5 min read

When Sally Hopson started out in retail some 30 years ago, she didn’t have plans to be a CEO. But her expectations changed, and in 2018 she took the reins of Sofology – her second CEO role, and Sofology’s first female leader in its history. Now, she’s got big plans for the British brand – and they’re as much to do with people as they are about selling sofas.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we sit down with Sally to talk about the stereotypes of the past, what encourages her about the present and on to her hopes for the future.

1. What stereotypes and expectations have you had to overcome?

I think the biggest one is when behaviours that women have are seen as different to the same behaviours in men.

An example would be a passionate man, but an emotional woman. One seems quite positive and one is seen as a negative – but in fact, they are the same trait. So women are very hard and tough, while men are driven. The language tells you how people, in an unbiased way, see the same trait differently.

2. How has the world of work changed since you started your career?

It has changed massively – largely for the better, I have to say. When I started, for example, I wasn’t allowed to wear trousers. I was told the type of tights I had to wear. It’s unthinkable now, for men or women, that those standards of dress would be dictated in such a way. It’s an indication, for me, of how much control there was – that you were not encouraged to be yourself.

In my early days, one of the very senior leaders in the organisation – an amazing man – had a very distinct way of presenting. And we all copied it. We all became little clones of him, because being ourselves didn’t feel comfortable. Modern business is much better at embracing people in their own way and letting them be themselves.

And I think society genuinely does believe that women and men are equal. That doesn’t mean to say that they’re necessarily helping to create the opportunities for women at work as much as they should – yet – but there’s been a mind shift in the past 25 years.

3. Did you always want to become a CEO?

I had no plan to be a CEO – I had no plan at all. There are days when I pinch myself that I’m even here.

When I left university, I had this idea that I was going to do a PHD, but I needed to get a job. So I got a job in a shop and went from one role to the next. I became a store manager and then area manager, just working up the ladder that exists within retail and taking every opportunity that came along. I took some which I didn’t like, but I learnt from those, and that’s absolutely fine too.

The thing that worries me about plans is, when you get there, it’s not always what you thought it was going to be. You get very driven, but I think you start to exclude other opportunities – and that’s a real shame.

4. Have there been any inspirational people along the way?

I’ve been really fortunate in that I had a couple of line managers early on in my career – both men – who were really encouraging. One said to me: “You do realise you could run a business one day?” And I was like: no, I couldn’t. And he said: “No, you can. You might choose not to.” I’ve never forgotten him saying that. The fact that he said I could, that it was my choice – rather than you should or you have to – was really motivating.

5. What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting afresh?

I would remind myself to always have fun – and not to think I have to cut my hair to be taken seriously. That’s what I did when I was made a store manager. I went to have my hair cut –short. I was convinced it was the only way people were going to take me seriously. And I look back now and I think: how ridiculous.

6. What’s the most encouraging thing about work at the moment?

I love watching young women and young men come into organisations and start to realise their potential. I look forward to trying to help find roles where they can grow and flourish. That’s what’s great about working in retail businesses; watching so many people deliver and find potential they never even knew they had.

7. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career?

That leadership is about lifelong learning. You never know everything, you’re never good enough. Don’t beat yourself up but get comfortable that there’s always things to learn.

8. What is Sofology like as a workplace for women?

I think it’s okay, but we could do more. We need to have a blended mix – I don’t think all-female or all-male teams are right in any organisation. But we’re making some great progress with more female store managers. We just need to work a little bit harder, looking within our organisation and finding talented women so we get a really healthy balance. That’s what I’m striving for.

9. How do you cope with the pressure of work?

I love my holidays – anyone will tell you. I plan them about two years out. But I’ll still check my emails in the morning and the evening, and I have absolutely no problem with that.

Running a business, you have to understand that not everyone’s the same. Some people have to go on holiday and completely switch off, and you have to respect that.  But I find that when I love what I do, I get completely absorbed by it. I don’t worry about it, I don’t find it stressful – I find it energetic and energising.

10. What are the most important decisions you make as CEO?

The people. It’s the most important thing – finding your team and getting the culture of the organisation facing in the right direction. If you do that, it generally will come good, because you’ll have people who are doing the right thing for the business.

One of the ways to think about it is if you step out of it, does it keep going? It should. It might be a little bit different when someone else is running the organisation, but the fundamentals of it should be so bedded in the business that they stay put.

