Young boss is on a roll as family carpeting business takes off post-pandemic
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Nathan Doe appears unfazed at managing a £6m turnover company with a 50-plus workforce at the age of just 24.
But then, he’s already an old hand. He started working for his family’s highly successful carpeting, flooring and soft furnishings business — John Doe of Diss — eight years ago.
The ex-Hartismere High School pupil began on the shop floor and worked his way up through the firm while gaining some business and accounting qualifications on day-release.
A strong family work ethic clearly drives the company. Nathan learnt the ropes by working there during holidays and at weekends and his younger siblings, Megan and Charlie, now work in the office and on the fitting team respectively.
“I had always wanted to come into it from a young age. I had got role models in my mum and dad and uncle and grandparents working hard — and the trade always interested me — I do enjoy it. I haven’t come into it just because it’s the family business. I’m not someone who would want to be stuck in something I didn’t enjoy,” he says.
It’s a fast-growing business which is firmly rooted in the region — and with a new generation now freshening up the team it is looking forward to a busy and prosperous future. Although originally based around flooring, it has expanded to include a host of other products including beds and upholstery, sofas, living room and office furniture, and made-to-measure blinds, pelmets and curtains.
Flooring remains its bread-and-butter — but other elements are growing fast.
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Nathan is the third generation to run the company, which started life under his grandfather, John Doe, in 1983 from a small shop in Diss.
The business grew and grew, helped by its second generation — Nathan’s father, Charles, and uncle, Edward. Both are directors of the company and manage it alongside Nathan — who officially took over as managing director in June. Nathan’s mother, Lisa, is finance director, and John, its founder, retired about 10 years ago.
“He worked in the trade as a sales rep for a manufacturer and decided to open up his own shop,” explains Nathan.
“Shortly after that my uncle and dad joined the business and expanded to some bigger warehouse units in Diss as well. We had shops in other local towns like Harleston and Stowmarket.”
In 2018, John Doe opened a new warehouse in Diss on land next to its former base. By then, the town stores had been closed and the operations had been gathered into the Diss site.
The last year and a half has posed its challenges, says Nathan, but on the plus side, business is booming after home-bound householders took a fresh look at their decor during lockdown.
“To begin with it was a bit of a worry but we navigated our way through the first lockdown when there was a lot of uncertainty. Then as soon as we opened the doors last June it just took off and since then between closures it’s been crazily busy.”
This has meant the workforce has been at full pelt, with teams heading out across the region in the company’s 16-strong fleet to lay floors and carpets and deliver furnishings.
“The furniture side has grown massively over the last couple of years,” says Nathan. “We have just revamped our showroom and opened that in April.”
But the rapid growth means he wants to expand still further. Despite its 18,000sq ft warehouse and 40,000sq ft flooring and furniture superstore the business already needs more room, he says.
“We have run out of space,” he admits. There are just too many products to display — and they would like to make the room sets bigger to give customers a real sense of them. A coffee shop is top of his list — “the biggest thing that’s missing”, he says.
If customers can stay longer, they will attract more, he reasons. “Even if they just pop in for a coffee we become more of a destination as well. We get a lot of people travelling from around the country, believe it or not.”
These are drawn by particular brands and products that John Doe specialises in. Some travel as much as 100 to 150 miles, he says.
Nathan has a strong background across the business — having worked with the fitting teams — but these days he is heavily involved in the finance side with mum, Lisa. If the family business didn’t exist, he would probably work in finance, he says.
His leadership style involves “talking to people as I would wish to be talked to”, he says — and being honest.
“We are lucky we have got such a good team. We’re not dealing with bad attitudes here,” he says.
His aim is to grow sales by 10% over the next year — and hopes that the pent-up demand from the pandemic will help him towards that goal.