Brian Harrison CEO and Co-Founder, Swoon.

Talk Straight | Think Smart with Brian Harrison

Talk Straight | Think Smart with Brian Harrison

Brian Harrison has always been passionate about digital transformation. In 2012 he spotted that furniture was one of the last consumer categories to make the jump to online, so he seized the opportunity to make this happen. And Swoon was born.
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Debbie had a particular passion in furniture and interiors, and I was just interested in the category principally because it was one of the last big consumer categories to move online.

Brian Harrison
CEO and Co-Founder, Swoon

When Brian Harrison looks back at his early career, the common theme is that he was working in industries that were being particularly disrupted. Driven by the frustrations of working for a big corporate, he and co-founder Debbie Williamson came across another industry that needed transformation; furniture.

So along came Swoon. Despite having zero experience with furniture, Brian was interested in this category as it was one of the last big consumer categories to move online. Debbie had a passion for furniture and interiors, and together they transformed the industry taking it online.

The business started in 2012 and has gone through significant changes since then. Over the years they went from attempting to do everything themselves, to working with specialist partners who have specialist skills such as customer care. This meant the structure of the business is much lighter but they get to work with best in class partners. And when the pandemic hit because business was already decentralised and predominantly remote it allowed for them to quickly adapt and deal with the challenges.

Listen to the podcast for more behind the scenes insights from Brian and how they dealt with the disrupted supply chains and global shipping markets due to COVID19, as well as Brexit and European border closures. Subscribe to our Talk Straight | Think Smart with Howard Kennedy series to hear future episodes from a wide range of inspirational entrepreneurs.

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Quick fire round

Each episode we ask our guests quick fire questions. Hover below to see what this revealed about this week's guest, Brian Harrison....

How many rooms in your house have Swoon furniture in them?

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All of them.

Are Zoom meetings here to stay or going to be a distant memory?

Why us down arrow

Here to stay.

Would you rather grow your business, sell your business or start again?

Why us down arrow

Grow it.

What would you invest more in right now, people or tech?

Why us down arrow

Both, half and half, which is kind of what we do.

When it comes to decision making are you perfection every time or launch and learn?

Why us down arrow

Launch and learn.

A little more about this episode…

After finishing his economics degree at university in Nottingham, Brian started working in the publishing industry, initially in magazines and then latterly on websites. Even though the internet was relatively young, he quickly realised the value of going digital. He worked for many internet-based businesses, launching City & Guilds first e-learning platform early in his career. Little did they know back then how important these platforms would become throughout the pandemic.

During his time at the Telegraph Group, Brian met Debbie Williamson, co-founder of Swoon. They worked together for a few years and stayed in touch when they moved onto other ventures. Having both wanted to move away from big corporates they decided to start a business. With Brian's background in media, and Debbie's passion for furniture and interiors, they came together and online furniture company Swoon was born.

They transformed the industry by taking furniture online. It was thought at the time that people wouldn't buy furniture they hadn't seen, sat on or touched. But Brian believed it was only a matter of time before consumer behaviour changed, and he was right. When they started around 5% of furniture transactions were online which steadily increased. And in 2020 during the pandemic, by default, this became 100% online.

The business started in 2012 and has gone through significant changes since then. They realised they weren't efficiently doing everything themselves so started to work with specialist partners and preferred suppliers for everything from manufacturing and warehousing to customer care. This meant when the pandemic hit the business was already decentralised and predominantly remote.

However, even though they could adapt quickly, the pandemic still caused difficulties. Disrupted supply chains and global shipping markets, as well as Brexit and European border closures brought in further complexities. But being an online business meant there wasn't any worry about store closures or furlough. And after three months of the pandemic their organisational cadence had actually improved.

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