Unlike some, Co-Founders Jack Teoh and Steve Davis want to satisfy their customers online and in-store with their furniture retail start-up, Sofia.
As delivery companies tool up for the challenges presented by e-commerce fulfilment, the problem of handling large, bulky items has become more of a focus.
Ever since John Winning proved that these kinds of goods could be sold online, as well as foster a profitable nation-wide business in the form of Appliances Online, other companies have sought to achieve similar successes. Interestingly, it hasn’t been the big, brick and mortar chains that have accomplished this – instead, it’s the agile start-ups.
So there’s little wonder that many online retail start-ups are tackling the challenges of awkward deliveries head first by moving into furniture and homewards categories.
And that’s exactly what entrepreneurs Jack Teoh and Steve Davis decided they wanted to do with Sofia. Unlike some other start-ups, however, the pair wanted their business to have an unwavering focus on delivering affordable products, without making their customers jump through hoops to get it.
While their site was only launched a little over a week ago, they’re already seeing plenty of interest and have even taken on $1 million in venture capital funding. Power Retail gained an interview with Teoh to find out some more details about the fresh approach to furniture that this team has taken.
Specialty Product: Affordable furniture, designed and manufactured in-house
Web Development: In-house
Point of Difference: Omnichannel attitude, right from the start
How did the idea for Sofia come about?
Sofia came about when I was looking for a sofa for my parents’ granny flat (aka: my room) and I was about to spend $3000 until I realised a friend of mine actually manufactured the exact same sofa (he manufactures for Domayne) and he was willing to sell me one for $400, a fraction of the price I was about to pay.
I thought it was crazy how much markup there must be on these items, and so I discussed the issue with my manufacturer friend. As it turns out, every middleman in the furniture supply chain (which includes agents, traders, importers, wholesalers, etc.) make a significant margin as they move the product along. The practices is widely accepted, but it got me thinking about starting a business that removed some of these expensive links in the chain.
We decided it was time to shake up the industry a little by offering affordable designer furniture direct from the factory to the consumer. That way we skip the middlemen, salespeople and expensive rents and offer our customers amazing savings.
What was involved in taking the idea from concept to market?
In bringing Sofia to life, we faced several challenges. These mostly centred around product design and manufacture, as the process is iterative and usually involves having many samples made, with each one taking up to three months to complete. We also wanted to ensure we used responsible sourced wood materials for our sofa frames, and this made it even harder to find a suitable supplier.
In contrast, web development wasn’t as much of an issue, as we work alongside other start-ups in an incubator environment. We’re rubbing shoulders with the guys from Oscar Wylee and Jekkle on a daily basis, so we all collaborate in order to easily spin up websites.
Can you tell me more about your proposed showroom space?
Sofia was developed with omnichannel in mind from the very start. As such, we have been working towards announcing a physical showroom for our customers to be able to physically visit, touch and try our products.
We have been quite lucky, really. The showroom we have acquired is being supplied at below market rental price by our investors. We’re currently collaborating with an amazing architect who does artwork for Vivid Sydney. It’s due to officially open in around three weeks.
How would you describe your point of difference to interested consumers?
I think we are a breath of fresh air in the furniture industry. We sell designer quality product at unbelievable prices – up to 70 percent off what our competitiors sell it for. Over 90 percent of our product is priced below $1000 and we only use top grade leathers and fabrics.
Our showroom will feature NFC technology that allows our customers to swipe their mobile devices over the product and instantly receive product information and order it then and there if they like what they see. We’ve been truly inspired by showrooms like 10 Corso Como in Milan that have really redefined the way people shop.
We also emphasis the hard work of our small design team, who work really hard to provide unique and beautiful designs for our customers to enjoy.
How are you handling deliveries and returns at this early stage?
Delivery is limited to Sydney only at the moment. We plan to sell to other metropolitan areas very soon but the only way for us to sell at super competitive rates is to focus on a core market.
Economies of scale are definitely the best way to manage shipping. Once we have scale we’ll definitely be able to have more flexibility in our shipping options.
What does your marketing mix currently look like and how will this develop over the next 12 months?
We’d really like to focus on growth hacking. That’s what start-ups are all about. So SEO, social media – avenues like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest are great ways to communicate with potential customers. We also intend to mix in other forms of traditional marketing like billboards, radio and newspaper in the very near future.