Q&A: Keiran Hewkin, co-founder of Swyft Home
Founded by in December 2019, Swyft Home was launched as a high quality sofa-in-a-box retailer that offers 24-hour delivery and a 100-day trial period.
In its first year of trading, the company brought in £2.8 million in revenue and is on track to hit between £15 million to £17 million worth of sales in 2021.
Here we interview co-founder Keiran Hewkin on how and why he set up the business up and how he plans to develop it in the future.
What were you doing prior to Swyft?
I started off by making bespoke furniture on a project basis for interior designers. This included making one-off pieces and providing a fit-out service. All was going well until the business took a big hit when Covid-19 struck, and lockdown restrictions were introduced. Much of the site work was in people’s homes and the projects were very large with teams of joiners being on site for weeks at a time. At that point it just wasn’t workable. Prior to that, I worked in senior positions at Lombok and The Sofa & Chair Company.
Why did you set up Swyft?
We established the business just before the pandemic as we thought there was a gap in the market for retailers that could deliver high quality sofas very quickly to customers. We thought about it for a long time before taking the plunge as we had to learn how to make it work when manufacturing the furniture ourselves. We also realised that we needed a manufacturer close to home that could deliver our sofas to a warehouse with a very short lead time.
How have you developed the business?
It’s taken a great deal of hard work to get to where we are today. Since launching with one or two sofas, we now have four core products and, in a few weeks, will be introducing footstools.
In addition, we’ve teamed up with John Lewis and now have our sofas displayed in its department stores. We approached the retailer ourselves as we felt it was important that customers could test our furniture out at a place convenient to them. It’s also vital that the retailer we work with can provide the right customer experience and offer impartial advice about our products.
We also have a presence in some independent stores in places like Sheffield, Edinburgh and Glasgow. With quality, high ticket price items, the customer experience must be just right to do the products justice. We’re not looking to be a brand that can be found everywhere but aspire to being one that customers stay loyal to once they’ve found us. Quality furniture sales often have a very long, technical purchase journey and people want to feel like they’re being carried through that process.
How do you engage with customers on the purchase journey?
We engage with them throughout every stage and also after they’ve purchased from us. This is done through marketing communications, emails and a weekly blog that customers keep coming back to. We also try to collaborate with like-minded brands in our space, for example paint producers.
Once a customer orders a swatch from us, we take them through a set of an in-depth communications. We want them to get exactly the right sofa for their needs. We’d rather they didn’t buy a sofa at all if it isn’t right for them. If they’re currently in the middle of a house move, it’s probably a very stressful time, so we want to make our process as transparent, smooth and engaging as possible.
Looking ahead to the outcome of COP26, what are you doing about sustainability?
Yes, sustainability is important to us, particularly as our customers are fairly young and share our values. We’ve designed our products to be as kind to the environment as possible while making sure they look and feel good, although there’s a limit to what you can do at our price point as there are so many regulations to abide by in the furniture sector.
We use FSC certified timber, plant more trees than we use, use biodegradable plastic and boxes made from 100% recyclable materials. In addition, we build our sofas to last, so that’s good for the environment too. We also build here in Europe so we’re not transporting goods all around the world.
Many furniture retailers increased their sales during Covid-19 lockdowns due to people upgrading their furniture while stuck at home. How did the pandemic affect Swyft?
We’re not in a position to cope with a huge surge in orders as we’re still small and can only make a certain number of products at any one time. However, our factory has grown massively during the pandemic, which has helped us to grow. But we couldn’t translate that into more money, that’s not where we’re at. We’ve also had the challenges of the supply chain and keeping our people safe during Covid-19. Giving good customer care and doing what we say we’re going to do was important to us before Covid and still is now.
What are your short to medium term plans?
Looking ahead, we want to bring out a range of accessories and another sofa, but we’re also considering introducing other furniture pieces. It’s really important that we focus on our home market, meet customers’ needs and continue to be successful as our offering grows.
We’re really maturing in our own space although we’ve still got a long way to go. We launched a TV campaign back in September, which looked to position us as the go-to retailer for high quality sofas that can be delivered quickly. We want to give customers the best possible experience, so they won’t consider going anywhere else. We’re not necessarily interested in being the most successful sofa retailer but want to be the best.
Communication is key when dealing with customers, especially if there are any unforeseen problems. Like any other retailer, some of our main difficulties currently include delivery staff shortages and motorways being shut due to protesters.
As soon as we discover a problem, we get on the phone to our customers to let them know that we’re working as hard as possible to get it resolved. In our sector, it’s as much about logistics as the product. And of course, we take away the product if people don’t like it as customer satisfaction means everything to us.
How do you invest in innovation and how has it helped the business?
We invest quite heavily in technology although the way we operate online is pretty old school with all the products being accompanied by a real photo. But when we do come up with something different, we make sure it makes a massive difference for our customers and to us as a business. For example, we’ve invested in AR to enable customers to see their chosen furniture in any size or any colour online. We’ve since found that people who use the function are more likely to go on to make a purchase and less likely to return it.
What are your long-term ambitions?
We just want to make Swyft Home the success it deserves to be and to make our products special. That’s why we steer away from things we know we couldn’t do well or things that wouldn’t add value for our customers. We don’t want to lose the great start we’ve made in the last year so it’s now all about proving the concept and capitalising on that. Our team of 130 has worked hard for this and deserve it.
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