18 May 2024, 13:55
By Furniture News Aug 14, 2019

Mall world – Tom O’Neill on Sofa Club

Sofa Club – formerly Furniture4U – was launched by Tom O’Neill and Louis Rose in 2012 in a broom cupboard. Today, this innovative retailer boasts a 95,000 sqft warehouse, a substantial online presence and mall kiosks across the country. Tom spoke to Furniture News about his mission to bring an innovative sofa-buying experience to destination shopping centre visitors …

My father owned three small furniture stores, which I worked in over the holidays and weekends while at school and university. When I left uni I went to work for a small furniture wholesale company, and realised there was a gap in the market for good-value sofas with short lead times.

By May 2012 I had 12 years’ furniture industry experience under my belt, and Louis had just completed his Business Management degree. With minimal overheads and just a handful of sofas, we set up a website and booked our first promotion at the Whitgift Centre, Croydon - and Furniture4U was launched. Quite literally working out of a broom cupboard, I was the only salesman, and Louis ran the office side of things. 

In 2017, we rebranded as Sofa Club. Originally we were going to expand to sell all types of furniture, but we decided to stick to what worked for us. 

The rebrand was the turning point in expanding the business and attracting the right type of customer. We now have a 95,000 sqft warehouse full of stock, a distribution team, office admin staff and an ever-growing sales team.

We offer on-trend, value-for-money sofas. All our styles are available in two neutral colours, giving customers the ability to accessorise and put their own stamp on them.

Our products are aimed at customers who like to be on trend and change the look of their homes regularly – but they don’t want to pay through the nose for it, and want to know they’re getting a good deal, as well as a quality product for their money (hence our strapline, Get the look for less).

We’re increasing our range all the time. We get ideas from furniture shows, what’s trending, and what our customers tell us they want.  

We advertise on Facebook and Instagram, and use social influencers to promote our products. Our online presence is phenomenal, with 86,000 Instagram followers, 32,000 followers on Facebook and 4500 on Twitter. On top of that, our website attracts approximately 50,000 visitors a month.  

Sofa Club are first and foremost an online company, but a sofa is something you need to touch and sit on – things really started moving in the right direction after the rebrand, when we began working with Intu Shopping Centres. 

Our original business model was to book mall space for fortnightly promotions – pop up in a centre, show visitors the fabulous deals on offer, and either have them order our products there and then or call us once we’d left to find out when we were coming back.

We knew how fortunate we were to be working with Intu, and this opened lots of doors for us. We also changed our business model to include long-term mall promotions, and built our first kiosk for Lakeside.

Logistically, it’s difficult to co-ordinate moving in and out of 12 shopping centres every weekend. Working with delivery drivers and centre staff out of hours on a Sunday evening has its challenges!

Our newest, two-part, 12m-long, purpose-built kiosk includes a bar. Here, customers are welcome to enjoy a complimentary glass of prosecco while they check out fabrics and colour swatches with their designated host – no pushy salesmen here!

Because we’re on the mall, rather than in a shop, we attract a lot of impulse buyers – people who aren’t actually looking for a sofa right now, but see our models and our great pricing, and are hooked.  

Potential customers will also see something on the website and contact us to ask when we’re going to have a pop-up in a centre near them. If they find us online, they’re given the option to sign up for an e-newsletter, or to follow us on social media. If they see us in a centre, they’re given a leaflet to take away, outlining all the ways they can stay in touch.  

Our customer base is young, so they are more inclined to use social media (we also have a WhatsApp group, so customers can ask questions there, too).

But people also want a shopping experience. Yes, it’s simple to click a button and have your sofa delivered 12 weeks later. Or go to a retail park, be offered a cup of tea, choose your sofa and toddle off home. But we wanted to offer the customer something more –  we rebranded to Sofa Club because we wanted to make our offer feel inclusive. We had so many repeat customers that we wanted to make them feel like they’re part of a club – one that they would be proud to be a member of.

We’ve committed to rolling the concept out across multiple UK locations. We currently have long-term pop-ups in Manchester Arndale, Bluewater (Kent), Lakeside (Essex), Merry Hill (Birmingham) and Metrocentre (Newcastle) on rolling 26-week contracts, and we plan to look at Scotland next year.  

The idea is to have two-week pop-ups in centres in the same area as our long-term stands. This means that if someone sees us in their local Essex centre, for example, but haven’t quite made their mind up, they know they can come back and visit us at Lakeside another time – they don’t have to wait two months for us to return to their local centre.

We’re a growing company, and although we’ve come a long way, there’s still so much more we can (and will) do.  We want to stay fresh and current – as a business, that means we’re constantly evolving.

Pictured from left: Tom O’Neill and Louis Rose

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