By Kal Di Paola on Oct 23 2013
Last week we introduced you to the fabulous marketplace Loubilou, we're keeping it homely and this week we're talking furniture. We recently discovered Swoon Editions an audition-led furniture brand that allows the customer to choose which of their ranges goes into production.
Every Swoon Edition design starts life as a one-off original - if it gets enough votes it goes onto get produced but only in batches of around 100.
Every piece is spoken for before it leaves the factory, an absence of showrooms and storage means that what the business saves in overheads they can pass onto customers, equals quality furniture at exceptional prices!
Suitably impressed by not only the business model but also the artisan designed furniture we met up with Debbie the founder to find out how it all began.
Q. How did the idea for the business come about?
For years I coveted all these beautiful pieces of furniture in my favourite design and interior mags, but I could never justify buying them at the sky-high prices advertised. But it wasn’t until I was on holiday in India a couple of years ago that I realised it didn’t have to be this way. I was in a market in Udaipur and had spotted this stunning bone inlay chest of drawers. It was the exact same one that had been on my must-have list for a while, but for a fraction of the price you would have to pay back in England. That was the moment I realised quite how overly inflated prices are in the UK for handmade furniture. So I bought the piece and got it sent home, where it got all my friends and family talking. Every time I had people over to mine, they’d ask me where it was from and whether they could get one too. That’s when I started to notice there was a definite demand for beautiful, but affordable artisan furniture.
I met up with Brian (business partner and co-founder) for coffee and we began to work out how we could bring furniture from the best artisans directs to customers at the lowest possible price. We looked at all the overheads that high-street retailers have and came up with a concept that eliminated almost all of them: cut out shops, warehouses and the cost of merchandising a huge range. We knew that if we could figure out what’s really in demand and just sell that, in container quantities, then we could operate with pretty low overheads and pass the saving directly onto the customer.
Q. What is your background?
I used to be an account director at M&C Saatchi before moving to the Telegraph Media Group, where I ran their digital product development. It was at the Telegraph that I first Brian, who was responsible for the TMG’s digital strategy. We got on brilliantly and it’s great to be working as a team again.
Q. You've grown pretty quickly and just raised your first round of outside funding, congratulations! What are your plans for growth?
Right now we’re continuing our search for the best manufacturers and artisans around the world, I’ve just got back from a scouting trip to Vietnam in fact! We’re also really focused on building a community of Insiders (Swoon Editions special group of subscribers who have priority access to our deals) so we can really understand what people want. Longer term, we’d love to expand our Insider offering to other countries – we’ve already had lots of enquiries about shipping worldwide which is a good sign.
Q. What do you love most about running your own business?
I love the fact I get to build the perfect team and surround myself with all the people I’ve always wanted to work with. Running your own business allows you to build a culture and working environment that you love and care about.
Central to creating that, for me, was to give a lot of opportunities to young people and recent graduates. We’ve put together a fantastic team who are really innovative and iterative and the best part is everyone just cracks on with stuff without complaint. It sounds like a cliché, but I really am getting to do what I love every day. A lot of people have careers in industries they’re not passionate about, and that’s a real shame.
Q. What do you find most daunting about running your business?
When you’re a startup there are two main things: starting and growing. When you launch a new business, you’ve got to cut through so much red tape, just to get things like insurance or a business bank account, that it feels like there’s no support at all. It’s hard at time and quite frustrating but you just have to bear with it. Once you get over that initial hump the next thing you start to worry about is how you’re going to grow your business. For me it was really important that we grew but without losing sight of what’s important. So you find yourself having to manage this difficult balancing act between letting go of control and making sure your team is still focusing on the right things.
When we started, I used to be able to do everything. I could follow a customer’s order through from start to finish and check everything was absolutely perfect. But now we’ve got hundreds of orders it’s just not possible without compromising other aspects of the business, so I have to trust that our amazing quality guardians are doing it. Plus when you’ve got to do this with very limited resources, you have to be completely sure that you’re focusing on the right things and to be sure you’re investing your time, money and effort in the right areas. Even when you have funding, it’s still tough. Ultimately it’s a question of trust and luckily we have a team here that I have really great faith in.
Q. In one sentence can you sum up your life right now?
It’s like being on a bullet train! Everything is happening at a hundred miles an hour and there is no time to stop. It’s exhilarating; the last year has absolutely flown by. There have been plenty of highs and lows, all the more extreme for it being my own business on the line. But I’ve got a fantastic team behind me, whom I’m really proud of, and together we’re making Swoon Editions bigger and better every week!
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