27 May 2024, 13:58
By Furniture News Jun 27, 2021

How ufurnish.com hit the big time

In a bid to streamline the online furniture buying journey, entrepreneur Deirdre Mc Gettrick launched ufurnish.com, a proprietary search engine that collates product from more than 100 retailers – and that’s just the beginning, Deirdre and CMO Toni Wood tell Furniture News …

An innovative search engine that seeks to reinvent the way furniture and furnishings are searched, discovered, compared and shopped online, ufurnish.com brings together countless products from some of Britain’s best-known retailers. 

Here, shoppers can also specify their favourite products, create design boards and receive sales alerts, plus practical advice. And, when they are ready to buy, one click takes them straight to their desired product on the retailer’s website.

ufurnish.com has moved forwards in leaps and bounds in the last year – can you give us a snapshot of where the business now stands?

Deirdre: ufurnish.com is the furniture and furnishings website that is revolutionising the way consumers search and compare products for their home. Our website brings together 100+ high street names and smaller independents in one place, giving you the confidence that you’ve found the perfect item. 

I set up ufurnish.com after raising £1.8m in seed investment. I used the investment to hire a team of 16 people, build a proprietary technology search engine, sign 100+ retail partners including John Lewis, Made.com, Marks & Spencer, Abigail Ahern and many others – and started to build out a scalable marketing programme. 

Sales are growing by +200% month on month, and website traffic is doubling month on month. We have also seen account sign-ups increase over+500% since January. 

In 2020, I won the New Entrepreneur of the Year accolade at the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, which recognised the hard work of the whole team across the year. We’ve also recently closed our Advanced Subscription round, and are now actively engaged in our Series A raise.

I’m guessing ufurnish.com is one of those enterprises that has – dare we say it – benefited from Covid-19?

Toni: Over the last year we have all spent more time in our homes – they are no longer the places we leave in the morning and return to at night. All those niggly little jobs have become priorities, and we have had the time to invest in them. 

We recently conducted a survey with our consumers, and have seen the extra willingness we all have to invest in our homes and adapt the space to better meet our new needs. 

Since the launch of ufurnish.com, we have seen an influx of enquiries from over 35 new retail partners who were keen to come on board the platform – this reflects retailers’ recognition that this change in consumer behaviour is likely to stick. We have also brought on an additional partnership development manager to keep up with the extensive demand and growth.

How is your approach different from any other brand looking to establish a marketplace aggregator/hub?

Toni: Our mission – to help people search, discover, compare and shop the perfect items for their home – means we are obsessed with how well our website does that. Our technology roadmap is extensive, and we are constantly refining our thinking – we look at our data, listen closely to our team members and our superuser group, and we constantly look to other search engine/marketplace products to inspire and challenge us to aim higher for our users and retail partners. 

How we ingest and process data from our retail partners and use it to best serve the right products to our consumers is complex, and we are building proprietary tools to manage this. We also want to ‘inspire’ and help our consumer create their dream home. There are several upcoming product launches this year that do exactly that.

What industry-specific skills does your management team bring to the table?

Deirdre: When building out the team, I looked at where my skill gaps are, and hired for these skillsets. My mantra is that if you want to be the best, you have to work with the best. My background is in investment banking, but I grew up working in my family business from the age of five so, unbeknownst to myself, I’ve been learning business by osmosis for years. 

The ufurnish.com leadership team is also made up of chief revenue officer, Ray Wright, who was the global partnership programme director at Lead Forensics. He was part of the leadership team that expanded the business to over 17 countries and 11,000+ customers within five years. Heavily driven by data and insights gathered by the platform and continuous market research, Ray’s role within ufurnish.com is to focus on the approach to innovation and the development of its technology and retail partners.

Then there’s Toni, who brings with her a wealth of experience in building brands and driving profitable growth both locally and internationally – and across sectors, having held senior roles at DFS, Sainsbury’s, Proctor & Gamble and Costa Coffee. Toni is also a fellow of The Marketing Academy and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and was recognised by Marketing Week as one of the UK’s Top 100 Marketers in 2019. 

Next is David Marshall, our CTO, who manages the team which develops the technology behind the platform. David has long been a technology leader in online B2C, having previously held positions as CTO at restaurant booking platform, Bookatable, and online travel industry stalwart, Lastminute.com, where he was chief technical architect.

Finally, there’s Imants Krezins, the head of SEO & data, a seasoned marketing professional who has spent most of his career in advertising agencies (Interpublic Group, WPP and Dentsu). He has worked on international campaigns for brands such as Unilever, Burberry, Land Rover and HSBC, to name a few.

