“Take a seat,” says one of the employees of Sofa.com, after I arrive the firm’s showroom in Chelsea, London.
There’s plenty of choice. From wingback armchairs to low-profile white couches, a green chaise longe and huge corner sofas.
I’m here to meet Gareth Williams, the firm’s MD, who has been with Sofa.com since its early days.
Founded in 2005 by serial entrepreneurs Rohan Blacker and Pat Reeves, it weathered the financial storm and has shown growth in line with online retail, in comparison with its struggling bricks-and-mortar competitors.
Williams says: “We’ve gone from being the leading player in online furniture retail to being a small player in the entire market, so we’re now competing directly with people with much bigger budgets. But the opportunity there is that we can go for a lot more market share than we could have a few years ago.”
I ask him whether signs of an economic recovery could in fact be a threat, as consumers become more willing to pay the premium of shopping in-store.
“I think really good value for money never goes out of fashion,” he says. “What we have in our offer is a really nice friendly brand, a great customer experience and an interesting product thats well made and well priced. That is a really good combination in any market.”
The upholstery industry is dominated by the big acronym retailers like DFS, SCS and MFI, with large chains of stores up and down the country.
“If you’re competing with brands that have got hundreds of millions, if not billions of pounds worth of turnover, and advertising budgets that make our turnover figure look like a rounding error, you’ve got to rely on being faster on your feet, being more charming.”
Whilst the business of selling their products is all carried out online, Sofa.com’s showroom is a key part of their model, allowing customers to get up close and touchy feely before shelling out.
Williams continues: “All of the online furniture retailers I can think of now have physical showrooms. Consumers expect a big online space where they can buy pretty much anything as well as a showroom where they can check the products out. Retailers are going to have to find the right balance between real-world physical overhead and online pricing.”
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