Startup retailer Feather appeals to shoppers who are in transition or want to ‘live light’ and not accumulate possessions. Shoppers can rent home furniture and then return or swap it out after only a few months.

A living room furniture set from West Elm is out of reach for many 22-year-old college grads moving out of mom and dad’s for the first time.

But startup retailer Feather aims to make home furnishings more attainable with a new business model for the furniture industry. Feather, which launched in April 2017, is a furniture subscription e-commerce site that allows shoppers to rent new or like-new furniture for three months to 12 months on its site livefeather.com.

For example, a shopper on a seven-month plan would pay $210 per month for the West Elm living room package, which includes a West Elm couch, chair, coffee table and lamp. Feather delivers the furniture and sets it up. After seven months, a shopper can choose to keep it longer and continue paying a monthly rate that is 10% less than her current rate, swap it out for other furniture for free, buy the entire set for $726 or return the furniture for $100. These prices vary based on how long the shopper intends to keep the furniture and which retail brand she chooses.

Feather—only available in the San Francisco or New York City markets—rents and sells furniture from West Elm, Joybird (No. 883 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000), Tuft & Needle (No. 254), Pottery Barn (owned by Williams-Sonoma Inc., No. 25), Pottery Barn Kids and Casper (No. 132). Feather will rent out furniture to three or four customers, on average, before it retires them from circulation, founder and CEO Jay Reno says. At that point, Feather will sell or donate the pieces after this amount of time, he says.

Feather owns the branded products it rents out and warehouses them, but Reno would not reveal further details of the relationship with the furniture brands. The benefit for these retailers, he says, is access to younger shoppers who would not potentially be their customer until later in their life.

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“Many people aspire to have West Elm furniture, and now they have access to it, by paying monthly to have it,” Reno says.

Feather also has its own brand of furniture that it supplies from various manufacturers and wholesalers and prices its SKUs as much less than the larger retail brands. Shoppers can shop a la carte for rented pieces or an entire package of furniture. The majority of shoppers are renting more than one piece at a time from Feather, Reno says. The retailer expects to generate “many millions” of dollars in revenue this year, he says.

Living light is the new American dream.
Jay Reno, founder and CEO

Feather’s target shopper is a “typical millennial” who is between 18 and 35 years old and likely to be moving a dozen times by the time she is in her mid-30s, he says.

“For people in that transition phase of their lives, ownership of big-ticket items doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Reno says. “Today, everyone owns [furniture] because that’s the only solution they’ve been offered.”

In offering a subscription service, Feather aims to help shoppers avoid being “bogged down” by too many personal possessions. “Living feather light,” hence the brand’s name, resonates with millennials, Reno says.

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“Living light is the new American dream,” Reno says. “People aspire to have flexibly. Our generation is interested in achieving freedom and flexibility in our lives, not accumulate stuff. That’s a very big cultural shift. The American dream is changing, and we built this product for people who aspire to that new American dream.”

In the first year, Feather relied on word of mouth to slowly grow its business. In May, the retailer relaunched its site with a new business model and new products. Previously, Feather was less flexible, and shoppers had to return the furniture whenever they initially said they would, instead of having the option to swap or extend. Plus, it didn’t have any retailer partners, and shoppers were only renting furniture from various wholesalers.

Now, Feather is working to drive brand awareness about its business model via New York City subway ads and targeted digital ads.

Feather is working to expand to new cities “relatively quickly,” although Reno would not provide any time frame. Feather is not profitable but has the “chance to become profitable fairly soon,” Reno says. The retailer has raised $3.5 million.

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