29 May 2024, 22:49
By Furniture News Feb 25, 2016

Matt Dunton, Sweetpea & Willow

Furniture News explores the practices and philosophies behind e-tail enterprise Sweetpea & Willow in a discussion with director Matt Dunton …

Launched in 2006, Sweetpea & Willow is a luxury destination for striking furniture and accessories.

Why visit your website?
The goods we produce ourselves are as good as they get. We don’t cut any corners so quality is always assured. Despite the top-end specification, our prices are ultra-sharp. Other non-exclusive branded goods we deal with are covered by a price promise. We will not be beaten on price. To top that off, our website has won awards for its design and ease of use to ensure we bring our customers a truly fresh look.

How did you enter the trade?
We bought a lump of a house back in 2005 and physically couldn’t afford to furnish it in the way we wanted. After exploring the possibilities of reproduction and import, we then commenced our journey!

Who is your e-commerce hero?
I find that in furniture retail there are so many followers and not enough leaders and it takes a lot of effort to be inspirational. As sad as it sounds I don’t really get inspired by anyone online in furniture retail. My e-commerce hero has to be Net-a-Porter. In brief, they are always on trend, always inspirational, and newsletters really well presented.

Describe a typical working day
My alarm goes off at 6.30am, and it’s a quick visit to the gym and then I help in getting the kids off to school. I usually arrive at work at about 8.30am. No day is typical as we run a lean and ever-growing business.

Today, for example, I’ve had meetings with my sales managers, spoken with some potential new customer service candidates who we are looking to recruit and paid some invoices. Tomorrow, I’m off-site with a big client to finalise (fingers crossed!) a big hotel deal. After that, I’m project managing an upgrade to one of our showrooms.

What part of your job would you prefer to avoid?
I like to be approachable and help where I can – there’s nothing I’d prefer to avoid, genuinely. I even muck in with the refuse collection sometimes. Not the nicest of jobs, but I wouldn’t avoid it if the guys in the warehouse could use an extra pair of hands when we’re a man down one day!

What has been your greatest challenge?
Producing our very own upholstered furniture right here in London. Our Handmade In London range has been carried out by us and finished all with our own labels for authenticity. It is very rewarding seeing both consumer and trade clients return for more. The challenge continues but we really are delivering a top product without top end prices to boot.

How much do you invest in making your site more visible?
Website visibility is paramount, but we keep it real. There is no point in deceiving the public and others by purchasing Facebook/Twitter likes and adopting black hat SEO tactics simply for a quick win. My phone is always on and I welcome innovation from any forward-thinking IT platform that believes they can help us.

What’s your take on how the relationship between online and physical retail might develop?
We have seen a 35% uplift in 2015 of visitors to our showrooms. Is this down to localised advertising or down to customers in general wanting to ‘try before they buy’ and actually see, feel, touch, or sit on our items? With our average basket value also increasing I honestly think it’s a bit of both – and that is certainly our strategy for 2016. A bit of both online and offline needs to be the balance.

Consumers are far more aware of their purchase rights and also how to search online for bargains. The internet is without a doubt the starting point for many, and our showroom is the final stage.

What are your growth plans for the business?
I am grateful for the repeat clients we have – circa 22% per annum and growing. We are often asked when we’re going to be on the high street, and I hope one day we can achieve this.

What advice would you offer an aspiring e-tailer?
Stay ahead of trends, be open and honest with your staff and customers, and graft all hours!

This interview was published in the January 2016 edition of Furniture News magazine.

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