Sopha: Five years strong

Matthew Scott, co-founder of Sopha, reflects on the last five years as the independent furniture retailer celebrates an historic milestone.

The 23rd November 2023 marked a momentous date for one independent furniture retailer. Somerset-based Sopha reached a new company milestone, celebrating its five-year anniversary. And it’s been some five years!

To name certain challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, the family business, co-founded by husband-and-wife team Matthew and Emily Scott, has embraced each obstacle and nimbly worked through to come out a stronger company in such a short space of time. It goes without saying that reaching its anniversary milestone comes with pride and reflection.

“Last year in November marked five years since Sopha first opened its doors,” Matthew said. “Initially we opened the store with little fanfare as we had a young team, most of whom were new to the industry. Then after a few months of trialing everything we held our very successful grand opening event and, with over one thousand customers through the door, we were really glad of the experience we had gained as a result of our soft opening.

“I often like to think that running a business is kept interesting by the fact that every day brings new challenges, for instance the Covid lockdowns and subsequent disruption were a new challenge for all of us,” Matthew continued.

“Being a small, young nimble business really helped us, especially the great relationships which we’d already built with our many mainly British suppliers. Hospitality was affected after the lockdowns far more than furniture retail once we all started to get back to normal as it took a lot longer for customers to return to coffee shops such as ours, whereas furniture had a boom period. However, with increased focus we have once again reached record sales in our coffee shop.”

Alongside the challenges faced, Matthew and the team at Sopha have had many positive moments too, including the launch of its first ever Christmas TV advert back in 2022, as well as being an active company in the community, raising over £1,100 for a defibrillator following a successful Easter raffle held last year.

Reflecting on other key moments and the previous year, Matthew shared: “There have been so many special moments over the past five years. It’s been extremely rewarding to have received so many award nominations from the Building Excellence Awards when we first opened moving onto New Business of The Year and more recently our many display and sustainability awards.

“The key moments that we don’t often shout about are those of the individual members of our team, from the first time approaching a customer, to their first sale or the first time a customer has come back and asked for them. It really cements the hard work we do as a small business where we treat everybody as part of the family.

“On last year, it’s no secret that 2023 has seen a significant softening of demand when compared to the boom times immediately following the Covid lockdowns, mainly caused by inflation and the rising cost of living,” Matthew continued.

“It’s so easy to look back to the best months of those boom times and try to compare figures with them, but actually looking at the bigger picture this year has still seen growth when compared to the years before Covid, and therefore, we’re really proud of how the business has continued to adapt and evolve.”

As Matthew states, to “adapt and evolve” has been fundamental to the growth trajectory of the business, as like many others in the industry and wider world. However, the core ethos and key principles of the company has remained unchanged.

“We want to sell furniture that puts quality above everything and products that sell on their own merits without having to hide behind snazzy marketing and false promotions,” Matthew reaffirmed. “Our ‘honest pricing’ policy means that we never sell at artificially higher prices so that we can offer discounts or sale periods but instead we try to find a price that’s fair to both our business and our customers. Finally, we deliberately pursue a journey to discover what it means to be a sustainable furniture retailer.”

On that sustainability note, Sopha has continued to embrace and implement greener practices, from its initial energy saving efforts at its Highbridge store, which includes wall, floor and roof insulation and LED lighting, to working with suppliers on offering sustainable products. “Back when we started the business we were talking to our suppliers about sustainable materials and while many suppliers were already using FSC certified timers the idea of using foam alternatives was far from most supplier’s list of priorities,” Matthew said.

“The saying that every cloud has a silver lining I think is particularly apt to the rise in the cost of foam throughout the Covid pandemic that forced many suppliers to look towards more sustainable alternatives for their upholstery and we’re delighted to be on the journey with them. We’re pleased with our ongoing efforts, but know that there is still much more we can all do as an industry together.”

From being green to being on trend, Matthew highlights a particular movement in colour that has surprised him, or even shocked! “It always amazes me how much furniture and interior trends can be influenced by external factors and this winter has been no exception.

“Seeing the high inflation rates over the past two years it’s no surprise that we are seeing the same value influences on buying decisions that we saw in the years after the 2008 market crash or that we’re still seeing a significant increase in the sale of throws and blankets with the sustained higher fuel prices. The trend that I’ve found most surprising is the re-emergence of ‘shocking pinks’ following the release of the Barbie movie earlier this year.”

Away from trending pink products, Matthew revealed that one area of the business that will see some “big investment” is its coffee shop, which has been a huge success, as noted earlier. “We are currently in the process of making some big investments in our coffee shop as it is vital to our business, not only because it drives footfall, but also because it provides a link to our local community.

“We’re currently in the process of installing new machines, which will allow us to cook in 90 seconds, in what used to take eight minutes, as well as allowing us to increase our menu offerings. We’re excited about this expansion and we hope our community enjoys the upgrade too.”

Sopha’s Matt & Emily

A final thought must go back to where the interview began, a reflection on the last five years, in which time has also seen the couple become parents too. Running a family business, while starting a family is no easy task. It is therefore even more rewarding to learn of such a success story. In fact, young Ted has already been introduced into the world of furniture, although still some years off his first official role.

“Reaching our five-year anniversary brings a strange mix of emotions,” Matthew said. “It’s great thinking about all of the things we’ve achieved on our journey to this point and the people we have met along the way, but deep down we’ve always had a belief that Sopha would succeed and our anniversary just felt like another day.

“Although the shop has only been open five years our planning for the business actually started eight years ago and we spent a great deal of time planning, researching and making sure that every step we have taken to start creating Sopha has been carefully considered. We have also never shied away from taking advice and requesting criticism, which has allowed us to continue to adapt our plan and respond to market conditions.

“We celebrated our birthday by providing our customers with a ‘birthday cake’ offer in our first floor coffee shop. We also enjoyed our annual ‘thank-you meal’ where we take our team and some of those who have helped our business the most out for a meal, which has included manufacturer’s agents and reps, as well as people from our designers, marketers, accountants and other suppliers. For Emily and I, it’s always a fantastic moment when we get to give back to 30-50 of those who have helped Sopha to accomplish what we have achieved so far. Here’s to the next five!”

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