20 July 2024, 14:38
By Furniture News Mar 22, 2019

Annabel Jack on Made.com's curation story

Last summer, Furniture News visited Made.com’s new Shoreditch headquarters to hear how CEO Philippe Chainieux was delivering a business fit for the future. He revealed how a well-plotted recipe of fluid design, manufacturing and fulfilment (buoyed by significant cash injections) was making those ambitions a reality – so, when Made’s new financials were published earlier this year, Paul Farley took the opportunity to check back in and ask chief commercial officer Annabel Jack for a progress report …

It’s opening day at Made.com’s redeveloped flagship store on Charing Cross Road, and I’m sitting by (what is now) the rear entrance. It’s likely this part of the store will become a café, Annabel tells me, gesturing to the patio beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows and suggesting how great it would be to offer shoppers a little outdoor hospitality in the heart of London’s theatre district.

It’s just one example of the potential of this impressive new space. Three times bigger than previously, at more than 1100 sqm, the showroom now occupies the whole ground floor of the Soho building. This means that, despite being a ground floor location, its corners are blessed with natural light, making the more colourful elements of Made’s eclectic range really sing.

“I was blown away by it,” says Annabel, who returned from maternity leave a few days ago to be greeted by something that far exceeded her expectations. “Seeing so much of our product here in one place, in such a beautiful environment … it feels like a totally different shopping experience. When you’re adopting a ‘bricks-and-clicks’ strategy, it’s so difficult to get the balance right between what you physically show customers, and what’s available from the website – are you sure you’re giving them enough examples of your furniture to buy into what you do?”

As befits the brand’s digital heritage, the showroom is loaded with tech, from a jumbo-sized interactive screen (pick your look, see the specs, zoom in and out, print a PoS postcard, summon an assistant, etc) to the rows of smaller digital stations which replicate the website and invite more intimate engagement. 

There are no tills – as before, transactions are carried out online to ensure a consistent multichannel journey for every customer. It’s all very Apple Store/Minority Report – but you’d probably expect that from one of the pioneers of the bricks-and-clicks revolution. 

Annabel was one of the people behind Made’s first showroom, which opened in Notting Hill back in 2012 – long before the likes of Amazon made the leap into the physical space.

“Back then, our showroom wasn’t as customer-friendly as it might have been,” she admits. “Because it was part of our office, people had to sign in when they entered – although that was great from a data capture POV, it wasn’t exactly welcoming! There were other problems, too. Our business meetings would sometimes spill out into the showroom. And, although we had a touchscreen, it didn’t work very well. 

“This,” Annabel indicates the space around us, “is something else. Here, our customers can see our product, discuss design, get advice on fabric and wood choices, and so much more. The things that are different make it so special.”

Alongside the technology, the showroom offers retail theatre in spades. Alongside bestsellers, the entrance and window display house examples from the Made’s TalentLAB initiative, reinforcing the brand’s status as a champion of democratic design. An archway leads to the main floor, which spans everything from tasteful roomsets and plinth-mounted product displays to a lush display of indoor plants.

Towards the rear is that aforementioned breakout space, rows of touchscreen stations, and a corner in which customers can get interior design advice from staff.

Annabel tells me that the decor, which currently emphasises provenance and craftsmanship, will change according to seasonal campaigns (like the brand’s ever-evolving product catalogue, the showroom is primed to react to changing demand).

She also confirms that Made may open more UK showrooms in time – but that the company is more concerned with delivering a solid brand experience than broadening its native market’s retail footprint.

That’s not the case for mainland Europe. In Made’s latest financials, Philippe Chainieux revealed that, after revenue grew by +40% in 2018 (to £73m), Made’s European business is set to overtake the UK’s this year. From a base of nine European territories, Made will launch in four new ones this year – Portugal, Italy, Denmark and Sweden – and will devote significant investment to establishing a physical presence in these markets, starting with a new 5000 sqft store in Hamburg this spring.

As CCO, Annabel manages teams in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin, and spends roughly two days a week on the Continent. The devolution of power to regional European hubs is a fairly recent development, but it is proving more effective than keeping it all in London, says Annabel. 

“Until recently, we’ve been more concerned with maintaining control and sharing best practices from a centralised hub. But, when you’re a certain size of company, it’s really important to have people on the ground and understand the customer,” she says. 

“When we design new products, we generally do so for the European customer base as a whole – but, in terms of marketing, there are specific nuances to each market.”

Despite these nuances, Made’s business model has proved incredibly robust and adaptable through its various transitions abroad – from France in 2013, right through to Spain last October.  “With each new expansion, we’ve benefited from having a bigger product catalogue behind us,” says Annabel.

