Greg Shepherd's first Christchurch shop sold second-hand furniture and it worked so well that he could not keep up with demand. He started selling locally made recycled rimu furniture, but a trip to a furniture fair overseas changed everything.
"I thought ‘wow' what amazing stuff."
You will not see any rimu in Shepherd's shops these days.
"It has gone out of fashion. People just don't like it any more," he says.
About 80 per cent of his stock comes from Southeast Asia.
"It's European-style furniture, but half the price," he says.
However, local furniture-makers still have a role to play, Shepherd says. Between 10 and 20 per cent of the two Christchurch shops' sales come from local makers. One of his suppliers, Pace furniture owner David Murphy, says he hopes to see his upholstered furniture in Dunedin with the new store.
Pace makes upholstery tailored to clients' specifications using their chosen fabrics.
Murphy says the past five years have been "tough going" for local furniture-makers, with about four different furniture factories closing down last year.
However, Murphy says he has found his niche in upholstery and it has kept him busy.
"I've always seen my job as bringing colour to shops by using nice fabric whereas the imported ones are pretty stereotyped. We try desperately hard to make exclusives for the shops we supply."
Shepherd says Simply Furniture is doing "extremely well" in Christchurch, thanks to a strong NZ dollar and high consumer confidence. His two Christchurch shops employ 12 staff, and six more will be busy with the new store opening in Dunedin in June.
"The Canterbury economy is going to drag up the whole South Island economy, especially when it comes to housing."
Dunedin is a logical next step for Shepherd as distribution will be easy to operate from Christchurch, and competition is limited. He is taking over from a Furniture Court franchise that did not work out in Crawford St.
"We're confident we have a strong enough brand to go ahead," he says.
Shepherd hopes to open one more site in the South Island in Nelson or Invercargill, but has no plans for the North Island yet.
Composite Retail Group general manager furniture Scott Clement says Simply Furniture's expansion is good news for Canterbury businesses.
"It sends a signal that things are going well and there's plenty of confidence in retail in the South Island."
The retail group has 34 store members around the country grouping their orders overseas to remain competitive against bigger furniture shops.
"We're seeing growth coming out of Canterbury and the South island well into double digits," Clement says.