Tell us about the Hayche story.
It was started in 2014 by Alejandro Villarreal, a Mexican-born architect who came to the UK to study at the Royal College of Art. Hayche supports interior designers, architects, FF&E, hotels and restaurants with unique contract furniture, in the UK and around the world.
Why did you decide to join Hayche?
After working at M&S for five years, I really missed the start-up environment. At Habitat I was working in an office of 200 people, at Made there were less than 50 during my time and then at M&S there were 3000.
Working in a start-up gives you a perspective on life and business that’s difficult if not impossible to step back from. At Made we could brainstorm an idea and get it on the website within a day or two, at M&S things would take a year and often not happen. After meeting Alejandro and seeing his sketchbook full of designs and discussing his ambition for the brand, it felt like the ideal move as it would allow me to combine my startup experience with my furniture knowledge and take on my first managing director role.
What’s in store for Hayche in 2019?
We have just opened our first showroom in Clerkenwell on Great Sutton Street. We are working on projects with the people we met during Decorex and 100% Design, while also starting work on new product developments for 2019.
Meeting new customers at the trade fair has been great as we have taken on new business, but we have also learnt more about the kind of products and requirements they are looking for, which is informing our new designs and strategy for the future.
“I am a big believer in less is more.”
What’s your view on the state of the furniture sector in retail today?
It is a tricky time for the market. We are not affected by the recent high street closures of many big names as we focus on the contract market, but the number of new hotel and restaurant projects in the UK has dipped recently. We receive a lot of customer requests from outside of the UK, with the US being a big part of our customer base, which is helping us maintain our targets.
How is Hayche addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?
One of the first things I did when joining Hayche was to discontinue a number of products. I am a big believer in less is more. Too much choice overwhelms the customer and is hard for a small brand to manage.
By keeping our range tight, we can offer our customers a better and personal service, better pricing, higher quality and shorter delivery times which I think will help give us an edge, and steer us away from price battles, which can be a race to the bottom
What would you say is the biggest risk for the UK retail sector, given the current climate?
Brexit is a huge concern. If a path was decided then we could react accordingly, but because it is so unknown we are having to prepare a number of contingounses rather than focusing on just one solution.
All of our product is made in Europe and the euro rate is not helping us. Also, we work primarily with a family-run factory in Portugal whose quality level is incredible. Brexit could have an impact on that relationship depending on duties and taxes that may come in to place.
Describe your role and responsibilities as managing director of Hayche.
We are currently a small team so each of us are wearing lots of different hats. When I joined the first thing I felt was required was a rebranding, we were previously “H Furniture” but we found that it is a difficult term to score highly on Google with, so after much debate, we became “Hayche.com” and I built our new website.
We have been focusing on the strategy and direction of the brand, and I am using my product development and marketing skills to support the team in meeting our goals.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Hayche.
I have always worked in furniture. I spent eight years at Habitat, before joining Made and moving to China to maintain the momentum needed in product development that was required to support the growth the brand was experiencing. I moved back to the UK in 2012 to join M&S and after a five-year career there, I joined Hayche.
“Brexit is a huge concern.”
I started out my carrier supporting the Habitat design team with renderings and technical drawings, before becoming a furniture technician, then a product developer, and then a buyer. My career has given me the experience and knowledge to take a sketch all the way to mass production, and my personal interest in ecommerce has given me the ability to build the website and grow the social media following that will aid selling it.
What got you into retail in the first place?
My degree (Industrial Design – Brunel) involved spending a year in the industry. I was fortunate that Habitat was one of the companies my university had a history with, and after spending a year with them, I went back after I graduated. Furniture had not been something I had considered but when I started doing it, I really enjoyed it and found I had a passion for it. It seems to be an industry that people stay in, and it is a surprisingly small industry in many ways – everyone knows everyone else.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
As I have worked at small, medium and large furniture companies, it has given me a rounded view of the possibilities and opportunities in front of us. Being part of the Made team early on has given me an inside view of how a successful startup functions, and given me a strong set of guidelines to help replicate that success for Hayche.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Brand awareness. We have a great and high quality product, but trade shows and marketing are expensive and it can take time to break through. We launched the Colour Series Armchair during Clerkenwell Design Week this year, which exploded on Instagram and grew our audience by nearly 10,000 people.
During our recent participation of 100% Design, most visitors to our stand said that they had become aware of us via Instagram, which is a platform that is helping us find a new audience. A next big step for the brand is to gain funding.
Currently the business is funded by our founder, and we need to take on additional investment to support us taking the business to the next level.
And the most rewarding?
Getting the keys to our showroom on October 1 and moving in felt like a huge milestone. We are in the process of printing off photos to put in picture frames to hang in the showroom, that capture products in situ in customers homes and restaurant and hotel projects. Each new picture we hang up gives the team and I a huge sense of achievement, and acts as a historical document of all the customers we have made happy.