23 May 2024, 03:32
By Furniture News Jul 11, 2013

Seriously Sofas - a start-up success story

Established just two years ago and based in Kingston upon Thames, family-run independent specialist retailer Seriously Sofas brings a unique offering to the town, being one of the only niche upholstery providers offering bespoke and customised sofas. Furniture News’ Victoria Noakes spoke to owners Andrew and Ruth Jones to find out more about the business …

Having begun his career at Harrods 30 years ago, and with over 20 years of experience leading sales for two British sofa manufacturers, veteran retailer Andrew Jones was keen to launch an original retail business of his own. His wife Ruth, with a strong background in human resources involving long-distance travel, was also interested in embarking on a new venture which was more service-oriented, creative and local. Subsequently, through Andrew’s connections and expertise and Ruth’s research and planning, Seriously Sofas was born in August 2011.

“Our biggest challenge in starting up was the timing of our decision to open a brand new upholstery business smack bang in the middle of a deep recession. Our refurbishment project coincided with the London riots, and Habitat had just gone under, with many other high street businesses in steady decline,” says Ruth.

“That said, Andrew knew exactly what he wanted to do, how, and where. Central Kingston is less than a mile from home, and it is also one of the busiest retail locations in the UK, so it made perfect sense to locate our showroom here. We see our customers as we go to and from work, when we shop and when we socialise, so we are very invested in ensuring we deliver what we promise!”

Seriously Sofas caters to residential and trade customers, and its product offering consists of British and European sofas, sofa beds, corner or chaise units, chaises, chairs, footstools, storage boxes, re-upholstery and accessories, such as children’s items.

“Independent retailers have a truly unique opportunity to offer something different – themselves”

It has an extensive choice of sofa beds, including UK exclusive distribution for a Swiss sofa bed supplier. The selection includes modular sofas – of which the European units are particularly popular – that may also be used for occasional sleeping, a regular use ‘bed in a box’ with an orthopaedic quality mattress, and a bunk bed option.

“Our products are mid-range priced and we keep margins keen as we have minimal overheads in relation to many of our competitors. We offer pieces off the shop floor at discounts, with immediate delivery, to allow us to rotate stock and keep the showroom looking fresh and inspiring,” Ruth explains.

All of the products are more modern than traditional in design, are made to order if not bought off the shop floor, and are available in any fabric, as well as a selection of quality leathers. In addition, all of the company’s UK-made products are able to be made bespoke affordably due to connections with eight different independent British upholsterers and two traditional furniture framers.

“We do our best to make use of skilled local businesses as we believe in the importance of supporting these skills within the UK. We also think it is necessary to help minimise the environmental impact of our business by sourcing materials in the UK and Europe. Our growing re-upholstery offer is also predicated on a desire to recycle and upcycle items of sentimental and occasionally real value,” continues Ruth.

The Seriously Sofas business is underpinned by a high level of customer service, due to a preference for referrals and repeat business rather than advertising and reducing margins by online price hunters. Where it has the same or similar products to its competitors, it offers a level of customisation that most others are unable to service. As a result of this, it has couriers visiting almost daily as it ships fabrics to different suppliers around the country and across Europe.

“Obviously we fully understand that customers demand value for money, so instead of holding sales – as most know that customised items do not discount – we keep our prices highly competitive all year round by keeping a close eye on our competitors and trends on TV and in publications,” Ruth says.

In January, Seriously Sofas was approached by the owner of Spanish furniture brand Fama to represent the brand in the UK – its second biggest market. Due to the working relationship cultivated over the previous 16 months between the two companies, Fama felt that Seriously Sofas shared its values and approach to work, in the form of passion, integrity and innovation. Soon after, Andrew and Ruth took the opportunity to extend their showroom space into the available unit adjacent to them to make space for the UK’s very first FamaLiving collection.

“FamaLiving brings colour, inspiration and variety to our showroom, and is stylish and design led. The flexibility of the collection, coupled with its storage and space-saving solutions, make it appealing for the trade and residential customers alike. Everyone appreciates the affordable designer styling along with the ability to create an individual look. We offer a ‘customer’s own fabric’ option as well as a choice of colourful Spanish woven fabrics and 150 Italian leathers, making this offering highly attractive,” states Ruth.

The progress and success that Seriously Sofas has enjoyed in the relatively short space of time since its inception is certainly impressive, and it is clear that Andrew and Ruth’s creativity, vision, originality and sheer commitment along the way are to thank for it. Their story seems to present a good role model for other  independent start up businesses as well as those considering embarking on this path.

“Independent retailers have a truly unique opportunity to offer something different – themselves! Customers appreciate and recognise personalised service that is friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. It really is about customer service – both pre- and post-sale support,” Ruth explains.

“Our advice for those thinking of starting up their own business is to focus, focus, focus. Find a supportive, interested mentor and ask for help as and when you need it. Also ask for feedback from customers. What is more, be realistic. Starting up a business requires patience, especially in this climate. If something doesn’t work, change it. If something does work, keep an eye on it and ensure that you work at keeping your business up to date and appealing.”

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