5 minutes with Keiran Hewkin, Co-Founder, Swyft

Earlier this year, the team behind Lombok and The Ochre House - two London based hand-crafted furniture brands - launched online sofa retailer Swyft. We caught up with co-founder Keiran Hewkin to learn more, including the unique Swyft-Lok innovation.

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Keiran Hewkin, Co-Founder, Swyft profile q&A furniture
Keiran Hewkin.

Congrats on the launch of Swyft this year! How did it feel?

It was great. It is always a nervy time, all of that careful incubation work and then you let your baby out into the wild and see if anyone actually likes it. I guess it is a mixture of relief for having launched and anticipation, especially with a new concept as well as product.

Tell me a bit about the Swyft story.

I have been involved in furniture for a good few years now, right from high-end bespoke to high street retail. Swyft was the answer to every problem we have had: sofas that did not fit into doors, customers waiting for long lead times to end, and mix-ups on fabrics in the factory. Basically every possible furniture issue, and we just thought there had to be a better way. It took five years from having the idea, to getting the factory setup into a position to pivot from bespoke furniture to Swyft, but it was worth the wait.

“Everywhere another furniture provider has outsourced the pain of manufacturing or design onto its customers”

Can you tell me a little bit about the Swyft-Lok technology?

Our Swyft-Lok is essentially a wedge lock. It is actually an ancient concept used in the early formation of archways from the Roman times. However, we have made ours out of a mix of metals that “form into each-other” and the text moulded into it means that it locks in every direction, not just vertically. It can also be fastened under its own weight and strength, and the more pressure you put through our fittings the stronger the Swyft-Lok gets.

What gap in the furniture retail market does Swyft strive to address?

All of them. Essentially everywhere another furniture provider has outsourced the pain of manufacturing or design onto its customers, we aim to fix it. We don’t believe you should have to pick from 1,000,0000 different colours, so we picked seven great ones to go in any home. We don’t believe you should have to pay now and then wait 12 weeks, so we won’t ask a customer to wait more than two days. We don’t believe that it is right to have to make all these decisions for the manufacturer and then be told you can’t return it if you don’t like it, even when it does arrive, so we offer a 100 day trial period.

How is Swyft’s business model different to other furniture retailers?

I think what I said in the previous question covers most of this. However, the fundamental difference is we are vertically integrated and we never sell from an out-of-stock position. We put the pressure on ourselves to have inventory to sell you and don’t ask customers to finance our operation with their hard earned cash. We believe that Swyft can offer remarkable furniture without compromise.

How did Swyft handle lockdown and how is it coping with the ongoing pandemic?

It was hard, we are lucky that the internet boom helped our sales line, but the effect on the manufacturing supply chain was stressful. We have a big manufacturing facility, so we can space everyone out in line with Covid guidance, but it took some time to get it all sorted and be sure we can do everything safely.

“We are vertically integrated and we never sell from an out-of-stock position”

What’s in store for Swyft in 2021?

Well we aim to continue our growth story. We have the Model 03 launching this month and the Model 04, which is a Sofa bed early next year. I really think these additions will elevate the business. So many sofa beds make awful sofas and even worse beds. We can end that.

How is Swyft addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

The biggest challenge really left for furniture is the environmental impact. We have a lot of work to do as an industry to fix that and finding new materials that can be recycled or re-used is key. As is actually making furniture that lasts, our sofas come with a 15 year guarantee and we are working on the materials to continuously improve them.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

The overall economic climate is a challenge, but realistically it has been in retail for a long time. If a brand can focus on service and make the experience as good as the product, then they stand to benefit from whatever the market does.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Swyft.

Along with Paul Fielden my co-founder, we are responsible for running the business. I look after all things commercially focused and Paul takes care of the making and distribution. Simply put, he makes it I sell it.

“The biggest challenge really left for furniture is the environmental impact”

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Swyft.

I have always worked in manufacturing, this is the third business I have started and second retail business. I have a passion for solving problems and Swyft really is a culmination of this. I was lucky enough to work in some great industries, such as automotive and petrochemicals, and see how big industry operates and take those learnings into a slightly more “traditional” sector.

What got you into retail in the first place?

It was more by luck than judgement at first, but I have always had a passion for delivering something people really like. And retail is the best place for that. I love it because there is no where to hide with a retail operation. It is pure business at its finest. If you succeed, consumers love you for it, but if you get it wrong, it’s a very public thing. I think I like the all or nothing approach of retail.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I have tried a lot of different ways of doing things. What I have learnt, is that if you don’t have fulfilment nailed, then its all over and you don’t have a business. So now that is my sole focus, getting what customers pay for to them as quickly and as enjoyably as possible.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Delivering what my team need every day.

And the most rewarding?

Delivering what my team need every day.

What advice would you give someone embarking on a career in retail?

Know your customer, talk to them, visit their houses. See them use your products, how they shop for them, how they look at them, talk about them, everything you possibly can. Time spent talking to, or interacting with your customer, is never ever wasted.

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