Now here’s an idea that could be really cool: applying the Threadless, buy-on-demand, customer-voted online store model to something much more high-end and design-oriented: home furniture. That’s what Fashion4Home, a Berlin-based startup launching in the U.S. today, is doing. They company has already had preliminary success in the German market, shipping its first products in time for Christmas and now bringing to the U.S. about 80 designer-originated and crowd-influenced models, ranging from lamps to couches at prices ranging from $29 to $999.
It’s early days and there’s a lot of executing to be done, but the less-than-one-year-old Fashion4Home has put together a team of top e-commerce and retail folks from Europe and raised Series A funding from Holtzbrinck Ventures and Rocket Internet (aka the famous German Samwer brothers). It’s also gathered a crew of furniture designers who are receptive to the idea of feedback and enthusiastic about improved turnaround time to see their products and get paid for them.
While the process of furniture design — sketching, pitching, prototyping, manufacturing, shipping, selling — can last a year or more, Fashion4Home cuts it down dramatically. After a feedback period, the company farms out the manufacturing to one or more of the firms it’s working with, and has a product for customers in about eight weeks, said co-founder and managing director Just Beyer in an interview on Monday. Shipping is free, and orders are placed once a week. Once demand ceases, a product is retired (that’s the plan, at least; it’s so early it hasn’t happened yet).
Users who contribute feedback have no obligation to buy, but they do get a 10 percent discount on the final product if they vote on it. Because all furniture that’s produced has already been paid for, and avoids ever sitting in a showroom waiting for a buyer, Fashion4Home can charge significantly less for it.
But then, online furniture buying is a tiny market; even Beyer, who’s trying to advocate it, says only 5 percent of U.S. furniture sales today are online, and 2 percent in Germany. Still, it’s the kind of sector you can see taking off, especially when free shipping and a good return policy are involved.
The only thing I don’t like so far about Fashion4Home is the chintzy name, but Beyer explained that he hopes his sped-up furniture development process can better bring a sense of trends and fashion to the furniture world. Personally, I’d be set for quite a few years with a nice-looking couch that I helped design and bought for a good price.