Preston's booming lockdown JustRadiators business: "This is the best thing I've ever done"
Dave O'Keefe's passion, enthusiasm, and positivity is infectious. Having co-founded a new business at the height of the pandemic, one could forgive him for a sense of caution and pessimism. But there's no need. "It's the best thing I've ever done," he says.
Whilst taking a socially-distanced walk last summer, Dave and his mate of 15 years Lewis Birch decided to start an interiors company together. The small germ of an idea soon became a concrete plan of action and then a reality as Luxus Design was born.
Aiming to bring a fresh, modern take to the interiors industry, Luxus is the parent company behind three other stand-alone brands in their own right: JustBedrooms, JustBaths, and JustRadiators. And it's in the world of radiators where Dave and Lewis have thrived.
"Everything's been mega," says Dave, 40, of the past year. "We've done a lot more than we expected and have accomplished what we wanted to, which is really pleasing. "Our designer products are getting more and more popular with not only consumers, but the fitters as well and everything's changing because the home improvement industry has gone mad.
"People buying new houses are finding that they're filled with bog-standard fittings, so they want to rip it out," adds Dave, who is from London but who has lived in Preston for over two decades. "The only issue has been getting stock - if it wasn't for that, we could've sold so much more."
Realising last year that supply issues were unlikely to dissipate anytime soon, Dave and Lewis came up with a plan. They moved into a new warehouse just five minutes down the road from their Preston showroom and stocked it with 2,500 designer products so they could blossom after a period of consolidation. And things have gone very well indeed.
"Our goal last year was to find the right team, sort a warehouse, and stock things ourselves," explains Dave. "We've grown so much; we've got the staff, the infrastructure, the support team, the five-star reviews, the same-day pick-up, and we've even got a games room for staff with a pool table, TV, and free lunches on a Friday.
"We've got the culture and a really good team, which is what we want," he adds, with JustRadiators having recently expanded to 10 members of staff. "It's a privilege to work with them. And me and Lewis work well together, too - we bounce ideas off each other and don't always agree, but that's healthy - it's like a marriage!"
Having had to focus heavily on sales when they started out, JustRadiators is now in a more established position, according to Dave. "We're now at the point where we can pick and choose who we deal with, which is a luxury we never used to have," he says. "We're more flexible compared to bigger companies; we can adapt and sell top-end products at the right price.
"From a business point-of-view, I've loved the last year - it's kept me out of trouble!" says Dave with a laugh. "There's pride in seeing how we've grown and building the team, learning the industry, and meeting local suppliers is the best thing I've ever done. And it's even better with the right team. We're always positive, too: we'll just carry on growing over the next 12 months. There's no stopping us."
Looking to the future, Dave says the company wants to reach out to property developers to help them offer bespoke packages on new houses so that buyers know they're getting exactly what they want before they even move in.
"Our next goal is to offer developers a package for homeowners because, if I was buying a new home, I'd want an option to pay £5,000 extra for this kitchen, this much more for a branded bathroom with a free-standing bath, or however much for designer radiators throughout the house with a Hive system," he explains. "That's what people want.
"Consumers are demanding more, so that's where we want to go."