it worked out OK!

Other real highlights were winning the first HS2 job as it was in the Canary Wharf tower and I’d always wanted to go in that building and winning the Barnsley Council job was huge for us as it was the first £1m project we had won and propelled us into a new area of business. Seeing the Jot Design strategy work so well for us was a real sense of pride but I never lose the thrill of winning projects, it’s what I live for!

...And the worst moment?

That’s easy, the day we stood in front of everyone and told them that the factory was closing and that Flexiform would be no more. That was awful and was why the purchase of the business has to be the best moment. Ironically we are still here and the Group that owned us at the time are long gone.

What was the turning point in Flexiform/ key moment for the company and you?

That’s a toughie. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment that anything pivots on as we had all manner of key moments (good and bad) but I think when we re-secured our Crown Commercial (OGC at the time) framework back in 2012 that was massive. It was won with a reverse auction and I made the last bid with 10 seconds to go and we got through as one of the 6 suppliers after a 2 ½ hour live auction. I can still feel the hairs raised on the back of my neck when I think about it! We went on to win some large clients on that framework that we still deal with now and that was probably the real base upon which we built our growth. We’ll never know what would have happened if we hadn’t secured that but we would definitely be in a different place now.

How many SPTs (special none standard products) do you think you have raised since you started?

Oh I can imagine a lot! I think am over 2500 now…

Nick during Clerkenwell 2016
Nick (Left) during Clerkenwell Design Week 2016
What will you miss the most about Flexiform and the industry?

The answer has to be the people. Colleagues, suppliers, customers – all more than that, friends. It’s a cliché to say that a business is about its people but that’s because it’s true. We have some of the best people in the industry at Flexiform and we have some of the best customers. That is a great combination for the future so I am certain that the future is bright.

Will you miss driving everywhere?

Strangely yes! I love driving and I have been known to drive to Germany and back over a weekend to collect a product from Veyhl in the black forest. I think my record year was just shy of 70,000 miles. Not sure I could do that now to be honest, but I am still a petrol head.

Do you have anything planned once you wave goodbye to Flexiform?

Honestly, very little. I have always wanted to learn to play the guitar so I am going to try that and I am desperate to get my golf handicap down. Covid-19 will put paid to that in the short term but time should be on my side once the club re-opens. One thing I won’t be doing is flogging office furniture any time soon! 

Thank you Nick, now go off and enjoy your retirement!