Malcolm James Furnishings | Furnishing Dunedin for 40 years

When Malcolm James sold his original, 25-year-old flooring business in 2007 for “an offer I couldn’t refuse”, he sunk the cash into a “nearly derelict” building in Dunedin’s warehouse precinct – and started all over again.
His second business built from scratch, Malcolm James Furnishings, now employs 30 staff and has seen turnover double to $3 million in the past three years.
Next year will be his fortieth in the home furnishings business - and with the Moore Markhams team - and he isn’t slowing down yet.
The Crawford St-based company recently added kitchen design and installation to its repertoire, which already includes curtain and blind manufacture and retail, plus carpet, hard flooring and lounge suite retail.
Getting re-established took considerable perseverance; the industry is fiercely competitive and securing suppliers proved difficult, he says.
“I could hardly get a supplier to supply us initially – to say the big boys have a stranglehold on things is an understatement.
“It took me eight years to get an account with Cavalier Bremworth, and that was only once one of our competitors closed down.”
With the bigger names in home interiors holding more sway with suppliers and flexing their massive marketing budgets, the company’s success lies in the proficiency of its team and its honest, old-fashioned approach to business and customers, Malcolm says.
“We just try and do our job properly and we don’t deceive with our marketing, we are honest about our pricing and the quality of our products. We also have a vast amount of experience in the team – we know what works practically and what doesn’t.  You could say we are a bunch of old farts - with over 400 years of experience.”
The revival of Dunedin’s warehouse precinct – including Crawford St – as a foodie hotspot has also helped the business’ fortunes, he says. “It is now ‘the’ cafe scene in Dunedin, and that draws people in.”
Malcolm purchased Kitchen Solutions Dunedin – which designed the kitchen in jeweller Ted Daniels’ apartment, featured on Grand Designs NZ – in December last year.
The move helped to fill up the firm’s 600-square-metre retail space on Crawford St and made sense because the business already had staff experienced in kitchen joinery, he says.
The acquisition is part of a grander plan to become a one-stop shop for home builds – with Malcolm aiming to be constructing small homes as well as furnishing them within 10 years.
Proposed changes to city planning regulations will allow more properties to be subdivided and Malcolm predicts an upswing in demand for smaller homes. 
“I have got a large client base now, so I will endeavour to source builds from them first.”

It took about three months for the market to bounce back following last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, Malcolm says, and since then it’s been “full bore” – with activity on a par with that seen in the boom years of 2002-2007.
“It seems that the money being spent on furnishing homes is money that would have been spent overseas. It will be interesting to see what happens when that corrects.”
Throughout the lockdown and in its immediate aftermath, Malcolm regularly sought advice from Moore Markhams Otago director Denise Gow, including on securing government subsidies and support.
“It was a scary and uncertain time, but Denise and the team were very helpful.”
In the early 1980s when he was establishing his first business, Malcolm began working with Gavin Craw of accounting firm Clarke Craw - which became Moore Markhams Otago in 2010.
Denise took over the account when Gavin retired and while Malcolm now knows a lot about day-to-day accounting, he turns to Denise for the big-picture perspective.
“She can tell me where I’m sitting – how my accounts are looking. She’s my go-to person for anything to do with my business, especially when I’m dealing with the banks.
“She’s a lovely person, great to deal with, and I trust her advice.”
 Malcolm engenders a similar trust with his own customers. 
“I’m still dealing with some of my old customers from 35 years ago. Once I got re-established they found me again. That’s very satisfying.”
He relishes being an independent manufacturer and retailer that can foot it with the big players.
“I just love the cut and thrust of being in business.”