17 April 2024, 04:35
By Furniture News Nov 19, 2014

Jenny Hurren, Out There Interiors

In the first of a regular interview series exploring the people, practices and philosophies behind class-leading e-tail businesses, Furniture News speaks to the director of Out There Interiors, Jenny Hurren …

Out There Interiors is an online department store of desirable, diverse, colourful and on-trend furniture. Launched in 2008, it boasts approximately 3500 SKUs, and attracts an average of 45,000 unique visitors each month. Year-on-year growth is cited as 25%. Out There Interiors also offers trade discounts and bespoke services.

Why visit your website?

We carry one of the largest ranges in our industry niche. The majority of Out There Interiors’ products are either exclusive to the company, or available only through small lifestyle stores whose carefully-curated selections are beautiful but ultimately small, specific and impractical for the online shopper. Out There Interiors brings these lifestyle concepts together, enabling consumers to easily create the desirable, eclectic homes shown frequently in popular interior and lifestyle magazines.  

The website is split into departments such as French furniture, mirrored furniture, designer furniture, Nordic furniture, industrial furniture and so on – almost like a supermarket bringing the butcher, baker and greengrocer together under one roof.

“The majority of Out There Interiors’ products are either exclusive to the company, or available only through small lifestyle stores whose carefully-curated selections are beautiful but ultimately small, specific and impractical for the online shopper”

As director and buyer I visit the majority of London design and interiors shows and keep my finger on the pulse with regards to interior trends. Out There Interiors regularly brings unique product to market first – an example would be Seletti’s quirky Sending Animals cabinet range.

How did you enter this industry?

Completely by accident. I came to London from Lancashire to pursue a career as an actor, but quickly became bored of the mundane work I was required to do in between acting work. I wanted a little business to help me pay the rent but had no idea where to start. At the time I was working in the beauty hall in Harrods and had learnt quite a bit about perfume and cosmetics – I therefore began setting up a small online giftware company. 

I met Mark [Neenan, Jenny’s partner, in charge of Out There Interiors’ finances, logistics and operations] in 2004 and we moved into our first shell of a home in 2007.  I was very excited about furnishing my own place and became an obsessive reader of Living Etc, but the money spent on making the place habitable meant my dreams would have to wait.

The bedroom, however, was a bit of an awkward space, and we needed something to put the TV on, so my first experience of online furniture shopping was scouring eBay for something a little bit different. I found a mirrored chest of drawers with the perfect dimensions at – what I thought was – a very reasonable price, and bought it.

Meanwhile, through my giftware company I was invited to the Birmingham interiors show. We didn’t have anything to do that Sunday and decided to see what it was all about. Whilst wandering through the halls we stumbled upon the chest of drawers I had bought for the bedroom. We bought five and put them on eBay.

The mirrored chests all sold within a week, and with the money we made, we bought more. Slowly we expanded the product range and have continued to grow organically in this way over the past seven years. I ran the business independently until it became too big for me to handle.  Mark took the plunge and left his career at IBM in July 2010.

Who is your e-commerce hero?

Asos (Nick Robertson). I’m a huge fan of this wonderfully efficient website, which is always pushing forward. It has the simplest checkout I have ever come across, bags of user-friendly gadgets and a superb mobile offering. I am constantly looking at them for web development ideas.

Describe a typical working day

I arrive at the office (which is located next to our warehouses on a farm in Buckinghamshire) any time between 6 and 9.30am (I’m not good at routine)! After I’ve gulped a strong black coffee, I check orders and emails, and list my actions for the day.

As marketing director, my actions include responding to journalists and stylists, putting together press releases, organising photo shoots, choosing product, speaking to bloggers and planning social media.  I also manage the sales and customer care department and handle web development, so I get pulled in a lot of directions (I’d say this is fairly typical of any business owner).

Some days I go for a walk at lunch. The local countryside is extensive and beautiful, and if I’m feeling stressed nature usually holds the cure. I leave anytime between 6 and 8pm (depending on what time I arrived)!  

What part of your job would you prefer to avoid?

I detest admin of any kind. Post, forms, application processes, finance and spreadsheets, all of it makes my heart sink. Luckily, most of this is handled by other – much more capable! – members of the team, but occasionally I do have to get involved.

What has been your greatest challenge to date?

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates hit us hard in the SEO department and we have been working to put this right for the past two years. This involved removing hundreds of unwanted links to the site, changing content and finding new, creative ways to market the company. This has been without doubt our biggest challenge to date.

How much do you invest in making your site more visible?

90% of my time is spent in this area. As a purely e-commerce business we cannot rely on local trade. Although we do have a showroom, the website is what brings customers to it, and 75% of our transactions are online-only. It is therefore of paramount importance that the website is discovered by the right people.

What’s your take on how the relationship between online and physical retail might develop?

An interesting question, and one that’s difficult to answer. The high street is becoming increasingly dynamic due to the pressure they’re under from online retailers. More and more I see high street shops getting involved in the online space – collaborating with bloggers, creating apps and encouraging social media interaction. On the flip side, I think concessions and pop-up shops will increase over the next few years as online stores demand a high street presence. 

“Google’s Panda and Penguin updates hit us hard in the SEO department and we have been working to put this right for the past two years”

Do you have any plans to grow your business?

Yes we do. Although we’re established we still feel very much like a young business with loads of potential. Mark and I are full of energy and ideas and are always looking for growth.

What advice would you offer an aspiring e-tailer?

Marketing is key. But beware – there are lots of marketing and development companies out there who will promise the earth and deliver nothing. It’s a frustrating journey, but stick with it. You will find the right people to work with, and be assured, everyone in online retail has been through the same pain.

This article was published in the November issue of Furniture News magazine.

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