This International Women's Day we are celebrating our MD Sarah Massouh, who founded Willow & Hall in 2012. Frustrated at the lack of high-quality, affordable British furniture on the market, Sarah launched the brand as an online retailer with a focus on using the finest materials and investing in design. Now, she is the Managing Director of this thriving furniture company and juggles a busy working life with being a mum. We asked her how she got here and how she manages to split her time between family and work.
How did you get into business?
I studied economics at university because I loved understanding commercials and how businesses function. When I left I joined the graduate scheme at Deloitte where I worked in the strategy consulting team, which give me unrivalled access to lots of different businesses and an understanding of what makes a business work and, more importantly, fail. The more I worked on the strategy for other companies the more I kept thinking about setting up my own business.
Why did you decide to launch a furniture company?
My two passions have always been fashion and interior design, so I was weighing up which industry I wanted to pursue. The ‘eureka’ moment came for me when I was looking to buy a new sofa bed and couldn’t find anything stylish, comfortable and made in Britain. I realised there was a gap in the market and I jumped on it – within 6 months I had built my business including designing all the sofa beds, building my website and sourcing British workshops to build my designs. I had wonderful feedback from several customers on the brand and designs within days of launching which was incredibly humbling and a very proud moment.
The Downton sofa was the first item Willow & Hall sold
Why did you choose to have your products manufactured in Britain – was this more/ less complicated than having them manufactured elsewhere?
It has always been important to me that products in my home are British-made. I knew that there was a strong textile industry in the UK that could produce hard-wearing fabrics for products such as sofas and mattresses, and although it costs less to manufacture abroad in low-cost factories, I was determined to make use of the skilled craftspeople left in Britain that make furniture the old fashioned way – by hand.
How did you develop the business?
I think the key was having found a niche in the market and being really focused on filling that. I promoted the brand using pay-per-click and print adverts, which I managed myself and by the end of the first year we had really started to get our name out there for the right reasons – British craftsmanship, quality and great customer service. I then began to expand my team and moved out of my front room into an office and launched a showroom in Chiswick. The brand continued to grow and in 2017 we were included on the Fast Track 100 list of growing companies which was a huge achievement.
Sarah started Willow & Hall in 2012 and the company continues to grow
What advice would you give to other women looking to start a business?
I think the main thing I would advise is to have confidence in your own abilities. It will be hard, but you can do it. I also think it’s important that once the business starts to grow that you learn how to step back and trust other people to take some control. Without that it’s extremely hard to manage a work-life balance which is so important.
And finally, how do you juggle being a working mother?
My husband is a full-time parent which has meant I can keep working full time managing the business, however I have made changes to my working hours and patterns. I work from home 2 days a week so I can do breakfast and bedtimes with my daughter and I’m extremely strict that weekends are just for my family, not the business.
Here’s to all the strong, creative women breaking the mould and leading us into a brighter future.
Happy International Women’s Day! Willow & Hall