DFS (British retailer)

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Industry Retail
Founded 1983 (1983)
Headquarters Doncaster, South Yorkshire, UK
Products Furniture
Parent Advent International
Website www.dfs.co.uk

DFS, formerly Direct Furnishing Supplies, is a furniture retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland specialising in sofas and soft furnishings.


The company was founded by Graham Kirkham, now Baron Kirkham of Old Cantley. After passing the Eleven plus exam, Kirkham attended Maltby Grammar School and hoped to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Failing to get the required five O levels, Kirkham got a job in a local furniture store.

Northern Upholstery[edit]

In 1969 aged 24, Kirkham was married with two children, which he describes as great motivation.[1]

Having visited a few manufacturers in his daily work, he decided that making furniture was relatively easy and that by cutting out the warehouse dealers in the middle of the supply chain, he could sell direct to the public at lower prices. Kirkham rented a room above a snooker hall in Carcroft, and started making furniture upstairs and retailing it downstairs.


DFS, Wetherby (formerly Northern Upholstery) on the Thorp Arch Trading Estate, West Yorkshire

By 1983, Darley Dale–based Direct Furnishing Supplies had become one of Northern Upholstery's biggest suppliers. When Direct Furnishing Supplies went bankrupt with debts of £900,000 on a turnover of £3,000,000, Kirkham bought it. Northern Upholstery was renamed DFS (although branches of Northern Upholstery in Yorkshire had retained their original name until the mid-1990s) and at the time had a total of 63 stores employing 2,000 staff.

In 1993 DFS was floated on the stock market and valued at £271 million, with Kirkham and his family trusts owning just over half of the shares. This brought the Kirkham family to the attention of thieves, who in 1994 broke into the family home at Sprotborough while they were on holiday. The burglars bound and gagged the housekeeper and made off with money and jewels worth £2.4 million - later recovered - but still South Yorkshire's largest armed robbery.[1]

In 1998 DFS announced its first drop in profits in 28 years to the London Stock Exchange. The company reworked its advertising to feature younger models and in 2000 DFS announced a 79 per cent profit increase.[1]

But the revival was short lived, and in light of the continuing prevalence for Private Equity, Kirkham took the chain private again, leveraging his family's own 9.46% stake with £150 million of family funds[2] in an eventual £496 million deal.[3][4] Kirkham told the Yorkshire Post: "It's something that's caused me fitful sleep in the time I've been thinking about it. I've no hobby, this is my hobby – it's what I do. I'm an entrepreneur. It's almost as if I can feel the adrenaline running through my veins."[5]

On 23 April 2010, it was announced that DFS had been sold to private equity firm Advent International for a reported £500 million.[6]

DFS has acquired two smaller British retailers which had been struggling in the market. Sofa Workshop in 2013 and Dwell in August 2014.[7][8]


DFS has used 'Deals For Sunday' as its full name in marketing in the past.

For many years in the 1980s and 90s actor Tom Adams was the face of DFS's television advertisements. He famously read out the catchphrase "Darley-Dale, Measham, Droitwich, Grantham, Northampton, Shrewsbury, Cannock, Fenton and Banbury" at the end of each commercial. Eventually so many new stores opened that this listing was stopped.

One television commercial by DFS was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (United Kingdom) following complaints that the company had doctored the footage to inflate the perceived size of their sofas, relative to the actors.[9] The "cringeworthy" advert featured actors miming Nickelback's "Rockstar" while playing air guitar in front of the sofas. The advert was also given the distinction as one of the worst adverts of all time.[10][11]


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