INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects

Kevyn Robins is Head of Marketing at The Sofa & Chair Company, one of the UK's leading manufacturers of luxury upholstered furniture. As sponsor of the inaugural World Interiors News Awards Dinner at the Saatchi Gallery in London this November, the company will be unveiling its new SS14 furniture range at the event.

The furniture is produced at the company's West London workshop - home to its furniture design team, its craftsmen, its upmarket showroom and what is believed to be the UK's largest fabric library. Clients range from interior designers and developers to private individuals.

Kevyn spoke to us about his new role, and some of the exciting new plans in store for The Sofa and Chair Company...

When did you join The Sofa & Chair Company as Head of Marketing?

I've been here for a little over six months now.

What made you want to join?

The opportunity for unleashing potential. The brand has the ability and the quality of product to become a serious contender within interiors.

And what had you been doing before that? Is your background in marketing or design, or a bit of both?

My background was historically marketing within big household name and luxury fashion brands, creating a lot of digital initiatives and brand development. These are great principles for our business here as our products are an extension of lifestyle and people's tastes, much like what they choose to wear.

For you, what's the most satisfying thing about working for The Sofa & Chair Company?

Making a recognised difference, I have a great team and we are developing fast.

What do you mean by a recognised difference?

The marketing function is a new venture for the Sofa and Chair Company. Traditionally they sold off the back of having a good product and then selling it to interior designers and trade. Really the direct-to-customer and retail side of the business has so much scope for potential and it's quickly catching up with the trade side.

So, there's a real recognised difference between the branding work that we've done, taking it from very basic image principles and a very basic communication element to the market, to something we're really proud of. We've now got great lifestyle imagery and photography, full campaign shoots, seasonal projects for the collection, so we're really giving it an infrastructure and a platform for growth.

In the past we've drip-fed products out as and when we wanted and needed to, but now we're creating that actual commercial cycle and retail structure that we've not had before, and that has a huge impact and benefit to the business. It's a really good place to be in.

In general terms of style and quality, what do you think makes your products desirable?

We source and research incredibly well, our product fabric selections are second to none and thanks to the build quality and output from our CAD and production teams, we are in an envious position of rapid turnaround.

Going back to the fabric library for a moment, it's absolutely huge - very, very extensive. There are walls and walls and walls of it and we stock from all the big suppliers. I think it's one of the reasons we do so well with our trade clients. We have the biggest collection, there's nothing we don't grade by colour and so on.

When you say 'rapid turnaround', what sort of timescales are we talking?

Basically we have three offerings: our stock collection, standard bespoke and complete bespoke. Delivery is immediate on a stock item. A standard bespoke item will come from the collection, but the client might want it larger, deeper, wider, or in a different fabric. This will take about four weeks.

Then we've got complete bespoke where because the business has been set up in such a way that we design like nobody else, concept to delivery takes just four to six weeks. Our competitors usually take about 21 weeks.

So what's the special design set up that you're referring to?

We have the full CAD team in-house. So, you could literally sketch an idea on the back of a cigarette packet - a very rough, crude drawing - and from that we can create a full 3D version of a CAD model so you can fine-tune it to exactly how you want it. Once you're happy, we create a scaled line drawing, then turn that into a full 3D CAD model which is printed onto massive sheets that the templates are cut from. From these the frames are produced - everything is cut by hand, there's no machinery. We use hardwood timbers that are kiln-dried and guaranteed for 15 years. The upholstery team takes over from there.

As I said, all this takes between four to six weeks. We can be very reactive to and responsive to any emergency situation a client may have.

On a personal level, you say on your blog that you particularly like the Chesterfield sofa? Why is that, and are there any other Sofa & Chair Company pieces you've come to love as much?

I'm a fan of reinventing classics and heritage brands. Despite working in London I live in the countryside and like modern twists on recognised items. We have many things here I like, our new ranges of art and soft furnishings are amazing.

Back to work, what project(s) are you currently working on?

Our new website is the major one, it's utilising a lot of new technology and looks fantastic. It will take viewers through the full bespoking journey in a really good way - it's very intuitive. You can select your fabric, your fabric studs, your wood, then the site will summarise everything in a 3D rotating CAD model. It's a very rich experience, a fully submerging environment to shop from, which is going to be good. We hope to launch the new website in Spring 2014.

When was The Sofa & Chair Company first established? What do you think has made it so successful since? It was established a decade or so ago by a single person and has grown to a really good-sized business. There are now about 120 of us and we're continuing to recruit. The people have made it what it is and the product is perfectly placed and well made, all the elements are there.

Where do you see the company going in the near to medium future?

Next year we'll be upgrading over the road from our current 10,000 sq ft showroom to a 40,000 sq ft showroom over two floors. There are also international aspirations and product development, so it's an exciting time to be here.

We've got a great target in mind for the next five years and we've just appointed David Miller from Harrods, who has been drafted in to see how we get to that target. A massive part of that is going to involve international expansion, so we'll be looking into India and China, contract markets - David's putting together a business plan for it all at the moment.

It's definitely going to happen, but what shape it's going to take is still too early to say. I can say that for the next 12 months we'll be focussing on our UK expansion, and broadening our client base outside of London where the majority of clients currently come from.

Looking at furniture design in the UK, what new trends are emerging?

I can only speak from where we are headed as other companies try to pioneer other concepts. All I will say is that the new SS14 collection that we will be previewing at the World Interior News Awards is something we are very proud of.

Talking of the WIN Awards, what made you decide to sponsor?

It's all part of the next phase of our brand and awareness development. We believe we are ideally suited to support the types of businesses involved in the awards and want to showcase who we are and what we do. We are proud to be involved.

Can you tell us anything about the chairs you'll be showcasing in the gallery used for the Cocktail Reception that night, or is it a top secret surprise?

You can wait and see!


Gail Tailor