Custom furniture e-retailer Interior Define has a storefront in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood filled with couches that you can’t buy.
Or rather, a shopper can’t buy a couch the way she might buy most items in a physical store, paying for it and carrying it home. Instead, she can try out various sofas and chairs, choose the fabric and other options, and then have the order placed through the retailer’s e-commerce site, InteriorDefine.com.
“The biggest challenge of selling large [furniture] pieces online is that people often want to get a better sense of what they look like and feel like,” says co-founder Rob Royer.
It’s a path pioneered by the likes of men’s fashion retailers Blank Label and Royer’s former employer Bonobos Inc.: Companies that have brick-and-mortar locations where consumers can physically see and touch products that they then buy online. Bonobos is No. 282 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.
Royer says that after seeing the success of Bonobos’ guide shops, he’s hoping to replicate that with Interior Define. The retailer currently has five employees in Chicago and seven overseas and has raised $2 million in seed financing to date.
“We’re following a similar approach to what Bonobos has done, opening more efficient retail locations,” he says. “We’re giving people all the customization options, letting them see exactly what the product will look like, but ultimately we’re processing every order through our e-commerce back end.”
Interior Define primarily sells sofas and chairs starting at $600. The retailer has sold more than 100 sofas since the web site launched in December 2013, although Royer didn’t have an exact figure. The showroom opened in January 2014. He says the company has sold more than $1 million worth of products in the first year and has been growing by more than 25% month over month for the last seven months.
The order process is fairly simple: Customers, whether online or in store, will place an order online, specifying the fabric type, color and, in some cases, the length of the piece they would like. Interior Define passes the order onto its factory, with which they have established a direct relationship. The factory begins the process of building each individual piece.
“That’s why we can change many aspects of the sofa, including the cushion fill and the legs and the material and the length in many cases or the configuration because we’re not limited by any inventory restrictions,” Royer says. “We don’t have 400 sofas on the web site. We have 20 designs that you can take as a starting point and start to customize them for yourself depending on what your needs are.”
Interior Define’s seeks to appeal to fashion-forward young professionals with some disposable income who don’t want to spend all of it on high-end furniture. With that audience in mind, the retailer has formed partnerships with women’s lifestyle web site The Everygirl and HGTV personality Alison Victoria.
“We’re not doing a lot of search engine marketing or display advertising,” Royer says. “We’re focused on developing these relationships that help us expand our reach through more organic exposure.”
Royer says he’s hoping to open similar showrooms in other cities across the country in 2015. Rright now the focus is on improving the company’s e-commerce site to better showcase its furniture.
“We are working with a company to help us more immersively display our products online and show every fabric options and every angle of the product and do that in a more scalable fashion than taking a lot of photographs,” he says. “That’s most likely to launch in the February to March timeline of this coming year.” Royer would not disclose which company Interior Define is working with.Favorite