Spotlight on Loaf
Today I have the founder of Loaf on the Green Sofa, talking about his journey to creating a company worth nearly £100 million, the important bits to get right, when to grow and the idea and concept behind the brand and how that has been maintained as the business has grown.
So, get the kettle on and join me to find out more about this journey.
Brit-brand Loaf makes laid-back furniture for people to kick-off their shoes and lead happier, more relaxed lives. The homeware brand has made it their mission to encourage people to enjoy their homes more.
Having lost a whole Saturday trying to buy a bed, founder Charlie Marshall saw an opportunity to make the shopping experience as quick and hassle-free as possible. So two years, 187 mattress and bed factories later, Loaf was born. The predominantly online store launched with a select range of 12 beautifully made beds and just one perfect mattress. Today they cover the entire home. While most were waiting for the financial markets to improve, entrepreneur Marshall saw the downturn as the ideal time to launch a business. He attributes Loaf’s success to responding to consumers’ demand for characterful, handmade and affordable furniture. The fuss-free formula worked and having covered the bedroom they launched sofas in 2012 - now making up a significant part of the business.
Loaf’s ethos is to make the customer experience as easy as possible: delivering at a convenient time, installing the new piece of furniture and taking away the packaging.
The comfy sofas and upholstered beds are hand-produced in Long Eaton, Derbyshire - the heart of British upholstery making. And the mattresses are handmade in Wiltshire. Loaf’s makers are chosen for offering the best quality and craftsmanship available and they’re mostly family-run companies.
Charlie describes Loaf as: “the most up-tight, laid-back company there is”. The Loafers (aka employees) share an uncompromising attention to detail and have the cushioning of an open, friendly and creative environment where people can be themselves.
The ever-growing team is now 100+ strong and Loaf is on track to grow into a £100m business over the next few years. To achieve Marshall’s expansion goals, Loaf’s first retail destination called the ‘Loaf Shack’ opened in October 2015 in London’s Battersea running alongside the online offering. Their second Shack opened its doors in July 2016 in Notting Hill and the third opened in June 2017 in Spitalfields. Further physical retail spaces are planned for 2018, with Guildford opening early in the year and with more showrooms across the UK to follow.
You can shop the Loaf Website here.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
Having lost a whole Saturday trying to buy a bed, I decided to make the shopping experience as hassle free as possible. So, two years, 187 mattress factories and some seriously comfy beds later, Loaf (Loaf.com) was born. I think too much choice can be really stressful, especially with shopping so the idea is that we’ve done all of the testing so that the customer doesn’t have to. Customers can come and loaf around on our beds and sofas and see the products up close in our London Shacks if they want to.
We’ve become a one-stop shop meaning that customers can now ‘Loaf’ all their home. Since launching and originally being the specialist for beds, we introduced sofa and bedroomy furniture in 2012 and now we cover all rooms of the home including bedroom, living, kitchen, bathroom, hallway, home office and kids.
2. How did you fund your business?
Before Loaf, at the age of 24 I set up Primal Soup in the late-nineties with a business partner. The food manufacturing company became the UK’s number one premium fresh soup producer for the likes of Pret a Manger, Pizza Express, Caffe Nero, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Eurostar, Compass Group, Sodexho, Avenance and All Bar One. This was the investment I put in to start Loaf.
3. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
It’s a really difficult business we’re in: if one thing goes wrong then everything goes wrong. It’s challenging and it’s particularly tricky getting a piece of furniture made in a natural material in various parts of the world, getting those items made again and again in the same way in the right quantity, in the right colour and shipped, stored and distributed. Then there’s delivering to a customer’s house without scuffing their floors. All for the right price. That’s challenging but we get it right 99% of the time and that’s very fulfilling.
4. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
5. What have you learnt?
I’ve made lots of mistakes but at the time I thought I was doing the right thing. I tried to push the business forward when we didn’t have the right people on board yet. I’ve learnt to invest in people before we’ve needed them and also to hire people better than myself. Most importantly, despite our growth, we’ve kept the small business “treating customers as friends” mentality.
6. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
“Reduce, reduce, reduce!”: essentially to keep a concept simple and then work out how to achieve your goal.
7. And what do you enjoy the most?
It’s always the final moment after our new designs have been photographed and are showcased on the website and in the brochure. I love seeing our hard work all come together.
8. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
10! If it were any less then I wouldn't think I was pushing myself or the business hard enough.
Nicola Says "Loaf is a very successful company, looking to grow to £100 million turnover in its current expansion, so there is a lot we can learn from the journey. I'm interested in a few key points; the focus absolutely on keeping the business simple and true to plan, putting the customer at the heart of the company and the culture that has been created, one of openness, where employees are valued. If you can cast you mind back to my first post on what you need to learn when starting up a business, I mentioned the importance of having a plan and sticking to it, sticking to what you are good at, what people understand about your brand and keeping it as simple as possible, but most importantly how important people are to a business. We hear about how not having the right people can slow down progress but how having the right business culture can really help. It's always about PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE, oh and a fabulous product with a real market need.
The Girl with the Green Sofa