Moving is no fun. Packing up and schlepping furniture and belongings, only to unpack and re-set up in a new location is taxing. But if part of the equation were taken out — say, the moving and setting up of furniture — perhaps it would be better for the consumer?
That’s what Furnishr aims to do. Cofounded by Michael Van and Karen Lau, this “Warby of home furnishing” company started in January 2015, now has more than 30 individuals on board and works with 10 commercial businesses on an ongoing basis.
Funishr is a “room-in-a-box” concept that allows consumers to choose from a bunch of predesigned rooms online and have them delivered and set up in their new location. The direct-to-consumer business considers the target audience to be those who have “graduated from IKEA” furniture and are willing to invest a little more in their home.
Van spoke with PYMNTS about the founding of the business, why the business is a “Warby of X” with a little “Uber of X” mixed in, the partnerships that are in the queue for 2017 and what it could take for other future businesses to become a “Furnishr of X.”
What is Furnishr?
Furnishr is a turn-key platform that helps consumers minimize the time and cost of furnishing their homes. We’ve created room packages for our customers to view and select from. From there, we do the delivery, assembly and cleanup for the customer. We try to make it as easy as possible to furnish their home.
Seems like the “Warby of home furnishing” with some “Uber of X” elements. Do you agree?
We go direct from manufacturers to consumers. So with traditional home furnishing, we see a lot of markup and costs as the stuff passes through warehouses, wholesalers and lots of middlemen.
From an “Uber-like” standpoint, we’re really quick and convenient to furnish your home. It’s just the press of a button, and then we’re able to furnish your home, pretty quickly or within five to 15 business days.
Where are you located?
Toronto and New York but able to work across America. We’ve been able to set up a supply chain network that spans all across North America. It goes back to us being able to offer product across North America but starting in a few markets so we can really target our marketing dollars.
Can you share the history of Furnishr?
The company was founded by myself and my business partner, Karen. We’ve known each other for about 13 years. We both had corporate careers, and at some point she had an interest in interior design, and I’ve always had an interest in jumping into the entrepreneur space. We were toying around with the idea of housewares and furniture design and how to offer that to the consumer. We found that to be a very tricky market dealing with both side of the markets. So we started pursuing this concept of a room in a box, and we were moving around a lot — different apartments — and we found that moving was a very tedious task, moving both your furniture and your belongings. We thought how great would it be to just move your belongings and have the furniture all set up for you. So we pitched the idea to Techstars Next Accelerators Program in Toronto. We got into the program, and from there the idea really took off.
Have you received external funding?
Post the program, we were able to get some seeding funding from XRC Labs and the Parsons School of Design.
How does it work from the consumer’s perspective?
It’s really simple. You jump on the website, and you’ll see a lot of furniture packages listed there. You decide you like one or you want to change one or two pieces, and you contact someone on the design team who can develop a specialized package. Or you pick a predesigned package. From there, it’s clicking on the “buy” button and entering your credit card information. Our team will then be in contact with the customer on the delivery date. Once you confirm the date, our guys deliver the products for you on site. The consumer really just has to open up the doors. And that’s the extent of what they need to do. Once the furniture is assembled, the guys take away the boxes, and the room is ready to go.
Besides the individual consumer moving into a living space, who else do you work with?
So we have a direct-to-consumer business, but we also have the B2B business that includes property managers and short-term rental companies and developers. We offer them the ability to not pass on the design duties and costs for their model units or furnished units. A lot of the work falls outside their scope and competency. Taking that task away from them allows them to focus on what they’re great at.
How does Furnishr get paid?
Each of our package have a built-in price. So for a room that is about $2,000, we get a cut of that.
What battle wounds or hurdles have you overcome as a startup?
The first one would definitely be funding — so working through and with limited funding and being able to create from it. The second would be around marketing dollars and how we’re taking a fairly simple idea and marketing it in a way that is understandable to the customer. We have found that with home furnishing, a lot of people aren’t willing to spend a lot on it. So we try to get people to realize that their home does deserve a little love as well and be able to pass that message on. It can be a quasi-crowded space. We aren’t the cheapest option on the market — take IKEA, for example — but we have high value. So it’s about working with the right type of customer. We consider ourselves the “IKEA graduate” of furniture, or when people want more “adult furniture,” if you will.
Looking ahead to 2017, have you made partnerships in the home furnishing space?
We made a partnership with the real estate company Compass, which has tried to streamline the home rental process. We’re also working with mattress company Casper on some room pieces. So a lot of exciting partnerships are coming this year.
Do you feel like the “Warby of X” model is sustainable?
I think it’s a great way to hash out the early stages of the business model as the company evolves. I think there will be different elements of different companies that others will take from. And I think for us, we try to learn from other companies or startups out there and leverage the positives. As it evolves, we may be the “Warby of” or “Uber of” this today but the “AirBnB of” something else tomorrow. I think it’s going to be an evolution. We’d love to become the model so that others say they are the “Furnishr of X.”