11. Finally, what’s been the proudest moment of your career?

The Women and Work Commission for Tony Blair in 2004 to 2009, because it was completely and utterly unexpected, and outside my experience base – I’d never worked with central government.

It was very stimulating, you felt you were making a difference and it gave me opportunities I’ll never get again. And then at the end of it, I was lucky enough to get an MBE. Watching my parents go to Buckingham Palace was a real high.

Sofology
About Sofology

Helping everybody feel happier and more comfortable at home - that's what we’re all about. Originally founded in the North West of England in 1974, Sofology now has stores all across the UK. Providing specialist sofa advice and interiors inspiration for your home, our stores are designed to be a haven from the chaos of traditional sofa shopping.

30 Comments

  • Pamela and Jacob Dale- Rourke says:

    Sally Hopson, I’m sure you don’t personally read these but I wanted to try anyway. This was a very inspiring read. I was in Sofology yesterday in Preston Deepdale retail park. We spoke to a consultant called Denzel. He spoke very highly of you and of the company. We loved a sofa but it was way out of our budget. So after amazing customer service from Denzel we went plodding around other shops. Each sales assistant grated on us slightly and we realise the impact of being approached in the right way. We went home to deliberate and found the same sofa in the clearance, we were over the moon and bought it. The girl we dealt with on the phone, will get a very good review but the quality of our experience really pays with Denzel. This man can really do relationships- what an impact. I loved reading your passion and philosophy above, I just wanted you to know how that is shining through in your store on a day to day basis.
    Best wishes two very happy customer.

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Pamela & Jacob, I’m so pleased to hear about the lovely comments we have received from yourself in regards to our CEO. I love that you have felt inspired and you enjoyed your visit to one of our Sofology stores! Many thanks for taking the time to reach out to us we really appreciate it, Scarlett

  • SHAHEDA BEGUM says:

    This company is a joke !! failed to provide the correct sofas 4time

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Shaheda,

      I’m sorry to hear this if you are still having issues please could you email [email protected] with your order details and I will arrange for a member of our Priority Support team to give you a call.

      Many thanks

  • Neha vashist says:

    Hi Sally – I am sorry, this may not be the right forum but I have to say that I have had an extremely bad experience with Sofolgy. The customer agent sold warranty to us for 5 years and after receiving the Sofa we have been told its not valid. It cant get more disappointing than that because we bought a sofa from Sofology thinking its a renowned and reliable brand but my experience tells me exactly opposite of that. It seems the customer agents at Sofology are not trained at all about what they are selling. I have guests coming to stay in my new house next week and I am being told by the agent today that they cant give me warranty and all she can do is to return the sofa and refund the money. I am sorry to say but there is no consideration of the fact that when you buy a sofa and wait for it, you have so many emotions attached to it. I was super excited to see the sofa and now i am almost in tears because I have to return it since its not covered in warranty or I keep it with fear that if anything goes wrong with it my money will be wasted. I don’t know what to do now, can Sofology leaders please help me . Just a simple statement that warranty was missold will not bring back my 20 days if waiting time .

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Neha,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the issues you have had. If you could please pop me an email through to [email protected] with your order details and I will arrange for a member of the customer services team to give you a call.

      Many thanks

  • KAY DAY says:

    WITHOUT PREJUDICE
    I am in awe of inspirational women like Sally Hopson MBE, however I am most disappointed about three conversations I had with the Sofology Team today.

    I am lucky enough to have inherited from my wonderful sister who has moved to Australia, a beautiful fossil grey 2 seater Maddox. I have lost its four legs and called Sofology today to ask if I could purchase 4 dark wooden legs. After being pushed from pillar to post, I have been told that I cannot purchase 4 legs from Sofology as I am not the account holder (who is now living in Sydney) and it has to be passed through DPA.

    It is my fault as the proud new owner of a beautiful recliner that I can no longer even sit on, never mind recline. However why is it Impossible to even purchase 4 legs which have been lost in transit due to my house move?

    Surely each case should be treated individually and trust that this can be resolved for me.

    As such a forward thinking CEO as Sally Hopson and all her great values, I sincerely hope to look forward to hearing from you very soon with a resolution to my dilemma and an end to my redundant ‘rocking Maddox’.

