Tell me a bit about the Hone story.
In the summer of 2018, my co-founder and I had the idea of a home furnishings platform that would enable you to: 1) search quickly across all retailers; 2) create wish lists in one place; 3) view a virtual shop window catered to your taste and budget; and 4) make collaborative decisions easily. We developed our idea by speaking to potential users, launching a survey and chatting to shoppers outside Heal’s and Habitat on Tottenham Court Road in London.
We launched www.honestore.co.uk at the end of 2018 and have signed up over 140 retail partners, grown our customer base and continue to refine the furniture shopping experience for our customers. It’s been quite an intense year.
What gap in the UK retail market does Hone strive to address?
When furnishing my own home, I faced overwhelming choice, decision-making fatigue, and no effective way to find the item I was visualising – whether trying to source an “unshoppable” Pinterest, Instagram image or fulfil very specific criteria for my home.
For example, when looking for narrow white beside tables for my tiny guest room, I found myself searching several retailer websites, saving my findings in an iPhone note or email to make the decision later.
“Using our site, they can effectively navigate a broad spectrum of retailers from high street favourites”
Many furniture decisions were made jointly with my husband so we found ourselves spending evenings and weekends choosing furnishings on the computer or iPad together as well as WhatsApping and emailing one another countless links.
I found many others shared these pain points, so there was a clear gap in the market.
How is Hone’s business model different to other home interiors retailers?
We make money from our retail partners via commission on sales that we bring them and subscriptions. We do not handle transactions or inventory ourselves but partner with retailers who do.
Our mission is to is help our customers find their unique home style within their budget – using our site, they can effectively navigate a broad spectrum of retailers from high street favourites, high-end design stores, small boutiques, online-only specialists and value stores and find shoppable inspiration from interior designers.
What’s in store for Hone for 2020?
Scaling our business. 2019 was an intense year during which we experienced rapid growth and I personally left my career on the trading floor to focus on Hone full time. We are currently finalising our first external funding round which will allow us hire a small team and push forward on product development and customer acquisition.
How is Hone addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?
The home furnishings sector is highly fragmented, often operating on low margins and struggling to maintain bricks-and-mortar visibility. In an increasingly online-first customer journey, Hone is an additional online channel for retailers. We provide our customers with a smart shop window, style inspiration and an opportunity to discover a broader range of retailers. Furthermore, we provide ecommerce support for smaller boutiques.
“The home furnishings sector is highly fragmented, often operating on low margins and struggling to maintain bricks-and-mortar visibility”
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?
While Brexit will make many supply chains more complicated, the biggest challenge still is adjusting to an increasingly online landscape.
Home furnishings and furniture retailers have had to revisit their cost base and business model originally designed for an offline-first customer journey. The next generation of home renters and buyers are more comfortable with buying even big-ticket furniture items online and I see furniture following the wave that we saw in fashion.
We have also seen this play out among the major UK department stores, in my opinion. There is a divergence between those who created a fantastic online user experience to complement their physical stores and those who left it late.
Describe your role and responsibilities at Hone.
As co-founder and creative director, I direct our content for the inspiration section of Hone’s website liaising with the interior designers and retailers with whom I have built relationships. I handle our customer newsletters, PR and social media and have also been leading on fundraising and our business plan. I regularly speak to our users in order to work with my co-founder (who is the technology lead) to improve our product. In a start-up, you wear many hats.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Hone.
I studied philosophy, politics and economics at university then jumped into a 12-year career on the trading floor at JP Morgan. As an executive director in hedge fund sales, I was executing trades for sophisticated investors (hedge funds) in fast-paced markets, updating them on what was going on in the market and recommending trade ideas.
Outside of finance, I have always been passionate about food, travel and interior design and over the years, I have renovated and furnished a few North London flats. In 2019, I transitioned from banking to work on Hone full time.
What got you into retail in the first place?
Before and during my university years, I worked in a different side of retail, as a sales assistant on the shop floor of Barratts shoe shop, then Oasis womenswear in Brent Cross shopping centre. I always enjoyed helping customers and creating a good experience for my clients was also key in my banking career.
What lead me back to the world of retail via founding www.honestore.co.uk was trying to solve an important problem that I experienced myself: inefficiencies in finding the perfect furnishings for my home amongst the wealth of choice.
“Brexit will make many supply chains more complicated, the biggest challenge still is adjusting to an increasingly online landscape”
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
The financial products I dealt with in my banking role were technical and the job forced me to digest market-moving headlines, deal with problems fast and build lasting relationships with clients. The sales skills and professionalism that I developed over the years are relevant now. Writing endless essays during my university degree and travel blogging later on also prepared me for writing content on Hone.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Staying positive in the tough moments. I knew there would be moments of self-doubt running my own business and it is true. I think as a new business owner, you can have a day where you flip from extreme confidence that you will make a success of it no matter what to feeling deflated that most start-ups won’t make it. You have to back yourself and your mission. For me, the “why?” is about how precious our time is and our home being a sanctuary that promotes well-being and joy. If we can help customers find their ideal sofa or rug within budget in an efficient way, then that is an important success in my book.
And the most rewarding?
There are a many but to pick a few. Being able to show someone our website or a well-laid out editorial and say “I helped create that”. Hearing from happy customers who say they discovered items they love and saved time making endless decisions via Hone.
Learning from scratch: whether about user experience design, figuring out a social media strategy, refining our pitch to investors or figuring out how to solve new problems, I often feel like I am an intern again, I find that both challenging and rewarding.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
It’s an exciting time for innovation in retail and there is no one formula that fits all. So I think keep focusing on your mission, the problems you are trying to solve, keep speaking to customers so you can focus on their niche pain points that your competitors might not have noticed and dream big.