Ask someone at the head of a creative and successful furniture company for the values by which they measure their products, and you might not expect ‘seaworthiness’ to crop up. But for John Sims-Hilditch, it makes perfect sense.
“I’ve always loved sailing – even the name Neptune came through our love of the sea – and there’s something about the seaworthiness of materials that fits with our sense of quality. That was the case right from our earliest days. At sea, if what you’re sailing isn’t of the best quality, lives are at risk.
“When we began by making hammocks, our very first designs, that might not have been quite the case for us, but we still knew that if we didn’t use the right materials, someone could really hurt themselves. So, we were very conscious of using very good canvas, excellent rope, really solid wood, and of the craftsmanship that brings them together to create a product. It was our starting point, one of our first values, and it’s stayed with us ever since.”
Since then, Neptune’s own journey has taken it from producing garden furniture around John and Emma’s (Neptune’s creative director and John’s wife) kitchen table to creating a widely recognised lifestyle brand sold across the world.
However, just like at sea, a business can be buffeted during its voyage by financial squalls or the scowling clouds of a forbidding bank manager. Neptune certainly was. In its early years, even though the products were doing well, and customers were delighted, cash flow was tough. “The bank even took our chequebook away,” remembers John ruefully, but says the experience taught them an invaluable lesson in steeling your nerve (a familiar encounter for countless other makers and craftspeople).
“When times get hard, you can be tempted to reduce your quality. But one lesson we’ve learned in 25 years is never to allow the financial tail to wag the dog. It’s absolutely crucial to stay true to what you believe in.”