A Window of Opportunity for Paul Berry of The Curtain Loft
When one door closed on Paul Berry's career, he saw a window of opportunity. The founder of The Curtain Loft tells Terry Neale about how he built his business - and why he has no intention of retiring.
USUALLY, when a company hangs the ‘closed’ sign on the door for the very last time, it can mean heartache and anguish for the staff whose jobs have just come to an end.
Occasionally though, the opposite can prove to be the case and when one door closes, another even more promising doorway swings wide open. This certainly turned out to be the case for Paul Berry, who owns the soft-furnishings company, The Curtain Loft.
When his former employer decided to shut up shop, Mr Berry seized the opportunity that emerged as a result to build his own business; one which is now established on a very strong foundation thanks to a reputation which he has nurtured over many years in the Island.
Mr Berry hails from Burnley and is a staunch supporter of the ‘Clarets’. He arrived in Jersey in 1979 and took up a position working for British Airways on the Airport check-in desks. Next followed a spell as a night manager at the Merton Hotel, where he met the lady who would become his wife. The hotel, however, offered only seasonal work and so, in 1982, he embarked upon what would become a 28-year career with furnishing company Le Gallais.
‘I was employed in the soft-furnishings section and gradually worked my way up to become the head of the department,’ he said. ‘I had been a cabinet maker before coming to the Island but I wanted a job that enabled me to meet people. At the time, Le Gallais were looking for a curtain fitter and they said that someone with a background in cabinet making would have an advantage in this role.
‘I very much enjoyed my time at Le Gallais and they allowed me to become more and more involved in the business side of the operation. I began running the department in the early 2000s and this allowed me to learn how to deal with staff and liaise with clients; it was all very good experience for the future.
‘The work I was involved in was a part of the business that always did well and when they closed down in November 2011, the Le Gallais family suggested to me that I should take on the soft furnishings side under my own name. They are a lovely family and they were really good to me, even helping me to set up my business.’
Mr Berry set up The Curtain Loft in 2012, taking an upstairs unit at Stonewall Farm, just off the Trinity main road. He started with an empty shell and converted it into a proper showroom.
Quality has always been the name of his game and visitors to The Curtain Loft will quickly notice the samples of familiar manufacturers such as Sanderson and Harlequin on display. ‘Obviously, I had strong links with the curtain companies during my days at Le Gallais. When I set up on my own, I took on those accounts and added a few more.’
But the business has evolved over the years, embracing a diverse range of home products.
‘Shutters have also become a big seller for me,’ Mr Berry said. ‘I hadn’t originally been involved with them, so I went on a course in the UK. It was probably one of the best things that I have ever done. These are internal, or what they call plantation shutters. The concept dates back to Colonial times and they are very popular at the moment. I would say that curtains probably represent about 30% of business turnover today, with shutters accounting for a large part of the remainder.’
Curtain Loft clients come from all walks of Island life, including high-net-worth individuals. They are, as Mr Berry says, ‘from across the board’.
‘I think that people today spend a lot more on furnishings than they used to. They are looking for quality and this is easier to find in a showroom rather than by browsing online. They also know exactly who they are dealing with – I am the initial contact and the end contact. With online purchases, all sorts of problems can occur if goods arrive damaged or are simply not quite what you were expecting.’
He employs four women on a contract basis to make the curtains. ‘When I’m busy, they are busy,’ he said. The current boom enjoyed by the construction industry has also been good for his business with hotel and office developments creating much demand.
This is certainly a profession that does not allow its practitioners to rest on their laurels and Mr Berry is always keen to add new skills to his soft-furnishings repertoire. ‘I have just completed a course on Powerview, which is a system of battery-operated, remote-controlled blinds. They can also be connected to the mains if preferred.’
Indeed, when it comes to a makeover or refurbishment, The Curtain Loft is a one-stop option for both domestic and commercial clients. ‘I provide an interior design service and work on a sub-contract arrangement with two interior designers.
‘We will take on complete rooms and advise on what is feasible and what is not. This work can include carpet supply and fitting, which I personally supervise, and I also offer a range of rugs, which can be custom-made if required.’
So, what of the future? Mr Berry has two daughters and the possibility exists that they might step into the business at some point.
‘It would be nice to pass it on,’ he reflects. ‘But I have absolutely no intention of retiring. I am very much here for the foreseeable future.’
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