The May issue of Furniture News will feature an interview with Loaf’s Charlie Marshall, in which the founder discusses the staff culture behind the UK’s fast-growing homewares company. In the meantime, here’s a quick article outlining Charlie’s novel approach to marketing …

Charlie Marshall founded homewares website – then The Sleep Room – in 2008, after spending a day looking for a new bed and coming to the decison that furniture buying should be a much more hassle-free experience.

Clearly, Charlie’s concept works – according to The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100, the company is the fastest-growing homewares brand in the UK, recording an annual sales growth of 81% over the last three years. Today, Loaf is on the brink of expansion – more employees, a new headquarters, and a series of store outlets it calls Loaf Shacks.

Loaf’s ethos of simplicity means its brand message, which it broadcasts through its website, newsletters and brochures, must remain clear and consistent. Loaf sends a weekly newsletter to 80,000-plus subscribers, while a quarterly direct marketing campaign will see 1.3m brochures distributed this year. The fast-evolving website must be continually simplified to ensure it remians as user-friendly as possible. All of this must be executed while maintaining Loaf’s honest, laid-back brand voice.

“We trim the fat wherever we can,” says Charlie. “Especially with copy for our newsletter, blog or brochure. We always ask ourselves: What are we trying to say? Why is it interesting? Would I want to read this? Do our customers want to read this? This makes sure that our messages are crystal clear.”

"We’ve really worked hard at making sure that when we send an email out to the customer, we don’t abuse that trust they give us"

A year ago, Loaf’s marketing department comprised just two people – including Charlie. Now the team has grown to 14 people, accounting for over a quarter of the company’s employees.

“I interviewed [Rob White, head of ‘Mad Men’ at Loaf] and we ended up having a good free-flowing chat and bouncing off each other, and I think that’s when you know you’ve got the right person. He’s been absolutely essential in making sure we pick the right people and structure for that department. I think we’ve got about 14 people in there who can manage everything from in-house PR, brochure design and photo shoots to online and offline marketing – we’ve got the whole lot in house.”

It’s not surprising that Charlie takes marketing so seriously. Addressing a predominantly young, time-poor buying group – “middle-class people who wear Converse trainers and eat in Pizza Express” – is one matter, but fully exploiting the potential of that market requires a holistic approach.

“Marketing is a crucial part of what we do,” says Charlie. “When we started we were called The Sleep Room – our business was offering 12 beds and one mattress. It was only after three years that I worked out that if we wanted to lead into other areas of the home, and to become a big business, we needed to become a ‘four letter word’-type brand – Loaf summed up our business, and the domain name happened to be available.

“It’s based on the idea of being laid back and loafing about – we want to fill the gap in the market in the UK for laid-back furniture, and it’s a growing area. In terms of marketing material, we’re constantly asking ourselves, is it Loaf-y? Is it special and different?

“We send out an email newsletter each week to our customers, and we’ve always felt that there’s no point bombarding people with emails proclaiming discounts – people are going to get bored and delete it, it’s not building a brand. So what we’ve really worked hard at is making sure that when we send an email out to the customer, we don’t abuse that trust they give us. We make sure we’re giving them something that’s actually interesting.”

Charlie offers an example from Valentine’s Day, in which recipients were given the chance to suggest a name for the mascot’s – “a little yellow bird called Dickie” – girlfriend. A prize was offered for the best suggestion.

"“We’re getting more and more traffic on Pinterest – it tends to be mums that are using it a lot more than we thought, also in the summer holidays"

“Rather than send out an email offering 20% off, we gave people a chance to be creative,” explains Charlie. “We came at it from a personal angle, and the result is that we had a huge number of replies – in the thousands, which for us is amazing. Even small things, like ‘guess how many jelly beans are in this jar’, will have thousands of replies. It’s amazing how people are buying into the whole Loaf spirit.”

Loaf releases two main product collections each year, in March and October, interspersed with a few smaller releases. The turnover is rapid because Loaf appreciates that its customers continually want new products. Loaf mails out new brochures every six weeks, which feature a good chunk of its offer – over the space of a few months, the full range is laid out in a series of brochures, in which time new product is ready to introduce.

Of even more immediacy is the website, which is currently undergoing an overhaul. “Our main focus at the moment is making sure we convert our existing customers better on our website. People say it’s great, but it’s never good enough for us,” says Charlie. “The site needs to be so simple that even my mum can use it. Over the next few months, various pages will be changing. You’ll see a lot more of the social media we’ve been doing on Facebook, Twitter and our blog, which has up to now been quite hard to find.

“We’ve been doing that on purpose. We’ve been trying to build up our social media over the past year, trying to find out which social media platforms work for which audience.

“Facebook, for example, tends to have a younger demographic interacting with it, not the upper end of our customer base. We try to make sure that’s updated with any photos that customers send in of our products, or any quirky, Loafy-type things as part of an ongoing process. Twitter tends to be used by journalists, and it’s quick feedback type of stuff.

"The site needs to be so simple that even my mum can use it"

“We’re getting more and more traffic on Pinterest – it tends to be mums that are using it a lot more than we thought, also in the summer holidays. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because they’ve got more time off. When I was talking to a couple of customers they other day, they said that during the summer holidays they spent their time searching online for products and actually purchased them in October or November.

“Once we’ve understood how these platforms work, we’re going to highlight them much more clearly on the website – that in turn will make the pages on our website converse better, people will trust us more, and it will probably have a knock-on effect in terms of SEO too.”

Find out how Charlie established a successful working culture at Loaf in the May issue of Furniture News, coming soon.