Born from a love for lovely stuff, Kelly and Sophie pivoted during the pandemic to create the ultimate online shopping experience, where the good times come first.
Kelly and Sophie are the bubbly brains behind HOUSE Interiors, a much-loved homeware store in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.
When the pandemic hit and the pair were forced to pivot their business, they put their heads together to come up with something new and exciting. Cue HOUSE Live – a feel-good corner of the internet bringing beautiful interiors and community cheer.
As the pair get back to business in the Thirsk store, they continue to bring beautiful interiors to customers via their monthly Facebook live streams.
Luxe joins the party…
First of all, can you give us a bit of background about HOUSE?
Kelly: Pre-COVID, Soph wasn’t involved in the business, it was just me. I was in my sixth year at our gorgeous interiors shop in Thirsk. Back in November, Soph decided to get on board and help out as we were tasked with coming up with new ways to share and promote our offering.
Sophie: I was on maternity leave last year, so I would always pop in and help out, but when Kel was forced to close because of the pandemic, we put our heads together to have a little think about how she could start to shift some stock.
Kelly: In November, when we went into the second national lockdown, I had a load of Christmas stock. Soph came on board to help us pivot a little bit.
Sophie: Traditionally, Kel would host a VIP Christmas Night in the run up to the festivities, but obviously that wasn’t possible because of the lockdown, so we decided we would try out going live on Facebook.
This was the beginning of HOUSE Live. The first night we did it, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, we were just totally winging it. We gathered all of our Christmas stock in the shop and just went live, chatting through the products.
We thought, at best, about 20 people would tune in, but 300 people turned up and we couldn’t believe it!
Kelly: Since then, the numbers just skyrocketed and before we knew it we’d created an online community of our own. We sold all of the Christmas stock within weeks. When we reopened just before Christmas, people were asking me, ‘How come the shop isn’t very festive?’ – and it was literally because we’d sold all of the stock in the live shopping streams.
Sophie: Suddenly, we were way, way over in terms of Christmas sales from previous years, and we were just having so much fun with it. It was bigger and better than ever before, and the shop was shut! It was just crazy. A lot of people used it as a bit of a night out – an excuse to sit down with a glass of wine and do a bit of festive shopping.
What is the format of HOUSE Live?
Sophie: We literally just go live on Facebook and talk through all of the products we currently have in stock. People post in the comment box if they want to buy something.
At the end of the virtual event, people send us a message with what they think they’ve got, and we let them know if they got there first. There’s quite a bit of admin at the moment while we’re prepping our new website, but we honestly didn’t expect it to get this big. It gives us a bit of a buzz though.
Kelly: We just have fun with it. Some of our customers have been tuning in from day one and they’ve really got to know us.
Sophie: So then Christmas happened and we stopped for a little while as we reopened the shop, but people were desperate for us to carry on.
It has become a big event in some of our customers’ monthly calendars. Everyone just enjoys sitting down with a glass of fizz while we catch-up about what we’ve been up to as we talk through products and juggle a glass of wine – or two!
I get told off for swearing all of the time; we are just being ourselves, two best friends having a bit of banter and swooning over interior products. It never feels like work.
Kelly: The following day we switch from virtual shopping hosts to delivery girls, but it’s all just so much fun and we love getting to know our customers.
It’s even better now that shoppers can pop in and see us in the shop. We have created a real sense of community, and I think it’s exactly what we all need at the moment.
People have even started paying a bit of extra cash into the account with a little note saying ‘Buy a bottle of fizz on us’. On Valentine’s Day, we had hundreds of flowers gifted from customers. It’s amazing!
You have created something really special… an online shopping experience but with a personal touch – and a bit of fun thrown
in for good measure. Is this what you intended?
Sophie: Definitely, but it happened very organically. The high street is massively changing, so I think people are getting used to shopping online, pandemic or no pandemic – but they’re missing that social interaction.
HOUSE Live combines the two, and hopefully creates a really unique and entertaining experience for customers.
Kelly: We let people into our lives – we chat to them about our personal lives just as much as we talk through the products. It’s like getting together with all of your mates. People are buying into us as well as the shop, which is great. It’s so important to have a face to the business, particularly during times like these – it’s got to have that human aspect.
How does it feel to know you were able to flourish as a business in the midst of a pandemic, when you were forced to close the shop?
Sophie: We knew that we needed to do something to boost the community, not just because of the pandemic, high streets were really starting to struggle before that.
Kelly: Thirsk has a great sense of community. People knew us already, my kids go to school here, so people know me from the shop and from the playground.
We’ve created a completely new online community, which has allowed us to spread our wings a little, but we also have backing from those people who visit us at the shop. It’s really lovely that we are able to balance between the two and offer something for everyone.
What would your advice be to any business owners having to push themselves out of their comfort zones?
Kelly: Keep it real, be yourself and do what feels right. We always do our hair and put our makeup on for the live streams, but it’s also important for us to share the ‘real’ us on social media.
