Oxenwood was established in 2014 by Charlie Alexander, a former corporate lawyer with a passion for design, not far from the family home on the Wiltshire/Hampshire borders. After the family moved from London to Wiltshire, Charlie spent over two years looking in vain for an original outdoor table that would sit perfectly at the heart of their newly designed garden. There was simply nothing available that was original, robust, low maintenance and sensibly priced. Charlie realised that the choice of original luxury garden furniture available to customers was limited and, so, Oxenwood was born.
Oxenwood is a brand with Charlie’s family at the heart of it and with the support of Charlie’s wife, Camilla, he focused on developing a range of original, durable and robust furniture. Charlie wanted to create furniture which, whilst elegant and functional, would provide a focal point of its own in the garden. The range firstly focused on outdoor furniture, then expanded quickly into indoor furniture and now extends to Oxenwood’s outdoor kitchens. Paul Andrews spoke to Oxenwood’s founder Charlie Alexander to find out more about his family business journey.
When was the business founded?
Oxenwood was founded in 2014 in Andover.
Tell me a little about the history of the business and why it was started?
I had been a successful City lawyer for 25 years and wanted to find a second career that was markedly different from my legal career; one that would use and test different skill sets.
My wife Camilla and I were on holiday in France and one evening at dusk we were in a hotel garden with beautiful outdoor furniture and it struck me that British outdoor furniture was generally one dimensional and the seed was sown. After a detailed research process I identified a gap in the outdoor furniture market and Oxenwood was born; although at that point the hard work really began!
Are there any other family members working in the business?
My wife, Camilla, is a highly successful lawyer (and is still lawyering). We have four children who are at various stages of education, however, they often work in the business during their school/university holidays and always enjoy working The Chelsea Flower Show!
What was your journey into the family business and what do you do now?
Although my legal career did train me in some essential skill sets such as attention to detail and marketing, Oxenwood was a journey into the unknown but it was critical to me that Oxenwood remained a family company where the business’ ethos and priorities could be reflective of the family’s values and priorities. I have been involved in every aspect of the business so that I can understand the whole business from top to bottom, however, now that the business is semi-mature, I am 90% office based and dealing with clients, which is the best bit.
What values are important to the family and the business?
Doing the right thing not the expedient thing. Exceptional client service. Sustainability – we are constantly looking at our processes to see how we can improve our sustainability. Giving something back – we support Rewilding Britain and are a member of 1%for the Planet. As a family business creating a business with an appropriate value system is simpler than a large law firm!
Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?
Yes we see family ownership as central to the Oxenwood brand and story. Family is central to our website and our digital media presence. Importantly, we are not and do not plan to be a large business; our objective is to grow but within parameters so we can retain the benefits of being a personable and flexible business making wonderful furniture.
What do you think makes working in a family business special?
Being able to forge a business which is truly reflective of the family’s values and one in which the whole family is involved/interested.
Have you taken any particular steps to help protect the business for the future?
The business is 100% owned by the family – succession planning is for the future!
What advice would you give to anyone in the next generation considering joining their family firm?
Having a family business is more than a job, it is 24/7 and 365 – the buck always stops with you. Being open to ideas from all members of the family no matter how young and to take care of family relationships – you cannot treat them as a business relationship – it is family which always takes priority. Lastly, listening.
Visit their website here to find out more