Barbora Samieian Left the United Nations and Started Buzzy Furniture Brand Sundays
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Barbora Samieian, the co-founder of Vancouver-based furniture brand Sundays.
For three years, Barbora Samieian had her “dream job” as an associate evaluation officer at the United Nations in New York City, doing everything from conducting program assessments of global initiatives to collecting data and drafting reports. But after having her first child, she and her husband Moe returned to their home of Vancouver in 2016 so they could be closer to their families. Knowing that the city was not a hub for international organizations and NGOs (most are in Toronto or Ottawa), Samieian considered what she could do instead.
Having noticed the ubiquitousness of salad bars in Manhattan, she spotted a gap in the local market: Vancouver—a health-obsessed city—didn’t yet have the same offerings. So she partnered with an old high school friend, a restaurant owner, to launch Field & Social, an eatery focused on full-sized, colourful and robust salads in the downtown area.
Within three years of opening the first spot, Samieian opened a few additional locations in the city’s financial district and Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. The experience of running a small business was a learning curve for Samieian, who suddenly had to come up with seasonal menus, cultivate team culture to improve staff retention and learn the ins-and-outs of marketing. After four years, she no longer wanted to be the daily operator of Field & Social, and was looking for a new business venture. While chatting with her husband Moe, whose family was in the wholesale furniture business, they came up with an idea: a furniture brand that had a very narrow, high-quality product offering, similar to a capsule collection in fashion. This concept resonated with Samieian who had always found furniture shopping overwhelming. She wanted to curate pieces that work well together—not overwhelm customers with choice.
“I had no shame in messaging everybody on LinkedIn”
They brought on two others—Moe’s sister Sara, who had experience in the industry, and Noah, Samieian’s friend from high school who had a design background—and started meeting on Sundays to talk business, because they all had other full-time jobs at the time. When it came time to launch the brand, the word “Sundays” stuck. “It also felt like that’s the day when you feel most at home,” says Samieian.
Moe and Sara handled sourcing, Noah led product development, and Samieian had the drive to build a brand from the ground up. They launched Sundays online in November 2019 with living room furniture like sofas, sideboards and coffee tables. Because they didn’t know much about digital advertising, promoting Sundays was done mostly by word of mouth at first. “It was very gritty,” says Samieian. “I had no shame in messaging everybody on LinkedIn.”
Then Covid hit.
The pandemic brought many challenges for the young company, such as expensive freight costs, closed factories and supply chain issues. Initially, Sundays’ model was to sell in-stock items from its warehouse, which was one of its competitive advantages, says Samieian. “We had to let go of that idea quite quickly and start accepting pre-orders within short timelines.” After about eight months, and with access to an empty storefront from Field & Social (it was leased as a new location but the opening was delayed due to the pandemic), they staged a Sundays pop-up shop in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood. “We learned that when customers are buying a $5,000 sofa, they appreciate the opportunity to sit on it and see its sturdiness,” Samieian says. That’s when the founders’ mindset shifted; they knew they couldn’t just be an e-commerce brand. “We pride ourselves on our quality, and that’s hard to communicate on a website alone.”
By September 2020, after targeting specific markets such as Vancouver and Toronto with a “triple threat” of pop-ups, digital advertising and partnerships with local influencers to gain brand recognition, Samieian started to see a consistent month-over-month increase in sales. That growth, paired with the success of that year’s Black Friday sale, meant they could finally expand and hire more staff. Sundays now has two showrooms, one in Vancouver and one in Toronto, and will open one in Calgary this year.
There are plans to expand into the U.S., too. Sundays staged pop-ups in New York and Los Angeles last year, and wants to open a showroom in one of those key markets. And while the company’s vision is to provide pieces that “are beautiful, comfortable and livable,” Samieian’s ultimate goal is to make the furniture shopping experience seamless. Delivery is free no matter how much a customer spends, and for large items like beds and dining tables (categories Sundays has since expanded into), the piece is assembled in the customer’s home at no extra cost. “We want to make it easy and enjoyable to create a space you love,” says Samieian.