Sofa Brands International has launched The Lounge Co., a multichannel upholstery seller fronted by a London showroom on Chiswick High Road, and working through concessions with 20 independent retail partners.
Julian Neal, director at SBI and CEO of The Lounge Co., says he has identified a significant structural shift in the furniture market. At the same time, though, fundamental consumer behaviour had not changed at all, and here lay an opportunity. “People use the internet to research our products and expect speed, ease of use and extremely high-quality content. However, customers who are investing significantly in an item of furniture that they’ll own for a decade or more want to experience the product first,” he explains.
The Lounge Co. boasts a responsive website and customer care team so that orders can be made over the phone, but offline remains the key channel.
“It’s critical to us that customers have a gallery nearby because they need to see the products, touch them and assess their comfort," says Julian. "The business model was designed entirely around these needs, which is why accessibility was fundamental.”
Each of the galleries will feature one of every product style and two large touch-screen kiosks. Across the range, there are 18,500 combinations and the kiosk’s #goconfigure function allows users to design their own sofas.
“We invested a significant amount into this technology as part of the in-store experience because customers need to be able to visualise their ideal sofa before they buy,” says Julian.
Research carried out by the brand also revealed customers’ dislike for shopping around to find the best price. “We’re offering exactly the same believable prices and excellent value everywhere our customers shop. We’ve removed the hassle of searching altogether so that customers can enjoy time creating their perfect sofa,” says Julian.
The multichannel model means that sales, regardless of the purchase channel, will be attributed to local partners, each of which has been given an exclusive catchment. “Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter where customers want to pay for their products – they still need to be given the same excellent customer service across every touch point, and we want our partners to be rewarded for their contribution,” says Julian.
Like the leaders in the field, The Lounge Co. will represent its brand in a warm, aspirational way. Evidence of this can be seen across the range in The Lounge Co.’s naming convention – sofas have female names, their counterpart accent chairs are their brothers, and footstools have been given surnames.
“I find Hiut Denim inspirational because we share the mantra about doing one thing well. If your customers want your product, receive great service and value, they’ll choose you. Your brand and advertising should be the icing on the cake,” explains Julian, who says that while the sofa market is very traditional and unlikely to evolve hugely in the next five years, he predicts the use of augmented reality may come into play in order to advance the configuration experience.