Since opening its first U.S. location in NYC in April of 2012, UK-based furniture retailer Sofa.com has proven to be a hit with designers and consumers alike.
In addition to opening a new, innovative showroom in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the company has launched a range of exclusive fabrics in collaboration with New York designer Zak+Fox—the first American arm of the Design Lab initiative, which started in the UK in 2011 with the aim of championing up-and-coming British design talent.
Isla sofa shown in Little River by Zak+Fox
According to Sofa.com’s co-founder Rohan Blacker, the company philosophy is simple: Great-looking, well-made sofas and armchairs served up with exceptional customer service and a no-questions-asked refund policy.
Editor at Large spoke with Blacker about the company’s philosophy and why it is making such a splash in the US market.
EAL: Can we consider Sofa.com the "Warby Parker" of the interior design world?
RB: That’s a great compliment. It is a great brand—with both integrity and design credentials—that offers something very special at realistic prices. Also the founders of the company don’t take themselves too seriously and clearly enjoy the process. On that basis, it’s a yes.
EAL: What percentage of business is done online vs. in stores?
RB: In the US 70% of those who buy have been to our showroom. That said, many who have been to our store will then buy from home later online.
EAL: What is the US strategy vs. the UK strategy—are they different? How so?
RB: The strategies are largely similar, though more Americans want to see before they buy, so it is likely that as we expand nationally we will need to add more showrooms in the big cities.
EAL: What is the top seller?
RB: The Bluebell—our take on a classic nineteenth century English design.
Sofa.com's Bluebell sofa
EAL: What is the biggest challenge with selling online? How have you answered that?
RB: When selling big-ticket items online you have got to create an immediate bond and trust with the customer. They need to feel confident that they are dealing with decent people, who know exactly what they are talking about, and when they say something is comfortable or well made—it is.
There are masses of companies online that puff themselves up, undeservedly, and they tend to be quite easy to see through. We offer a 100% no quibble guarantee, which is very rare in our industry. Meaning that wherever you are, whatever you have bought, for whatever reason you want, you can return your sofa at no cost to yourself whatsoever. That is total insurance against a bad decision. 100% risk free.
We have also invested heavily in our website to make it super easy and practical to shop, with great inspirational photography. In addition, we send out hundreds of “comfy packs,” packed with swatches and info cards about all the sofas.
EAL: Being an online company, are you attracting a younger demographic? What is the target demographic?
RB: Our target demographic is the “upper mainstream” of 30-45 year olds. Being online is pretty much ubiquitous these days, so the young thing is less relevant.
EAL: Are there any exciting new marketing initiatives coming down the pipeline?
RB: Later this year we'll have a new collection by British artist and printmaker Cameron Short, as well as revealing the final stage for our Emerging Design Competition winners—three new fabrics by students from some of the UK's leading design colleges.
Sofa.com's New York showroom
Sofa.com’s newest showroom is at 139 Fifth Avenue between E.20th and E.21st in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.