|The furniture line and retail expansion contributed to boosting the company’s sales 73% to about $40 million in 2016 from $23 million the year before. Nicolau projects sales this year will grow another 50-60%. Between 45% and 50% of 2016 sales were of office furniture, which Poppin.com only introduced in April 2015.|
Poppin.com made its name selling tape dispensers, staplers and pens in pastel colors instead of drab black, grey and burgundy. Now it has expanded into office furniture and put its products into 4,500 retail stores, with more growth initiatives in the offing, says CEO Randy Nicolau.
Like its office supplies, the furniture is made by Poppin, which sells it directly to customers. Nicolau called Poppin “the Tesla of office suppliers,” because, like the maker of electric cars, Poppin is vertically integrated: It makes the product, sells it on its website and handles delivery to the customer.
Poppin.com, No. 519 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 1000, also has grown sales by placing its merchandise in 4,500 bricks-and-mortar stores operated by Staples Inc. (No. 5), The Container Store Inc. (No. 316) and college bookstores operated by Barnes & Noble Inc. (No. 54). “When our products are sold in retail stores they’re always displayed together under Poppin signage we designed and created,” Nicolau says. “Our staplers aren’t in the stapler aisle and notebooks in the notebook aisle. They’re all together.”
To better introduce its furniture line to architects and interior designers, Poppin has opened showrooms in New York and San Francisco. There will be four or five more physical locations opened this year, Nicolau says, including in Los Angeles, Chicago and Denver. “We write a lot of business in those showrooms,” he says.
He attributes the success of the furniture line to it filling a gap between low-end merchandise from the likes of Ikea and pricey furniture from Herman Miller and similar high-end brands. He says he has identified a number of other big categories where Poppin can cut out the middleman and provide quality goods at affordable prices. While he would not name those product categories, he says the first new items will appear at the end of this year with more to come in 2018.
Customer service also is critical. “There may be a customer who needs a delivery into a union building at certain hours when the elevator is available,” Nicolau says. He compares Poppin’s ability to handle that kind of complicated fulfillment of large, high-ticket items to Wayfair Inc.’s success in home furnishings. Wayfair, No. 24 in the Top 1000, nearly doubled online sales to $2.04 billion in 2015 and was named the 2016 Internet Retailer of the Year by Internet Retailer last year in an award ceremony at IRCE.
And even producing matching yellow staplers and tape dispensers is harder than it looks. Those items are produced in different factories and it’s critical that the colors match exactly. “You don’t have to be an expert in design to look at two items next to each other on a desk and see the colors don’t match,” he says. To ensure consistency, he says, Poppin maintains three offices and 18 full-time employees in China, and it operates color quality labs in the factories where it produces its Poppin-branded goods.Favorite