What lessons have you learned from your previous experiences which inform how you manage ufurnish.com?

Deirdre: I learned my love of business and wanting to be my own boss from an early age, as my father owned a general drapery shop in a small village in Ireland. I spent many evenings exploring the homes of our customers, or creating moodboards from products I loved in the Argos catalogue. 

The ability to put my love of interiors into practice arose in 2017, when I purchased my first home. Working in London’s investment banking industry, I was one of very few females, working on $20b+ financing deals for FTSE 100 corporates. The last thing I wanted to do after a busy working day was start the frustrating process of trawling websites to find the right furniture – I realised there was a problem to be solved. 

I left the world of banking to live off my savings, excited to make my mark as a female CEO in the male-dominated (77%) tech industry. I graduated from the London & Partners Business Growth Programme, where former alumni include Revolut, Monzo and Farfetch, and became the founder and CEO of ufurnish.com. 

Toni: Whilst in my previous role as the chief marketing and commercial officer at DFS, I was responsible for customer insight, which really helped me understand how, as a nation, we feel about our homes and the emotional, rational and often frustrating purchase journey we all go on trying to find the perfect product. 

I also know from personal experience, trying to furnish and decorate our own home, how tricky it can be to find the perfect items. Sometimes the choice is overwhelming, and sometimes you simply can’t find anything you like. 

Give us an idea of a typical staff onboarding process …

Toni: As a remote team, we look to learn from the best, and we talk regularly to others who have done this successfully. We are constantly evolving and seeking feedback from our team. 

When new team members join, we ensure the basics are in place ahead of their start date – payroll set up, laptops, software access, etc. We have all been that person that arrives at an office to find we don’t have a desk, a laptop or the correct access to systems – we are determined to give our team the best experience from day one.

We have a simple business overview document that covers all the business activities at a headline level, and the line manager walks through this. We then set up a series of onboarding sessions with all members of the team so that the new team member gets to better understand everyone’s role in the company – but also create that informal connection you would get if you met for a coffee in an office. 

We operate using OKRs, which means each team member has real clarity on their deliverables and how they contribute to the company’s overall performance. We are determined to keep everything as simple and process-light as we can, whilst creating a culture of collaboration – despite being remote. 

So far, our feedback from the team is strong, and as we double the team this year a great onboarding experience will remain a focus. 

… and what about retailer onboarding?

Toni: Our retail partner onboarding is truly a collaborative approach between us and the retailer. The focus is to ensure that we have all aspects of the partnership lined up, to ensure the retailer’s products are perfectly represented across ufurnish.com and that we can launch their brand into our community with strength.

The first step of the onboarding process is assessing and integrating the retail partner’s product data into ufurnish.com. This sees the retailer share their product data with us, which we integrate through our proprietary integration services application, which transforms the data to drive search and discovery on the website. 

The second step is configuring all the retailer assessment and announcement copy to launch their brand into our community. We announce retail partners broadly through email communications, social media and specific listings on our website.

Our role is to help make the onboarding process as straightforward as we can for retail partners and ensure the partnership is set up for success.

What tends to be the most challenging aspect of bringing new retailers onto the platform? Initial reluctance, or digital limitations, perhaps?

Deirdre: Education about who ufurnish.com is and what value we can bring to a retailer is the first point of call for us. Our proposition is unique for retailers, as we are innovating the industry, so helping each retailer understand how our website works, who our consumer audience is and how our platform works in supporting them from a technical perspective are key.

Many retailers are new to online and ecommerce, so we offer as much support as is required to support digital integration into ufurnish.com. This can take time, but we see our role in the industry as one that will help retailers of all sizes grow.

Does your strategy of targeting a wide consumer base and reflecting the breadth of the furniture/furnishings industry have any drawbacks? Too much choice, or lengthy search processes, perhaps?

Toni: Our mission is to help everyone create their dream home, and we are confident we can make this a much simpler and more enjoyable experience. Understanding our consumers is critical in the decisions we make, and listening to them about what makes their experience a delight is our focus. 

We know consumers want to be inspired and discover new retailers and products. They want to have the maximum choice, but the ability to curate it to their needs – not what we define as the right selection of products for them. That is where our category filters play a key part, and will be continually refined as we learn more about our consumers’ needs. 

We also offer the ability to ‘favourite’ products, and, over the next few months, will launch some new exciting developments that further help our consumers make the right decision for them and their home. Ultimately, we want to make it simple for everyone to discover, compare and buy the perfect item for their home – so we are continually looking at the onsite journey for opportunities to refine it, and this will be an ongoing focus.

Is there an element of price comparison involved in what you deliver?

