Celebrating 45 years in the industry, outdoor (and now indoor) furniture manufacturer Bridgman has stood the test of time by keeping to the company’s principles of providing quality, comfort and style. Sophie Harper caught up with Bridgman’s CEO, Alex Bridgman, to find out more about the company’s history and future goals.
In 1977 Peter Bridgman, inspired by his father’s skill in carpentry and furnituremaking, founded PJ Bridgman – the brand we know in the industry today simply as Bridgman. A visionary and astute businessman, Peter set the core principles of quality, comfort and style, with a strong focus on customer service – which has been carried through the family-owned business onto the current generation, with Alex Bridgman at the helm. “As a family-run business we very much hold ourselves accountable, and that goes for our teams as well,” Alex tells me. “Our people are an extension of the Bridgman family, and by encouraging them to grow, the business grows too. We have a few team members here who have been with us for 40 years – that’s homegrown expertise.”
The early 1980s saw Bridgman manufacturing reproduction furniture and introducing its first luxury garden furniture collection, which the business quickly became known for by supplying garden centres across the UK and annual showcases at Chelsea Flower Show. “We worked with around 200 garden centres in the UK and Ireland, and we were supplying to the German market as well,” says Alex.
By the mid-1990s, Bridgman had become a brand synonymous with quality furniture and design excellence, which enabled the business to grow. During the mid-2000s, with its own ecommerce website for quality garden furniture, and unrealistic demands from garden centres to increase ranges at a lower cost, the decision was made to open Bridgman’s own retail showroom – the largest luxury garden furniture showroom in the UK – in Enfield in 2005. “We became retailers in our own right almost overnight,” Alex says. “We stopped working with hundreds of our customers, which was scary, but we realised we were the experts in garden furniture, not the garden centres.”
The decision to become a retail manufacturer proved a good one, and the Enfield showroom was soon followed by stores in Walton-on-Thames, Winchester, Old Amersham, Wilmslow, and more recently Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells.
Over the years, Bridgman has invested a lot of time in its own research and development, which has led to a number of innovative products in order to give its customers solutions to problems and to keep it ahead of the competition. “We always try to keep innovation front of mind when making new products,” says Alex, describing how much time was invested in creating and testing the brand’s waterproof cushions, which are currently unmatched in the market. “We carry out a lot of research and visit our suppliers regularly and work with their research and development teams and talk to our customers about the sorts of things they’re looking for.”
Alex joined the family business 10 years ago, having spent his early career in various hospitality F&B roles. His experience proved crucial in developing the commercial side of the business, as Bridgman’s offering within hospitality design expanded and built close relationships with brands such as Macdonald Hotels, Handpicked Hotels, and The Belfry.
“When I joined the business, around 13% of our work was for the commercial market, which has risen to over 30% now,” he says. “We’ve been working with clients like The Belfry for 25 years. We’ve become trusted suppliers for the commercial outdoor furniture market. The key for our commercial ranges is that we design and manufacture specifically for that market, so we don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes.”
Now, Alex and his team work directly with hoteliers, operations managers and interior designers to create the perfect furniture products for the hospitality sector. “With a background in hospitality management, and having worked in F&B operations, I know what issues can arise, which has been useful when developing products that need to meet specific requirements.”
Alex explains that one of the most important aspects of his role is to keep building on the relationships Bridgman has developed with its customers and to find out exactly what they need from their outdoor furniture. “Everything we make for our commercial range is thoroughly tested and fit for purpose,” he affirms.
The latest Bridgman collections, Monaco and Cannes, are elegant ranges that are both durable and attractive. Monaco is a stylish ensemble of pearl grey furniture, with handwoven rope detailing inspired by the luxury yacht scene, while Cannes is a contemporary, laid-back collection made for lounging around in sumptuous comfort.
Speaking to Alex about the future of the business, he says that sustainability is a big focus for Bridgman moving forward. Already the products themselves are designed for longevity, both in designs that are classic, and that are made with quality materials made to withstand extensive use.
“We are proactive when it comes to putting sustainable measures into action,” Alex explains. “We’ve made a lot of changes – for example, just looking at our packaging, we use -50% less cardboard now than we were a few years ago, our products offer considerable longevity and therefore produce less waste as don’t need to be replaced as regularly, and many of the materials we use are 100% recyclable as well. We have a lot of other initiatives in place too.”
Materials used within the construction and aesthetic of many Bridgman products are fully recyclable – from the aluminium frames to the HDPE rattan, and the Seaqual fabric upholstery used across all Bridgman sofa collections, which is a fully traceable, PFC-free raw material made of recycled polyester and marine plastic, made with non-toxic materials and minimised energy and water consumption.
Alex tells me how important it has been to Bridgman and the team over the years to understand the markets they work in to ensure their products are the very best they can be, as well as securing the future of the business based on those core pillars of quality, comfort and style. “We’re passionate about our products,” says Alex. “We’ve always stood for quality in everything we do.”