Furnishing The Mobile Lifestyle, Sharing Economy-Style


Michael Barlow has called several places home: He has moved five times in seven years and lived with different roommates. But through his experiences, he didn’t have the furnishings that he wanted. “I never actually bought nice furniture,” Barlow, CEO and co-founder of Fernish, told PYMNTS in an interview. “I never actually had an inspired home experience.”

Barlow, like others who frequently relocate, understandably didn’t want to commit to owning nice furniture only to get rid of it before a move. Co-founder Lucas Dickey also had similar experiences, moving 10 times in 13 years as he chased opportunities in different cities. Seeing that they and others faced a common challenge of furnishing a space when one is constantly moving, the two decided to start Fernish.

Barlow and Dickey seek to solve two major friction points in the furniture shopping experience by offering a range of items, from sofas to bed frames. Buying furniture at an upscale retailer can be a large investment, as a sofa could cost $2,000. And once consumers get over the sticker shock, they may have to wait weeks for their furniture to arrive at their homes if the fabric is out of stock. Barlow and Dickey set out to take on those challenges with Fernish.

The Market

Fernish seeks to solve the problems associated with the traditional way of obtaining furniture. First, the service aims to deliver orders to customers in roughly a week. Secondly, there isn’t the same sticker shock as there might be with a large, one-time purchase at a furniture store. In addition, Fernish provides consumers with more flexibility: They can walk away from the furniture at the end of the term or swap it out for another piece, which could be useful for someone who is going from living alone in a studio apartment to a two-bedroom apartment with roommates.

Consumers can browse furniture pieces a la carte or by a bundle of items in a collection. Barlow and Dickey found the latter option to suit customers who were admittedly not design-oriented, but still wanted pieces that went well together. After choosing the pieces, customers can select a move-in date and make a payment by credit card, debit card or automated clearing house (ACH). Before the order comes, the company coordinates a time with the customer via a combination of phone calls, emails and messages.

At the end of the subscription term, buyers can opt to make their furniture a permanent part of their homes. “We allow them to count all the subscription payments they’ve made to date toward the buyout,” Dickey said. That is, the company takes the retail price and subtracts the payments made so far to arrive at the final payment price. While this option is not the company’s main focus, it could appeal to consumers who are nearing the end of the period in which they are moving around the country.

Overall, Fernish caters to those between 22 years old to the age when they settle down and are not moving at the same level of frequency – perhaps when they are ready to get married, have children and/or buy their first home. All of those trends are moving well past 35 into the late 30s,” Dickey noted. He added that the mindset of moving around might extend to someone in their early 40s if he or she is looking for jobs in the tech industry, for example.

Dickey sees his customers as belonging to a mobile lifestyle, who would rather spend money on visiting places than on items like large pieces of furniture. The subscription model can provide a way for consumers to furnish their homes without breaking the bank – or having to leave furniture behind in a move.