Farrow & Ball’s sales have grown “exponentially” this year thanks to a home improvement boom. The Drum catches up with the 75-year-old posh paint purveyor’s chief exec to find out how it has been fine-tuning its digital capabilities and baking luxury into its online experiences as it looks to appeal to DIYers and professionals alike.
Paint and wallpaper company Farrow & Ball is famous for its muted colour charts, on which you‘ll find shades with names such as ‘Downpipe’, ‘Elephant’s Breath‘ and ‘Hague Blue’. Its intensely pigmented paints have earned it a reputation among interior designers and influencers alike, with the aspirational brand selling not only distinctive tins but a lifestyle that goes with them.
This year, the business has seen the best financial results in its 75-year history, powered by a lockdown decorating boom that has pushed digital sales through the roof as people seek to reinvent the spaces they are spending more time in. In the year to August, sales were up 4.1% for the British brand, reaching £87m. Online sales were up 14% over the same period, representing over 10% of group sales versus 9% in the prior year.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in our digital demand,” explains chief executive officer Anthony Davey, the ex-P&G marketer who also sat in the top spot at GHD. “At one stage, our demand had gone up 15-fold online,” he explains, saying that “almost overnight” the business went from selling 90% of its stock through third parties to a 50:50 split between retail and direct-to-consumer (DTC).
This shift was aided by the brand’s small-batch production methods, which see all of its manufacturing based out of Dorset. “It’s quasi-handcrafted, we go through the process twice to ensure that the quality and consistency of our paint is exceptionally strong. So we were able to ‘pick and pack’ for individual customers. Lots of [bigger] companies that are highly scaled with a mass manufacturing approach weren’t able to offer that individual ordering service.”
Its marketing strategy has shifted too. Farrow & Ball has upped its investment in PPC and Google Shopping to capture the demand from buyers. For people who are in the discovery and exploration stage, the company is investing in social media content for its 2 million followers across the “obvious” channels like Instagram and Pinterest.
Its commitment to quality has been evident not only in the assembly of its products, but also in the way it has shifted the services it offers to customers online.
Bringing the Farrow & Ball experience online
When showrooms shut at the start of March, the paint company brought a live-chat function to its website. It has also started allowing customers to book virtual appointments with its specialist colour consultants – seasoned interior specialists who help people pick out the perfect swatches and themes for their homes.
The brand has also run live sessions with some of its more high-profile colourists and designers (the same ones who painstakingly curated a fresh colour pallette for the recently redesigned Museum of Modern Art in New York), giving people the chance to ask questions and receive tips.
“In lockdown, we brought our designers into our social media channels to give customers a ‘daily dose of colour’, which in the past is something we haven’t done much of.
“We want to make sure we‘ve got sufficiently engaging and relevant content, and people want to see us as a source of inspiration and advice. That‘s very much a strategy of the whole business. If you were to go into our showrooms or on to any of our channels, you‘ll find people who‘ve got many years’ experience in interior design or fabrics or all different aspects of design. They‘re much more than just someone managing a store. They have passion for the industry and passion for the category.”
Having recently appointed BMB as its lead creative agency, the company isn’t just focusing on digital – in fact, it has just invested in its first series of TV ads, which gently poke fun at Farrow & Ball’s serious image.
Featuring a cast of neurotic decorators doing everything they can to keep their paint pristine and protect their freshly decorated walls and woodwork from the threats of muddy dogs, messy children and careless wine drinkers, the self-aware ‘Modern Emulsion’ campaign will be stacked against a variety of KPIs.
Davey points to two kinds of metrics – growth and brand awareness, but also engagement and attribution on the digital and VOD side.
He says his firm wasn’t inspired to make its TV debut owing to Covid-19. “It is more just about continuing the evolution of the brand.”