Toni: There is an element of price comparison, but it’s not the key reason for a consumer to use ufurnish.com. Naturally, consumers want to be able to look at products they are interested in side by side, and ufurnish.com does this through our favouriting functionality. This not only aligns price as a comparison point, but also factors in product specifications like colour, dimensions, delivery details and other key product attributes that help inform a consumer buying decision.

Deirdre: Bringing together over one million products from 100+ of Britain’s furniture and furnishings retailers all on one website, ufurnish.com allows people to easily search and compare products, based on their relevance – whether that be delivering on price, colour, material or size preferences. Price filters are one of the many ways we help consumers find the perfect product for them. We also have filters for sales, including the level of discount. 

What is the nature of the content/advertising you employ to drive traffic?

Toni: Our marketing activity is focused on paid and owned channels. We are continually testing and learning to balance activity across the full customer journey. We want to get as many people as possible to experience the website and see that we are uniquely positioned to help them turn their dream home into reality – we are the only place they can search, discover, compare and shop for amazing products for their home. 

Can you share an anecdote or two from retailers happy to be part of ufurnish.com – and perhaps share some of their growth figures? 

Toni: We have a retailer who went through a major rebrand and repositioning last year. They have a focus of becoming more of a ‘modern living brand’ and moving their business to be split between online and offline. 

We launched them onto ufurnish.com in mid-October, with a view to really help land strong brand recognition for specific categories that they wanted to compete in. This has gone amazingly well, as we’ve helped increase their online sales by +3% of overall company revenue between November 2020 and February 2021. 

Further to this, we’ve driven sales in key categories that they desired growth in, such as living room furniture and dining room furniture. Our collaborative approach in working together has expanded through ufurnish.com website search, a prime feature in the VIP member email, social media exposure and product features in home content pieces. We continue to grow sales for them rapidly each month, so our partnership gets stronger by the day.

What targets have you set for the business’ short- and long-term future?

Deirdre: We have huge ambition for the business. Our website is the product, which helps us focus single-mindedly on delivering the best consumer experience, as well as a profitable partnership for our retailers. Optimising and innovating at pace, based on real-time data, are a primary focus. 

Short-term targets are looking for a Series A investment raise to help continue to fund our rapid growth, whilst long-term we look to turn ufurnish.com into the only place consumers go to search for furniture in the market – just like the trailblazing similar companies we aspire to be, such as Rightmove, Skyscanner and Trainline. 

Are you employing any new strategies or new directions to get there? There must be some things about ufurnish.com that weren’t perfect from the beginning, even having the Kuldea learnings to lean on …

Deirdre: ufurnish.com was launched during the Covid pandemic of 2020. Leasing our first office on 1st March wasn’t the best timing in hindsight, as we moved to working from home just two weeks later! The business adapted by moving to a ‘distributed working model’, whereby everyone works remotely from their own home. This has required leveraging technology to stay connected and deliver their ambition. 

The leadership team spends considerable time looking at tools to do this, as well as discussing how you create a culture when you don’t physically work alongside each other every day. As a tech company, ufurnish.com naturally gravitates to tech solutions to overcome any challenges.

Attracting talent to a new business and brand during a pandemic where you can’t physically meet people is tough. We conducted all interviews over video technology. You realise how quickly humans can adapt when you are hosting a three-month review with a team member who you still haven’t physically met!

To add to this challenge of remote hiring, I wanted to hire people that fit into the ufurnish.com values. I also believe strongly that diversity should be part of the fabric of ufurnish.com, reflecting the fabric of society. This requires active engagement, and doesn’t occur naturally. 

Across the various interviews, I set out to incorporate 1) a diverse range of applicants and 2) questions around the values of the business, to ensure the best possible fit in terms of culture as well as skillset. I am extremely proud that diversity is reflected in the ufurnish.com business, with 26% female investors and a team made up of 16 people across four countries and six nationalities. 

Finally, what do you most enjoy about working in this industry? 

Deirdre: The fact it doesn’t really feel like work! I spend my time seeing the most beautiful furniture and furnishings from fabulous retailers all day long. I see first-hand the progression of brands and products, the rise of sustainability and the adoption of technology. It’s a fascinating time to be working in the furniture industry and witness all the change. 

It feels so liberating to work in an industry that I have a huge passion for, and to be pushing hard as an innovator on the technical side of the industry brings the team and I so much joy. We will also continue to push the boundaries of the possibile when it comes to innovation, and we want both consumers and retailers to be the beneficiaries of that.

This interview was published in the April 2021 issue of Furniture News.

Pictured: Deirdre Mc Gettrick, CEO and co-founder of ufurnish.com, and CMO Toni Wood

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