Of course, operational efficiencies – logistics in particular – are critical to success, and Made is happily ahead of the curve in this respect. For example, as a safeguard against imminent Brexit upheaval, the business has announced its readiness with a dedicated supply chain, ensuring uninterrupted fulfilment.

Yet these painless translations can also be attributed to a certain universality of product design. Given that traditional tastes dictate how product should differ from country to country, it’s surprising that Made’s seems to find a ready audience wherever it goes.

“Among younger audiences, there’s much more of a shared design language than you might think,” states Annabel. “There are some differences, of course – for example, in southern Europe styles will be influenced by the hotter climate – but, broadly, we see similar customer bestsellers across every market.”

Having a sizeable international design team – which manages an exponential number of designers, in turn – certainly plays its part, but Annabel attributes this cultural shift to the boom in social media. For today’s design-savvy Millennials (and those that have come after), inspiration knows no borders.

“The explosion in social media is so relevant to how we have grown our business,” she says. “It gives us so many insights into what styles and designs are trending, and opens up countless marketing avenues.”

Thanks to initiatives such as Unboxed, which encourages Made’s audience to share snaps from their own homes on its website through platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram (“social media is so much more visual these days, the picture is everything”), Made has cultivated a vast online community, which has contributed some 10,000 pieces of user-generated content.

“On these platforms, you may not be sharing particularly private stuff,” says Annabel, “but it is personal, nonetheless – your house is a reflection of you, and, typically, you feel proud of it. These users want to demonstrate their creativity and design chops through the development of their own homes – but they’re also the perfect ambassadors for the Made brand, as they’re always keeping one eye on the product. 

“There’s a real sense of pride in what they do, which equates to trust in our brand. We’re a design-led company who have made it more affordable – and thus easier – to make your home more beautiful. And that’s really the heart of the business.”

Accelerating the adoption of Made’s brand is the more general inclination towards online buying, which shows little sign of slowing. From bicycles to yoga mats, diversification into new product areas has helped this furniture brand redefine itself as a lifestyle provider, while the offer of smaller, lower-priced homewares has made it more accessible to customers reluctant to part with large sums of money online. 

“Most buying journeys start and finish online,” says Annabel. “While those bed-in-a-box companies have done a great job of seizing this opportunity in the mattress market, we’ve been able to achieve similar penetration levels across the whole home.”

The results speak for themselves. Made has reported record financials for 2018, with overall revenue up +37% YoY to £173m. UK revenue hit the £100m mark – an increase of +34% on the previous year, when it grew by +29%. Made may be looking to Europe for serious growth, but its performance in the UK reflects a serious appetite for market share. 

“When I started at Made, we were a small UK company that sold sofas,” says Annabel. “Now, we’re a multinational entity, working through factories across the world, employing nearly 500 staff and selling around 4500 SKUs. 

“Ultimately, our growth is down to our ever-broader suite of quality products. But it’s all underpinned by the brand experience we strive to deliver. When Millennials buy something for their home, they’re typically investing in something they’ve fallen in love with, and they need to believe in the brand delivering it. Having the human touchpoint through showrooms like this is integral to that experience.”

Annabel’s career took off at consultant FreshMinds (now Decidedly), where she saw an opportunity to widen the company’s scope from financial services to retail, and went on to work with clients including Coca Cola, Dixons Group and (a very young) Innocent Drinks.

“FreshMinds was run by two brilliant entrepreneurs, who taught me to have a can-do attitude and to take risks,” says Annabel.

In 2006, a chance meeting with entrepreneur Brent Hoberman (the founder of Lastminute.com) at a luxury goods conference prompted a change of direction that would eventually lead Annabel to Made.

“I (not completely accidentally!) bumped into Brent during a break, and we started talking about selling luxury products online. He was still at Lastminute.com, but was setting up a new business, Mydeco. On the 1st of January the next year, as I always do, I set myself a new goal – to work for him. 

“Back then, Mydeco was a vision, that’s all. People sometimes say Mydeco didn’t really work out – but it was very ambitious, investing so much in user design tools like rendered floor plans, drag-and-drop technology, and style finders. There were so many facets to the business. It was really ahead of its time – these applications just weren’t in common use at that time.” 

At Mydeco, Annabel developed business in the UK and US for four years, before joining Made in 2012 as head of business development, and going to on be appointed CCO in January last year. She comments: “Mydeco was so many different things to so many different people – at Made, we’ve always been much more focused on building a brand, understanding the customer and guiding their journey.”

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