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi there, thank you for reaching out. If you could pop us an email over to [email protected] with the details of your query, one of our team will be able to look into this for you.

      Many thanks,
      Alice

  • Mr & Mrs P Field says:

    We placed an order for a sofa from your Thurrock store and waited 10 weeks for it to arrive and have so far had 2 failed delivery attempts as despite being assured when we bought it that it was modular and would go to our upstairs room the delivery drivers said it didn’t come apart and they never even brought it through the front door. Despite us receiving an email from customer service saying that it would be taken apart and an expert delivery team would bring it and do the job we are now in the position of being offered a refund or choose something else. If you think we would choose to spend just under £5000 with your company and wait another 10 weeks for a shambolic delivery you are very much mistaken. We have been treated appallingly.

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Mr & Mrs Field,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the experience you have had! If you could please, pop me an email over at [email protected] with your order details and I will arrange for a member of our priority support team to look further into this for you.

      Many thanks

  • Lorraine Ross says:

    Hello
    i would like to send you some pictures of a cornet sofa which I purchased from the Plymouth store. I can not post them here as it will not allow. Apparently we have very different standards if this is the way your furniture is made. I did refuse to accept it. However your company claimed it was not faulty just poorly made. I accept you test all materials but accordingly to your repair department no manager can be in any country that these are made to watch the making of them.
    We were told hard wood not chipboard with stains or even plastic sheeting or let alone black hair. Excessive stapling all over the place etc. I could have made better in a classroom. I am appalled that you sell this sort of sub standard product for the ampunt of money I paid for this corner sofa.

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Lorraine,

      I’m so sorry to hear you are unhappy with your furniture. Please, could you pop an email through to [email protected] with your details and I will arrange a call from our Customer Services team.

      Many thanks

  • carolyn scott says:

    Hello Sally, not sure if this will get to you direct but I am hoping it will get to someone of authority. I recently had my sofa delivered to my home not only did they damage the underneath of the sofa on entering my home but also a lot amount of property damage to my home. May I just point out I have just moved into the property and everything is brand new . To cut a long story short for now, I have spoken to your property damage dept. no empathy at all quite rude I would say, I have been told to get quotes for the damage and they would consider paying for it. The damage to the bottom of the sofa I was told was neither here nor there a dust sheet would be replaced and as a Gesture of good will a offer of £50 would be made. This is appalling treatment to a customer the manner in which this has been handled is just beyond words. I have had to take time from work to try to resolve things I have paid a visit to the Gateshead store and spoke to the manager who I must say was fantastic and said she would look into it but the girl in your property damage dept said the store does not have any say in these matters. I am at a total loss where to go from here other than legal advise we are upon festive season I can not get the property damage seen to as they are fully booked as you can imagine and I have to live with it after a working so hard on my home to get it ready for Christmas. I am sure you have access to all the documentation sent before this but I really want to speak to someone who can treat me with respect as a paying customer and not just read from a spreadsheet and has no authority or manner to be in customer service. I hope to hear from someone soon. regards

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      I’m sorry to hear about the experience you have had with Sofology and to hear you are still having these issues now. If you could please forward an email with all your order details over to [email protected] and a member of our priority support team will be in touch.

      Many thanks,
      Lauren

  • James Veitch says:

    Wow, some pretty bad reviews on this site for a company that boasts how good it is.
    Here’s another bad review.
    I bought a sofa from you that, according to your technician, is made with inferior padding in the seats. “You have to plump them up every day” he told me so that they don’t feel like you are sat on a wooden board. That’s the customer care you get from Sofology when you tell them that after only six months one of the cushions on my sofa has all but collapsed. He said “you are sitting on it wrongly, you should sit back in the seat to even out the wear”. Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn that I haven’t yet learned how to sit on a sofa. You couldn’t make this up. Does your company think I am so stupid that I’ll just accept being insulted in this way.
    It gets worse. My complaint was elevated to the “Priority Support team” on 31 December 2019. I’m writing this review on 11 January 2020 and still no contact from them.
    Sofology, if you haven’t been told before, your company is a disgrace to the industry.
    I will write direct to your CEO. I’m fascinated to hear what she has to say.
    I will settle for nothing less than a refund.