People understand that the two of us, alongside our amazing yet very small team, are the beating heart of the business. After a live, we’re up until the early hours packaging everything up and getting packages ready to post out.
Sophie: We like to be open and honest with our customers, and in turn, they respect what we do. We have established a loved and trusted brand, but we try not to hide behind it. We are a huge part of it.
How do you enjoy working together? (It looks like a lot of fun!)
Sophie: We are very similar, aren’t we Kel?
Sophie: I met Kelly as a customer about seven years ago. I was at university in Liverpool and moved back to Thirsk with my partner.
Kelly: And I moved from York to Thirsk to set up the business because I’d worked in interiors in York and my contract stated that I couldn’t set up a competing business in the area. So I thought I’d move to Thirsk and start something new.
Soph came into the shop one day and I asked her where she got her hair done, explaining that I was new to the area. We got chatting and then before we knew it we were off for a glass of wine. We just clicked, became really good friends and the rest is history.
Sophie: I did worry about our similarities and if it would make us clash in the workplace to be honest, but it’s not a problem at all. We are very open and honest and it just works.
Kelly: We’ve always said ‘friendship comes first’ in any disagreement or business conversation. We’d never want to jeopardise our friendship. Luckily, we are both very enthusiastic and share the same vision, so that helps when it comes to decision-making.
How do you stay positive and lean on each other at work – particularly during such challenging times?
Kelly: I think we are very headstrong as individuals, and I guess we’re very positive people. Having a friend alongside you during a challenging time is always a big help. If we were focusing on the negatives and we were all doom and gloom, people wouldn’t invest in us.
Sophie: We’ve got a lot of great support around us. Loads of lovely friends and family, so that also helps.
Kelly: We know a lot of people in Thirsk too, which again creates that unique sense of community. Because some of our customers know that we’ve been up wrapping orders until daft o’clock, they will pop in with energy drinks and chocolate bars to give us a boost.
Sophie: So we’re getting fat as well!
Kelly: We like to give back to the community too. For Valentine’s Day we ordered four-hundred cake pots and biscuits from our friends at Where The Ribbon Ends. We popped them in little envelopes with a card saying ‘sending love from one house to another’.
We went out with the kids and posted them in random people’s letterboxes. It’s just lovely to give back sometimes, especially when we are getting so much support. All of that helps to keep us going and remain positive.
What can you tell us about your HOUSE Interiors and HOUSE Live products?
Sophie: We have lots of lovely home accessories – everything from cushions and throws, to vases and candles.
Kelly: We’ve got some nice, well-known brands such as Voyage Maison, NEOM, Emma Bridgewater and Garden Trading.
Sophie: We get really excited about everything that comes in. We recently launched our own candle range. We’ve got The HOUSE Candle, which smells unbelievable – and we’ve got one for men called Man of the HOUSE. We’ve pretty much sold out already – they’ve gone down so well.
Kelly: We wanted to offer something for men who appreciate the finer things in life. Stereotypically our customers are women, but there are plenty of men out there who really enjoy interior design and lovely things for the home.
Sophie: We’ve also just teamed up with our friends at the most gorgeous baby clothing and accessory brand, Zara Mae Rose. Now our shop is back up and running, we’re stocking some of their products and they’ve been so popular already. Go and check them out on Instagram: @zaramae.rose.
What’s next for HOUSE?
Kelly: Going forward, once we get our website up and running and we’re back into the swing of things in the shop, we will continue with our monthly HOUSE Live streams, but we’ll be able to do a big stock drop online once we’ve talked through the products. It might mean we get to bed a tiny bit earlier!
Sophie: Currently, after a live, we have 600+ messages in our inbox and have to go through them individually to sort out payment and postage. It can sometimes take us until the next week to get through it all. It takes a lot of manpower.
Kelly: Once we get set-up online and find a bigger warehouse, we will have more space to grow and employ more staff.
Sophie: I have to rein Kel in a little bit sometimes. She has big plans – and we will get there – it’s just hard to know when to take that next step.
Kelly: Hopefully, by the back end of the year, we will be in a bigger and more organised facility. But for now, we’re concentrating on getting the shop back up and running and catching up with customers in person. It’s so lovely.
A must-have HOUSE item for summer?
Kelly: The HOUSE Candle – let our signature scent fill your home with a fragrance that will take you to a luxurious beach resort. With notes of almond and orange, it’s the ultimate summer scent.
Sophie: The Voyage Maison Linen Bench – absolutely perfect for spring/summer. The print is so striking – a real mood-booster, uplifting any boot room.
And finally, your three luxe things in life?
Kelly: Lush getaways with family and friends, spa days and concerts or festivals – there’s nothing better than being outdoors listening to live music with not a care in the world!
Sophie: Prosecco (magic liquid that gets me by), date nights in gorgeous restaurants and family vacays in the Lake District with the kids and the dog.