Thanks to a combination of savvy management and global circumstance, boxed sofa brand Swyft has rocketed to prominence since its 2019 launch. The start-up recently reported £2.8m sales in its first 12 months of trading, unveiled a 24-hour delivery service in time for Christmas, and signalled a planned £3m investment in its Portuguese facilities. Intrigued, Furniture News asked co-founder Keiran Hewkin to provide some background to this extraordinary achievement …
How did you come to work in the furniture sector?
After college I worked in a manufacturing plant on the assembly line, making continuous sheets of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) for truck bodies and caravans. I’d planned to do it to earn some money and go travelling before studying archaeology at university, but I fell in love with manufacturing.
I signed up (and quickly dropped out) of an Open University course studying business in favour of launching my first D2C retail business, Summit Clothing. After that, I got into furniture manufacturing, and progressing there is where I had the first idea for a sofa in a box. However, as a result of manufacturing challenges, it was shelved by the board I pitched it to, so I left to pursue it.
How is Swyft structured?
The ownership is split between myself and Paul Fielden, and our investors, Boost & Co. We manufacture our own product in our own factories in Portugal, with key suppliers all over the world for the components that make it up. All our staff currently work remotely, apart from those In the factory, where we have expanded our footprint to give room for a Covid-safe workspace.
How did the pandemic affect Swyft’s launch?
The pandemic has accelerated our plans and forced us to move faster. It’s no secret that there has been a furniture boom with everyone at home, and this is a positive for any new design business. Despite this, we won’t compromise our quality or our delivery promise, and so we won’t start selling our capacity ahead of time. If we can’t make enough and in time, we’ll take that pain, and not our customers.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Running a factory. So much of Swyft’s global supply chain is exactly that – global. As such, it has been a struggle since January for key product components, and then from March the UK had various lockdowns and shutdowns, followed by an almighty boom in demand.
Ultimately, a business is people, and the pandemic has had a huge affect on us all – whether it be changing working locations or family or friends going into isolation. How you care for people now is the measure of your business.
Were there any positives?
It’s easier to deliver first time when everyone’s at home! We have also seen a lift in sofa searches online in general, and the acceleration to online shopping has only increased. Similarly, as our products are designed to be delivered in boxes light enough to be carried by a single customer, we can deliver it with one person if required, so we can really limit exposure to any risk, which is a huge plus during this pandemic.
Are you suffering from material shortages right now?
Not currently, apart from a shortage of finished sofas thanks to the amazing demand! We are careful to have at least two suppliers for each raw material, which helps, and we have really good working relationships with our key suppliers that we’ve built over a number of years.
How is Swyft different to the other emerging sofa-in-a-box brands?
Most importantly, we design and manufacture all our products in-house, with European manufacturing. We have not just purchased products from the Far East and labelled them beautifully!
We are also the first of the emerging sofa-in-a-box brands that has not only gone into a second, completely unique design, but also a third – and we have at least six more unique products in the pipeline.
And how does your marketing approach mirror/diverge from the mattress-in-a-box brands’?
Simply put, they are working on pushing a technical point of difference on a customer – for example, springs versus foam – and always end up competing on price, as they are essentially all selling the same thing. We are working on building a beautiful, aspirational product that also happens to be competitively priced and comes in a box.
Each Swyft sofa is delivered boxed and RTA
What is it about your business model specifically that has enabled it to thrive in these difficult times?
Our lead time. Everyone has been conditioned by Amazon to expect everything tomorrow, and that’s something that is usually not possible in the furniture industry. We are tapping into that expectation and educating the customer that they can have beautiful furniture fast. Five years ago, it would have just meant poor quality, but now customers understand that there is such a thing as fast quality.
How are you planning to evolve the brand’s distribution?
We are planning on partnering with independent furniture stores that love design and quality as much as we do. At this year’s January Furniture Show we were lucky enough to build a massive list of people that want to take the brand on, so we have a lot ot work with (we launched two more in London at the end of November’s lockdown).
But, even when you order a Swyft from a partner in-store, we still dispatch, deliver, and handle any aftercare with the end client, so the Swyft experience stays the same.
Read more from Keiran in January 2021's issue of Furniture News, coming soon.