Furnishing a new home can be hard work – especially if there’s no room for compromise. Reasoning that others must be in the same situation, Coralie Verheyden and her partner founded Barak’7, a specialist brand offering designer, industrial-style pieces at high street prices. Furniture News discovers the challenges of bringing Barak’7 to the UK, where the brand has been launched as an online-only proposition …

What is Barak’7?

It all started when my partner and I bought our house on Chemin des Baraques, or number seven Barracks Road. I have a passion for interior design and I was unwilling to compromise on the raw but elegant style I had in mind for loft-style living, but quickly realised that we were unable to afford the prices that top designer furniture brands were charging.

Frustrated, I began designing my own unique industrial-inspired pieces, and after eventually finding talented craftsmen who could turn my scribbled drawings into working prototypes, we thought there must be lots of other couples out there facing the same problem, so decided to sell the pieces.

The name Barak’7 comes from the label that was stuck to the keyring when the agent handed us the keys. It might not mean anything to people at first glance, but it is really symbolic of what a personal journey it has been, and we hope the brand reflects the passion we put into creating our own dream home.

In the UK, Barak’7 furniture is only available via the web, but we do display our furniture in a number of different places in Belgium and France, and exhibit at some shows. We find showing our products not only allows people to see and touch our products, but the feedback we receive is a great source of inspiration.

Our main showroom can be found at Rue de la Glacerie, Courcelles, Belgium.

What success has the brand found overseas?

The success we have had in France and Belgium has been beyond even our expectations, and the feedback we get from clients has been overwhelmingly positive. We seem to be building a loyal group of fans (currently 10,000-plus on Facebook) who like our style and ethos, but we made a promise to ourselves and our customers that we would never become a supermarket of industrial-style furniture, so we’re never going to be mass-producing thousands of pieces.

“The name Barak’7 comes from the label that was stuck to the keyring when the agent handed us the keys. It is really symbolic of what a personal journey it has been, and we hope the brand reflects the passion we put into creating our own dream home”

How is the Barak’7 offer different from other industrial brands?

The challenge we found when setting up our own home was that all the good-quality industrial-style furniture was priced prohibitively high for our modest budget. While we’re never going to compete on price with mass-produced or flat-pack furniture, we’d like to think we offer an affordable alternative that doesn’t require the customer to compromise on style and character.

What unique selling approaches does the product require?

The wonderful thing about reclaimed or industrial-style furniture is that each piece has its own quirky charm – but that in itself presents a challenge, in that it is difficult to get the character across in just words and pictures online. It is lovely to watch someone explore the quirky features of a piece and fall in love with it in our showroom, but we’re working and exploring ways to capture a similar experience online.

How much of a role do you play in the design process?

The company was initially born out of a few of my scribbled designs, and the range of furniture has continued to grow based on the inspiration I take from industrial materials and watching how people actually use furniture. In some cases, the starting point of my design is its practical function, but in others I’ll simply play with fun ideas that I hope customers will enjoy as much as I do.

Are there any problems inherent in cutting out the middleman?

Our business model relies on cutting out middlemen to an extent, which obviously has some benefits in terms of cost saving but inevitably means you don’t have established supply chains and infrastructure to call upon.

Unfortunately there aren’t many short cuts in this area, which means a lot of hard work to build relationships and develop a network that you can really trust. In some ways it is nice to be more in control of your own destiny rather than worry about how others are representing your brand.

How do you plan to increase the brand’s reach?

Launching in the UK has been a big move for us, both geographically and in terms of language and culture, so that has really been a focus for both the short and long term. It has been a long process getting everything right, but the response so far from customers and press has been very encouraging.

Can you summarise your SEO and digital marketing strategy?

We’re always working to improve the content and structure of our online presence, and the performance of our site in search engines is going to be critical. However, as a lifestyle brand, much of our success in France and Belgium has come from word of mouth, which is obviously facilitated online by social media.

It has been lovely to see our community of fans grow – because we’re not mainstream, customers often share our content as if they’re letting friends in on a secret. We know we’ve got a long way to go to replicate that success in the UK, especially as all our existing content is in French.

What other retailers/e-tailers influence your approach,?

I wouldn’t want to pick out any one in particular, but we have taken influence from a number of lifestyle retailers and e-tailers who successfully portray their signature brand style through their website. Because of the nature of our products, it is difficult for us to have a filtering system whereby clients can pick ‘x product’, in ‘y colour’ and ‘z size’, so in some ways we’re reliant on customers browsing the site for inspiration.

What are your favourite items in the range?

The table with integrated seating is a favourite of mine, because at first glance the design gives it quirky character and an eye-catching industrial style, but beyond that the integrated stools are actually a really practical and functional feature that can be tucked away neatly when not being used. I love the combination of metal and wood – it makes it a real statement piece for any kitchen or dining room.

“It has been lovely to see our community of fans grow – because we’re not mainstream, customers often share our content as if they’re letting friends in on a secret”

There’s a leather stool that also characterises what Barak’7 is all about, combining a real cracked leather seat with a robust metal frame that features intricate industrial details to give it quirky charm – we even branded the leather with our slogan, ‘live with character’. It is built to be really strong and durable, and offers a distinctive designer style for a home, but we tried to make it as affordable as possible for customers.

What has been the hardest part of bringing Barak’7 to market?

Going from a personal project to create our dream home to a business now operating in three countries has been a fun – but really challenging – journey. One key thing we have always been determined to maintain is the quality and integrity of our products. While we would love to do everything and manage every little detail ourselves, that was never going to be practical, so the hardest part has been finding and building relationships with other businesses and suppliers that we can trust to share our vision.

We have lived and breathed this business from the start, and care so much about what we do that we would hate for all our hard work to be undone by a weak link somewhere in the chain.

What are your ambitions for growth?

Since we launched the business from humble beginnings, we have been delighted with how it has continued to grow every year. That is not to say it has been an easy ride – and we have no desire to be a furniture supermarket, mass-producing items – but if we can continue to expand and build a loyal fan base the way we have been doing so, we will be happy.

This article was published in the December issue of Furniture News magazine.