Welcome to our series of articles on retailers that are operating in ways that provide some interesting and valuable lessons to the wider industry.
Location: Showroom in Tottenham Court Road, London
In a nutshell: Honestly, you wait for decades for innovations in the furniture industry and then several come along at once. Furniture manufacturer Lombok is about to launch its Swyft service (aka sofa in a box) but it’s the incredible sounding 7-day delivery promise that we are honing in on today.
Director of Lombok, Keiran Hewkin told Retail Insider more about why he thinks the current lead in times are hopelessly outdated and why his new initiatives could revolutionise the way consumers think about and shop for their furniture.
Lombok has been in its flagship showroom store on the famously design-focused Tottenham Court Road for around eight years now and in that time much has changed on the High Street. People go to shops and then browse online to finally make the purchase, instant gratification is pretty much expected and customisation is king.
Hewkin has made his own changes to Lombok in the two years since he joined with a commercial background in upholstery and the production of bespoke high-end furniture. One of them is an enhanced focus on upholstery (comprising beds, sofas and chairs) at the company.
This previously accounted for 5% of business, it is now 45%, but Hewkin wanted to further refine the offer so he set out to drill down to see how the customer data stacked up. “What we realised was that items typically sold three times faster if they were immediately available,” he explains, “so we designed a new supply chain”.
The company looked at expectations around delivery times and realised that generally even if an item is in stock and ready to be shipped customers still fully expect to wait five-10 days for it to actually arrive in their home.
“Considering it probably only takes 24 full labour hours to make a sofa that is a lot of wastage,” claims Hewkin, “we knew we could use that”. And so the strapline ‘Your style, your way in 7 days’ was born.
It’s fair to say that when he first mooted the idea there was a lot of negativity. “Everyone said it was mad. They said no-one wants or needs their furniture that quickly.” But Hewkin’s point is that the high street as currently configured means people don’t have the buzz of purchase with furniture.
The exciting experience of the purchase is totally disconnected with the experience of receiving the goods. “By the time it arrives three months later the buzz has gone, they’ve fallen out of love with it, they’ve forgotten what they liked about it in the first place.”
Clearly Lombok’s supply chain has had to be redesigned to allow this service to function. Its main factory doing bespoke models is in Portugal – obviously too far away. So operations shifted to its Croydon head office, warehouse and delivery fleet base.
“Basically we are making these items right next to our vans,” says Hewkin. There are eight models in the scheme ranging from sofas to chairs and one bed, each one can be made with 35 different fabrics and two different wood finishes.
But surely Lombok has added a hefty price tag on to the express service? “There is no premium but they will never be discounted”. Another thing that will never happen is over-selling as the offer is unsurprisingly not infinitely scaleable. According to Hewkin the capacity for the 7-day service is 40 pieces a week. “There is an automatic switch off on the site after that, neither staff nor customers will be able to order a 41st.”
In Hewkin’s opinion, stores showcasing products will always be relevant and are important to make the exciting connection between sitting on a sofa and imagining it in the home although he rails against the “immoral and anti-competitive” system of upwards only rent reviews which make it “almost impossible” to be profitable on the high street and constantly tip the scales away from bricks and mortar retailers.
Success for the 7-day delivery offer for Lombok will be a tripling of upholstery volumes but will depend on educating the customer that this can be done with customised and bespoke furniture.
“There are lots of traditional thoughts processes in this industry. It seems immune to trends but I do believe this is a game-changer. And if we in the furniture business don’t do this for ourselves then someone like an Amazon will come and do it for us,” he says.