Having taken her fashion start-up to a turnover of £25m, Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur Alice Hall turned her attention to interiors, and in September 2020, with husband Andrew’s help, Rowen Homes was born. Already, it seems Alice, who describes the venture as “somewhere between an interior designer and ecommerce store”, is well on her way to creating another high-growth success story …
Tell us a bit about your background and entrepreneurial spirit …
I founded my first company at the age of 23, while working as a teaching assistant. My fashion business, Pink Boutique, which I set up with my mum, was born out of not being able to find what I wanted on the market.
I was creative director for eight years, in which time I learned everything there was to learn about HR, operations, buying, QC, warehousing and marketing! I exited that business just before the pandemic, when we had reached a staff team of 70 and £25m turnover.
I’ve applied everything I learnt in fashion to Rowen Homes, the homeware business I share with my husband [MD Andrew Hall]. My role is very broad, but generally I oversee all of the creative elements of the business – from trend forecasting and product development, social organic and ad content, to studio and brand tone of voice. I have a keen involvement in digital marketing, too.
Of course, I have an incredible team who delivers it all. My role is really to guide and ask the right questions at the right time, encouraging innovation.
You founded Rowen in late 2020, when furniture and furnishings were seeing huge demand – what did you think you could bring to the table that was different?
At the time, we had recently moved home and I had undertaken an online interior design course to help me with my own home design. I started my own home account, and started to get people approaching, asking me to design their homes.
I struggled to get the products I was looking for, to fit with the real WOW glam aesthetic – it took a lot of trawling! I was turning business away, so I hired a few interior designers to work as part of the team and we took on more projects. All of our followers wanted to know where the items were from that we had put into the designs, but of course we had to keep the product lists confidential.
Before long, I realised that rather than doing singular projects which were never to be seen again, we could come up with room designs and stock the products behind them. So we decided to stock all of the items and become a ‘one-stop shop’ to get the designed look – somewhere between an interior designer and ecommerce store.
For about a year, we shot everything in my house. It was crazy – our days were spent running the business, and nights were spent unpacking furniture. We staged full rooms in our home before we moved from our 5000ft2 warehouse to a 30,000ft2 space. We then built a 5-room studio and started shooting there. Now, we release new rooms every month – and customers can shop everything they see in the design.
Aside from you, who are the key people in the business, and what do they contribute?
My husband is MD, and oversees the real nuts and bolts of things. From finance to operations to HR, he’s a safe pair of hands, and can work out how to deliver most things! He’s also a dab hand at design – and covers me [as creative director] when I’m out. And vice versa – I cover as MD when he’s not in.
We have a very competent head of digital, Darren, who oversees all of our digital ads and website. We do most of our digital in-house, as we’re experienced in it, and Darren is very good at working with devs and external partners alongside our in-house delivery team.
We recently recruited Rob, our head of buying, who was formerly at Made.com for eight years. Not only does he have a wealth of manufacturing connections, his range planning and technical awareness is second to none. He has experience in furniture design, planning, sourcing and budgeting, and we’re already learning so much from him.
Sarah, our people and process manager, keeps us right when it comes to recruiting and all of the admin side of HR. We’ve been doing lots of recruitment lately to support our growth, and Sarah’s kept us super organised!
Then we have our junior management team, who joined us at the very beginning of our journey and have been promoted. Rosie, our senior interior designer, oversees the studio and all of the interior design process – and Ellisha, our buyer, leads the buying team under the supervision of Rob.
Jamie-Lee, our customer experience supervisor, ensures we’re delivering the very best in customer service through all of our channels, and creating beautiful personal shopping experiences, too. The junior managers really care about the brand, and we trust them implicitly – something I think is very important in a start-up.
Then we have all of the rest of our frontline people who deliver brilliant results every single day. From our warehouse staff to studio and customer services, they all do an incredible job of growing the business and ensuring our wonderful customers are happy.
We plan to bring more amazing talent into the business going forward – we won’t achieve our dreams for the brand without the right expertise in-house.
I’ve heard Rowen Homes described as a ‘disruptor’ – what’s disruptive about what you do?
We’re somewhere between interior design and retail – and we hand-pick absolutely everything that we bring in, so our customers know that we have quality-checked and matched everything as if we were having it in our own home. This attention to detail is core to the brand, as it enables our customer to trust our choices. They can shop from eight key looks that we’ve put together – rather than trawling around and getting lost in a sea of thousands of products. Everything in each look goes together.
Our aesthetic is quite unique – it’s our brand handwriting, and those who love it absolutely adore it, and want to decorate their whole home in the style. Of course, as with every niche, it’s not for everyone – and that’s OK, because there are some other fantastic options on the market for other aesthetics. We’ll be here for the glam luxe customer!
Read the rest of the interview in November's Furniture News, here.