GOING BEYOND THE PALE WITH WHITE COMPANY CREATOR CHRISSIE RUCKER

04.04.18

She has built a successful business empire on neutral tones and remains the doyenne of the crisp, clean interior. Laura Henderson reveals why Chrissie Rucker deserves her super-homemaker status

When it comes to home interiors - White Company creator Chrissie Rucker would quite likely be happy being ‘pigeon holed’ as an ultimate purist.

A former fashion journalist at Harpers and Queen, she vividly recalls the day she purchased a white sofa for her flat and painted her walls white. Her family thought she had lost her marbles – but her innate flair for turning a germ of an idea into a universal style statement, has kept her in the vanguard of interior fashion for over two decades, not to mention giving a futuristic twist to an ever-fickle UK home decor market.

“In my twenties, the few white items I could find and afford were of the cheap design variety and of average or poor quality,” she explains. “All the gorgeous, high-quality ones I loved were only to be found in the designer departments and of course, with the designer label came the high price tag.”

So, Rucker embarked on a mission to create a business that specialised in supplying stylish, white, designer quality items for the home that were affordable, and a company whose whole ethos was about making its customers feel welcome, by providing a shopping experience that was “second to none.”

In fact, putting the feel-good factor into home making is what Rucker does best. A busy mother of four, married to Nick Wheeler, founder of Jermyn Street shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt, she makes it her mission to co-ordinate her life around her sizeable brood.

Living in the welly clad environs of rural Oxfordshire with a menagerie of dogs, ponies and all the associated paraphernalia that go with a full-on family, would deter most people from creating a white-out colour scheme in their home environment. Yet the cultivated neutral palette that drives Rucker’s hugely successful business is not just a quirky marketing ploy – it’s an influence that defines her whole attitude to life.

Her mantra for success when she set up her bed linens-totableware mail-order company in 1994 has always been “keep quality up and prices down”, and it’s a principle that has paid dividends over the years, transforming her business into one of the UK’s fastest growing private companies, with a turnover in excess of £160m.

In spite of BREXIT, 2017 has turned out to be a “solid” year and today her empire spans 56 stores around the UK, a thriving online business, while the mail order brochure has grown to 130 pages. Crisp, clean bed linen remains the focal point of the business - along with signature scent candles, room fragrances and luxury bath and body products. But she has enjoyed branching out into other homespun lines.

But it’s Rucker’s understanding of the power of neutral, calm, pale colours and pared-back furnishings, that makes her concept both credible and investable. “I like everything to feel calm and peaceful,” she explains. “White – particularly a warm white – does exactly that. It gives a comfortable informality to any living environment.”

Her business strategy wasn’t always as finely tuned. In the early days, she was packing small orders from a rented attic room where she’d set up a makeshift office. When the packaging and goods started arriving in ever larger volumes, she moved into a warehouse and took a spare room in the back of her husband’s office.

“I was incredibly young and naïve,” she adds. “I had an idea and often acted on a whim.”

Choosing mail order – a marketing tool with relatively low overheads, was, however, a savvy decision. With only a handful ofcompetitors on the market 15 years ago, Rucker was quickly able to build brand dominance.

“For the first eight or nine years we recorded amazing growth,” she explains. “The product range broadened. From bed linen and towels it became a complete lifestyle brand.”

Expanding from mail-order to opening up the retail side of things has been a “necessity”. “More and more customers were visiting the warehouse,” she adds. “We had to find a way to deliver a walk-in version of the brochure.”

It’s a world away from her rural county upbringing in Kent, where her father worked in commodities in the City and her mother was a dance teacher and a pony-club girl. “My childhood was all about horses; my mother kept the stables spotless.”

But it’s a hands-on upbringing that has influenced her approach to family life. Finding a work-life balance, she explains, is enormously difficult and requires “teamwork and organisation.”

She’s refreshingly honest enough to admit that, “you’re only as good as the team you have around you – that goes for work or home. I’m lucky in that I have two fantastic teams. We always try and have some family time every day. We are very lucky as working parents go. We manage to make it work.”

As to future plans, the company has made its bricks-andmortar debut in the US with a store opening in the city’s famous Fifth Avenue this summer. Plans are in full swing too, for store openings in shopping centres across New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“It always works to focus your energy on the things you’re good at. I am still very involved with the product side, which is my biggest strength,” she reveals. “My energy goes into the form, the way it looks and feels and the way it is represented in the books, brochures and sites. It’s crucial to have a clear brand vision so you have something to stick to when times are hard, but you also have to differentiate yourself from the competition. Every three years, we undertake a product audit. We also do a lot of customer insight and focus groups and put customer service at the heart of everything we do.”

As to whether her white obsession is likely to diminish anytime soon; the answer is categorically no.

“There’s so much more one can do to maximise quality. What makes us special is that we’re still a family run, family orientated business. White works whoever you are, wherever you are, in ultra modern houses or in pretty traditional houses – it’s a life-enhancing colour.”

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