Our interview with the founder of new British-made furniture brand Happy Sofa
This year we are planning to feature a more diverse range of British brands and manufacturers on the site, other than just clothing and textiles, because there are so many great British made products out there spanning manydifferent industries.
To kick this off we are featuring a fantastic new online furniture retailer called Happy Sofa. When founder Shaun Owen sent me an email about his new company, the one thing that really stood out for me was how different his online store was from other furniture retailers. Browsing his website of customisable sofas really does make you happy! And what makes me even happier is that all of it is made in Britain.
So I caught up with Shaun to find out what inspired him to start the business and how he was finding working with UK manufacturers.
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and why you set up Happy Sofa?
I’ve come into the world of furniture from a fairly unorthodox route to be honest. My CV has a bit of everything on it- barman, builder, journalist, and I was in a band for the best part of 10 years!
Doing all these exciting and different jobs taught me a bit about everything that I’m putting in to practice today- good customer service, clear and transparent communication, eye for detail and creativity.
I went back to University at the age of 27 and after I graduated I worked in the marketing department for a national furniture retailer. A large part of my job was researching our competition, checking out what products they have, how much they sell it for and where they get it from. To be fair, the products stocked by the company I worked for were 80% British, but I realised that many of their competitors were importing vast amounts of their stock from Eastern Europe and the Far East. It’s impossible to argue against the economics of doing that if somebody is shipping in dozens of containers a week full of stock ready to be put on a showroom floor, it’s obviously going to be cheaper than buying British. However, it is only cheaper if it’s sold, and it rarely is- these furniture giants hold an incredible amount of stock, and that’s what customers are really paying for.
I figured if we could start a business where we only build what’s requested we could radically reduce the price of what people would expect to pay. Our customers pay for their sofa, nothing else- they don’t pay for the containers that are landing from overseas, or the warehouse full of products that haven’t found a buyer. It’s a simple business really and one that works well because we don’t have the huge unnecessary overheads that other companies in our industry have. It’s a very exciting time in this sector right now, people are really starting to come up with alternatives to the mainstream and are producing some lovely products- it’s just a shame that many of them aren’t using British manufacturers.
How would you describe the products that you make?
I genuinely believe that our sofas are the best out there at our price point. We offer a huge range of options to our customers, so they can design their perfect sofa. They can choose the shape, colour, fabric and size and see exactly how it will look before they order it. I love every one of them and the design and development team have done an amazing job creating them. I don’t think our sofas are genre specific – we’ve got classic looking sofas that appeal to some customers and contemporary sofas that suit the lifestyle of others. It sounds a bit cliché but they are all built with an incredible attention to detail and a lot of love.
In which part of Britain are you based?
Happy Sofa spans across all of England. We have an office in London, an office in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, and our manufacturing and distribution centre is in the North West.
Why did you decide to manufacture in Britain?
Because there was no good reason not to. We trust and admire the work of British designers and furniture makers. We felt if we were to build a sustainable business that we have as much control over as possible, and one where we can continue to grow and develop, it was the only way to do it.
Who makes your products?
We have a fabulous development team in the North West who have been making quality furniture for decades.
Where do you source your raw materials from?
All of our raw materials are sourced from UK British companies. The head of our design team spends many months visiting suppliers across the country so we could offer the very best fabrics to our customers.
What has been the hardest part of getting your sofas made in Britain?
I wouldn’t say there has been anything that hard, largely because we’ve never even considered an alternative. We trust our team to deliver the very best for our customers, and that’s what they continue to do.
And what has been the best part?
There are three things that have given me great enjoyment above everything else. The first was when I saw the sofas in the flesh for the first time and sat and had a cuppa on one.
The second was when the website went live – it was so nerve racking, like sending your kid off for their first day of school.
Finally, getting that first order- that was a moment that will stay with me for a very long time. It kind of justified what we were doing and showed me that the market that we hoped would be there, was indeed there. I still get a huge buzz every time an order is placed because I know that we’re going to make somebody a happier person.