In June, fueled by a $130m investment, mid-level designer furniture and homewares retailer Vivense opened its UK flagship store – on Borough High Street, Southwark. Already operating through 82 showrooms in Turkey, the Istanbul-based business, founded in 2013 as an online pureplay, is plotting rapid UK and European expansion, reveals the MD of Vivense London, Claudio Deidda …

How did Vivense come about?

Vivense is an inspiring story of entrepreneurship and friendship. One of the first experiences of our founder and CEO Kemal was helping a German incubator fund a company to enter the furniture Turkish market. 

When the company decided to leave Turkey, Kemal believed it was the right time to follow his entrepreneur calling. He decided to look for investment and started his own venture along with longtime friends – Vivense was founded in 2013, and has been growing ever since. 

The name itself comes from the Italian ‘vivente’, which means lively – it was picked for its positive energy and international suitability.

Where does the brand sit in the contemporary interiors marketplace?

Vivense can be identified as a mid-range brand in terms of pricing, although we believe the quality of our products is slightly superior to what we identify to be our direct competition. Our offer sits in between the variety of choice you might find in a marketplace, and the more curated art direction you might find in a classic retailer. 

We want our products to be accessible and tasteful, while also offering enough choice to suit a wider range of customer preferences.

What enabled Vivense to gain such a strong foothold in Turkey?

Turkey has a strong tradition at manufacturing furniture. Over the past eight years, we built relationships and partnerships with a large number of manufacturers, which enabled us to offer customers enough choice for them to consider Vivense a one-stop shop for their household.

Why and how did you approach the UK market?

The UK is one of the biggest markets in Europe, hence a benchmark for any company willing to grow internationally. We see the UK as a challenge and as an opportunity. 

Vivense started as an ecommerce business before adding the showrooms to support the omnichannel experience – we see a very strong affinity between our business proposition and the UK audience. 

What was the biggest challenge of taking your brand international?

I believe for any international brand the challenge is about deploying locally a strategy that has been, very likely, planned globally. Our target is to meet the specific needs of customers locally while keeping the right consistency at a global level. Customer experience, product selection, messaging, logistics … all these elements might have different requirements according to different tastes, cultures etc – but finding that right balance is what makes companies successful internationally. 

For us, having a history of success already means this process will also be about cherrypicking the right excellences to scale fast and quickly assess what needs to be changed in each local market.

Tell us more about the London store – what sets it apart?

We sometimes refer to our first London showroom, in Borough, as a ‘museum’. The space was designed to showcase not only our most representative products, but also our brand values themselves. We only have a limited number of roomsets, but they represent what we call “a good life with Vivense” – spaces that not only look nice and tasteful, but are equally welcoming and functional.

The next showroom opening will be in Richmond. It will be different in style and size, developed over two floors and with a more pronounced retail accent to better accommodate the requirements of the footfall from the area. Still, there will be common elements with our Borough style guides – the showrooms will look like siblings, but not twins.

Give us an idea of the breadth of product you offer …

One of the strongest points of Vivense has historically been our catalogue. We want to leverage this strength in the UK too, offering a wide choice of products ranging from furniture to accessories, through lighting, rugs and outdoors. 

We are planning for about 100 categories to be live on the website – in the next 12 months we plan to have 50,000 items available for sale, before growing from there. Our category management team is thoroughly assessing the most suitable collections for the market, with an eye on also developing some dedicated ranges for the UK.  

Is your product primarily made in Turkey? If so, what are the benefits?

At the moment, the vast majority of our suppliers are based in Turkey, as it was our first market and is still our biggest. The choice of using the same suppliers for international expansion comes from our confidence in their capacity to manufacture at large scale while maintaining quality. 

We have built our relationships for over eight years now, and it is very important for us to work with partners we can trust, so that our customers can trust us. Today, we have around 1000 suppliers, and we are aiming to double that number over the next few years. The initial response in the UK seems to suggest we have made the right choice.

Was the transition from ecommerce to physical retail a difficult one?

Rather than a transition, at Vivense we see physical retail as part of the same omnichannel journey. For some items, a pureplay online proposition might not be the most desired experience – as much as we all love ecommerce, the feeling, touching and smelling cannot happen through a website or an app (yet!). For this reason, our choice is to offer our customers the chance of a more sensorial option should it make them more comfortable with our products and brand.

How does having a physical presence lift your brand above its competitors?

It’s all about the customers. In London we are now offering a free interior design service, combining our expertise in home living with helping our clients choose the most suitable products for their space. We strongly believe in connecting with our audience, and we are not afraid of going – quite literally – the extra mile for them. 

What attracts consumers to Vivense, and what does your typical customer look like?

In a nutshell, the fact our products are accessible, tasteful and functional. We realised some of our bestsellers seemed to have been tailored around the typical London house. As a result, our typical customer ranges from the young professional looking for a fresh, modern style for their flat, to the interior designer falling in love with some of our collections. However, we’ve also had quite a few customers asking our interior designers for bigger house restyling.  

Can you outline your ambitions for the UK?

Our ambition is for the UK to become one of the strongest market for Vivense. We have allocated a significant budget to make it happen, and we are looking for specific investment as we speak. Furthermore, with Vivense transitioning to a global company, we are planning to make London our European headquarters in the coming months. We believe the UK will become our flagship market shortly after. 

How do you plan to market your activities here?

Growth will be our main objective for the next few years, so our activities will be aimed at reaching as many potential customers, and introducing ourselves. At the same time, by being new to the market, we are aware a strong brand awareness exercise will be required for us to better connect with our audience and earn their trust.

How is the brand set to grow in Turkey and elsewhere, and will your international experiences inform what you do in the UK?

In Turkey, we’ve reached a stage where Vivense is looking at more mainstream, offline advertisement, as our online visibility has almost plateaued in the past few months. While it is a nice problem to have, it is also a challenge we are all very excited about.

In general, having already been successful in the past is a great advantage when entering a new market. We can leverage the positive experiences, and learn from the negatives. At the same time, it will be important to have the reasons behind our previous achievements clear in our minds, assess if the same conditions apply elsewhere, and be ready to embrace the challenges new markets (always) put in front of us.

This interview was published in November 2021's Furniture News.