    • Lauren Harvey says:

      Hi James,

      I’m so sorry to hear about the issues you have had and to hear you had no contact back from our Priority support team. If you could forward me on your details to [email protected] and I will forward this over to a manager to look in to.

      Many thanks,
      Lauren

  • harry pearce says:

    my names harry Pearce
    I have had a terrible time with two employees of yours at my home in Cardiff s Wales.they ripped my flooring in hallway,drilled a rip rite threw the sofa lining underneath completely ripped.then I also bought a lamp and that also was broken it came in three pieces which they gave to me in my hand I am so disappointed with the service and I have been left with a broken damaged sofa and lamp.one last thing I paid for a footstool one that had a compartment underneath and the one they left doesn’t.the experience so far has been a false border line criminal in my opinion I hope you can help me with this
    many thanks mr h c Pearce

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi there Harry, I am really sorry to hear about your experience. If you are able to pop us an email over to [email protected] with your order details, we’d be more than happy to look into this for you!

      Many thanks,
      Alice

  • Stephanie Tann says:

    So we are not on our own how I wished we had read these reviews before we bought the nearly 4000 thousands pounds worth of junk that we bought. This coming from a couple one 70 the other 64 both still working to make ends meet, thought it would be the last we need to buy so spent all we had got . The day after delivery phoned up still no satisfaction 3 months later so upset it’s beginning to make me ill, would like the money back so we could purchase something else as the sofa we had previously after 15yrs was in better condition than this one brand new, it is so badly made not at all like the one I sat on in the shop poor engineer almost felt sorry for him . Actually would love to be able to bring and dump it in head office foyer with tv cameras in tow but sadly funds won’t stretch that far .

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi there, thanks for reaching out. I am really sorry to hear this. If you could pop us an email over to [email protected] with your order details, one of our team will be able to help you further with this.

      Many thanks,
      Alice

  • donna sargeant says:

    Hi
    I would like to inform you how disappointed we are with our sofa we’ve already had a technician out to sort out a few problems and now we have another problem?? I brought three sofas from you which all be it were ex display however the furniture is a bloody mess and already broken we’ve only had it 4 weeks!!!! We didn’t realise that we would experience so many problems !!! No one really seems that bothered to be honest, shame won’t be recommending you to anyone

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi there, thanks for reaching out. If you could pop us an email over to [email protected] with the details of your query, one of our team will be able to help you further with this.

      Many thanks,
      Alice

  • Gary Matthews says:

    I have also been trying to contact your Social Media group. However I get nothing back zero squat. Not sure if you guys are still in business. I doubt I will ever see my sofa or money again. Just a con job!

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi Gary, really sorry to hear you’ve not been able to get through to us. If you could please pop an email over to [email protected] with your order details, one of our Sofologists will be in touch to help.

      Many thanks,
      Alice

  • Gary Matthews says:

    Alice

    I have sent them multiple emails but they never respond. Is there another way to contact your company to get help?

    Thanks Gary

  • Jim Cockram says:

    The truth is, your over-sized complaints team, does not really do anything with regards to warranty claims, and you don’t read the emails sent to you.
    Foam has collapsed after only 9-months use and the scripted response is ‘that is not a manufactures defect’ – not sure why not or how else it can be categorised!!!
    Not impressed with your company, their attitude or indeed the product.

  • Carlo Tugulu says:

    Dear Sally

    I fully appreciate that the Covid-19 crisis has been disruptive to everyone and businesses but I’m now exasperated at the lack of information being made available.
    My order was placed on 4th Jan this year. I was notified of potential delay in Feb when Covid-19 was firstly impacting China before the UK. That’s when I discovered our order was being manufactured in the Far East. None of your staff seem able or empowered to understand your supply chain. I simply want the following queries answered:

    Is the furniture actually made or what is the status of production?
    Where is the factory exactly?
    If made, where is the furniture? In storage? In transit?
    If it’s still in China, when is the likely dispatch date? If it’s by boat then at least I know it will be probably 5-6 weeks to get to the UK.
    Could you please provide some better information? I really want to maintain the order but without any better information will be forced to review my position.

    Please can you help?

    • Alice Flemming says:

      Hi Carlo,

      I’m sorry to hear about the delay with your order. Would you mind getting in touch with our Social Media team so they can look into this for you? Their email address is [email protected]

      Thanks for your patience,
      Alice

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