14 June 2024, 03:00
By Furniture News Mar 22, 2021

The French Bedroom Company's customer-first philosophy

Online bedroom furniture specialist The French Bedroom Company was founded in 2006 and sells over 800 SKUs encompassing bedroom furniture, lighting and accessories, with an emphasis on classic French style. The website receives an average of 90,000 monthly visitors. During the pandemic in 2020 the company saw site traffic increase by +28%, leaving the current year’s revenue up +60%. Furniture News asked founder and creative director Georgia Metcalfe for the lowdown …

Why visit your website?

The French Bedroom offers a carefully hand-selected and curated collection of ornate and luxurious bedroom furniture, with an emphasis on classic French design.  Our signature style is the combination of investment pieces with eye-catching and unique accessories for an interior that is classic but playful, on-trend but timeless, and luxurious but carefree.  

How did you enter this industry?

I began my career in PR and marketing, working for interiors companies, so a transition to start an online furniture business (and during an exciting growth time for online retail) seemed a natural path.

Who is your ecommerce hero?

Jeff Bezos, for identifying and creating answers to problems before consumers even know they exist, and for his ability to offer complete, full-service support to retailers, both small and large. This includes: Amazon fulfilment centres, which offer logistical support to small businesses who couldn’t otherwise find fulfilment on a small scale; Amazon’s cloud server farms; and also the full-service Amazon website, which offered instant retail solutions during the lockdowns.

Describe a typical working day 

I oversee the brand, marketing and buying for the company, and I’m a perfectionist, so nothing is sent or put live without passing through my inbox! This morning I attended our monthly marketing meeting, where I am responsible for ensuring consistency of vision for the brand. This was followed by a lunchtime ‘same page meeting’ with our company manager. Mid-afternoon I will be discussing new bed designs with one of our UK suppliers, and finally, I have a Zoom coffee with a wallpaper designer to discuss a bespoke wallpaper collaboration for our forthcoming photoshoot.

What part of your job would you prefer to avoid?

Brexit has caused a lot of aggravation, but I’m thankful that my co-director Ben [Cons] has taken the lead with our preparations here. We always put the customer first, so we’ve been very aware of the pain felt by international customers who have been trying to understand new taxes and tariffs. The extra burden of this inevitably adds complications and deters sales.  

The political agreement came through too late for businesses to adequately prepare or to get clarifications. This meant we had to be nimble to identify all SKU commodity codes for our shippers, rapidly process VAT refunds on new exports, and to talk with customers about the new rules.  

It’s required close collaboration with suppliers, delivery partners, customs agents, tax advisers, and our web development team, to implement the biggest trading changes we have ever seen – and all at high speed. Brexit impacts all areas, at a time when the pandemic is already causing widespread disruption. Months of work was condensed into only a few days. It’s been a huge challenge, but I’m really proud of how my team has reacted and responded to this.

What has been your greatest challenge to date?

The year 2020! As if Covid wasn’t enough of a change for online retail, we moved warehouse and changed logistics partner in the eye of the Covid storm, moving nearly half a million pounds’ worth of stock. In addition, after a two-year project we re-platformed our website in Q4 (we’d already delayed the scheduled re-platform launch in Q2 due to the pandemic). We also moved head office in Q4, after increasing staff levels by +50% to handle the increase in sales. 

Brexit represented a huge project that lay just ahead, and with the Far East container shortage we were ordering as much stock as possible, filling our warehouses to capacity.

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

We have extensive online shopping campaigns that specialise in particular keywords. We constantly test, learn and analyse these campaigns to ensure our content is relevant to their search term and that we’re catching customers directly at point of purchase.  

Our social media channels are supported with advertising campaigns – however, our organic social presence is high due to the number of years we’ve been active on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. We’ve built a large community of fans and followers who actively participate in comments, giving us valuable feedback across the business, from new product suggestions to product names. We also work with some trailblazing social influencers for outreach, and we find email marketing a highly effective communication channel.  

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

To support the high street, councils have to start cutting business rates for independent retailers who lack the economies of scale of the larger chains. Rent and rates can be crippling costs for small businesses, and the pandemic has driven a lot of customers away – many for the long term. 

Councils also need to provide additional parking (with reduced charges and also electric car charging points) plus better public transport infrastructure to help consumers reach their local high streets.  

Bricks-and-mortar retailers need to consider all purchasing channels, and think about how their customers like to shop. Supporting a high street store with an online arm for evening and weekend shopping is key – not all customers are able to get to shops between 9-5 due to their own working commitments, so it’s imperative to offer consumers the option to shop when they have time, not just when the shop is open. Think like the customer, and put her first.

Do you have any plans to grow your business?

There’s no question we will continue to grow. There’s been a long-term trend for consumers to purchase more online, and this evolution has been accelerated by the pandemic. We are working with some exciting new designers and factories this year, and are thrilled to see the new designs arrive. We are also collaborating with some big names in fashion and lifestyle, so we see The French Bedroom Company brand continuing to grow in the public’s consciousness.

What advice would you offer an aspiring etailer?

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer – how they live and how they shop. Understand what lifestyle commitments they have that may prohibit them from visiting a physical store, such as work, children, or transport.  

Does your customer want to browse or purchase, and will one lead to the other? If you build a community and a genuine relationship with your customers, the sales will follow. 

Don’t always think about the money – think about the relationship and the emotional feeling your customers will experience when buying from your store. Furniture and homeware is bought from the heart, not the head.  Focus on removing the hassle, and spark the joy.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Furniture News.

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