Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Startup Stories: Furni Fit – Furniture For Everyone

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Anyone who has ever moved to a large, metropolitan city knows what a hassle it can be furnishing your new home. How do you know if a desk will fit within the dimensions of your studio? Will that bookshelf be an inch too tall? Andrew Kane experienced this aggravation a little over a year ago, yet instead of viewing this scenario as a massive headache, he built a burgeoning online business that addresses each hurdle he faced. Furni Fit is a new web retailer catering to the city dweller needing alternative and affordable furniture specific to their particular residence. (If only this was around during my New York years!)

Andrew understood that Furni Fit’s business model was going to grow in stages, and wanted this platform to first enter the market offering staple pieces an urban resident needs: dining, kitchen and coffee tables as well as desks, shelving and smaller storage cube options. Ultimately, Andrew saw a lack of affordable furniture companies with customizable options here in the U.S. and decided to do something about it.

Thanks so much to Andrew for sharing how Furni Fit developed over this past year!

Image above: A custom Furni Fit desk works in a larger room, but can be designed for a living space a fraction of the size of this loft workspace.

Why did you start Furni Fit?

My wife, Adriana, and I moved to New York City a little over a year ago into a cozy apartment in the East Village and quickly realized that space would be an issue. After tirelessly searching through furniture sites, we couldn’t find any pieces that were right for our place – so I built our own having zero carpentry experience.

Before Adriana and I moved to New York City, we lived in Argentina and Brazil where I realized that most people — young and old — would actually hire a carpenter to come in and build furniture to fit their spaces instead of sourcing furniture from a store. This was true across the board. The locals approached furnishing their homes this way regardless of if they owned or rented the home. This was an option for so many people because the cost to work this way was much lower than in [the] U.S. I remember going over to a friend’s house and seeing an entire lounge of custom cabinets, media units and tables that seamlessly made the room connected and I thought wow, everyone should have this option.

How do you stay inspired?

A few key ways! Listening to customers’ feedback through emails and phone calls is probably our biggest source of inspiration because it really inspires us to consider new ideas and tweaks for each piece.

My wife and our friends constantly keep me inspired during the highs and lows of creating an online startup. I couldn’t have done this without them. I know they will always give me solid and honest feedback.

Over the summer I rented a woodworking space in Brooklyn for three months to learn all the craftsmanship required to deliver quality furniture to customers – it’s not easy! During that period, I was lucky enough to meet a lot of professional carpenters and small business owners that shared their experiences and advice with me. That really helped push my vision for Furni Fit to the next level.

Image above: NYC inspiration is found everywhere — warehouses and colorful graffiti are as memorable as stoic townhouses on the Upper East Side.

Another huge source are the weekly walks that my wife and I take around Manhattan. We’ll go to various furniture retailers for ideas on colors, designs, and to see what’s trending. That’s always extraordinarily helpful! And of course, browsing endlessly through Pinterest and Instagram – seeing homes and interior design is a quick and easy way to get my daily dose of inspiration. I am also a big fan of articles which talk about how to kit out small spaces because it’s so relevant in New York and other big cities.

Image above: NYC inspiration is found everywhere — buildings dedicated to small manufacturing outfits are as memorable as stoic townhouses on the Upper East Side.

Who is your ideal customer?

Furni Fit is for everyone. That was a top priority for me from day one. We never wanted to be cost prohibitive for the average buyer’s budget and we didn’t want our merchandise to be cheap or low quality. Whether you are living in a small apartment and looking for a custom table to fit in a particular space, or you want to have a choice of coffee table colors, style and legs, then we can help.

We know the furniture buying process can be painful and really time consuming, so we set out to offer a straight-forward, seamless online process. With just a few clicks, custom furniture is on its way to our customer’s door. That’s pretty valuable for people who don’t necessarily have the time to spend hours of their weekend or evenings shopping.

What is your favorite product that you carry?

That’s a tough question! I’ll have to say the dining table because I can’t count the number of times customers have told me that they never took steps to actually buy a dining table because of the size and investment. They never even considered a custom option because the price point is usually very high. So I think my favorite would be the dining table because of those reasons and the fact that once people learn about Furni Fit, all of those special moments that bring friends, family, colleagues [and] neighbors together become attainable. I’m very passionate about how a dining table that works in any size home can provide moments and memories that no one thought was possible because of space and budget.

Also, though, when I think of the emotional context of the other pieces we offer, even our coffee tables can become a key element in one’s life. For example, they (coffee tables) make me think about lazy Sundays with my wife, watching a movie or simply being close to each other on a day that’s just for us — no work, no pressure. That table means a familiar place to put down our tea, our books — everything and anything that we get to indulge in on that special day. It sounds a bit romanticized, but really anything that becomes part of someone’s relaxation routine, or a gathering experience (like the dining table provides), is affirming and comforting.

Image above: An intimate round dining table by Furni Fit

What makes Furni Fit stand out from other online furniture retailers?

As far as I know, no other online furniture retailer offers prices as affordable for completely customizable pieces as Furni Fit. At my company, $300 can buy a fully made-to-order dining table which is pretty impressive! We offer the ability for our customers to enter the exact measurements for all pieces they purchase with Furni Fit. This feature is important to us because we fundamentally believe that if customers were given the option to have furniture in precise dimensions at an affordable cost, most would.

Looking ahead, I can’t imagine that customized furniture choices won’t become the standard in the market. We use local manufacturers across the U.S. and we’re really proud of that. When it comes to furniture, producing in the U.S. feels like the equivalent of “shopping local.” Our suppliers have amazing stories from their years of producing pieces before the global economy came to dominate their industry. Their craftsmanship and heritage are really how they stayed in business during hard times and the demand for custom, U.S. made goods is helping them get rediscovered and make a comeback, so to speak.

Image above: Small wood shops across the U.S. are still making custom furniture in-house, with a little help from laptops and technology to expedite communication.

Our goal is to invest in the local economy and do our part to keep these historically rich carpentry and cabinetry trades alive and well. Since we have direct relationships with these makers, Furni Fit has incredibly short delivery times. Our turnaround time is generally 2-3 weeks. We’re transparent with our customers and we personally deliver items ourselves. That really helps us in the customer satisfaction department and helps us understand the logistics of our business firsthand since we’re on the front line all through the process. That even means being available 24 hours a day for customer support. Small businesses [are] really demanding and not for the weak at heart, but it’s amazing to think that we can solve a problem in the market conceptually and then figure out how to make it happen in real-life. Most people solve problems or fill needs for their employer, so it’s fascinating to come at it from the other direction. No shopping drama for our customers — that’s kind of my first thought in the morning!

Our goal is to invest in the local economy and do our part to keep these historically rich carpentry and cabinetry trades alive and well.

Since Adriana and I aren’t originally from the states and since we’ve lived abroad before our big move to New York, it was a big deal to finally arrive here and find a small apartment we could call home. We’re still really starry-eyed when we visit different neighborhoods in the five boroughs — it’s like being a tourist and an enamored longtime resident at the same time. The best of both worlds, right? It’s that everyday excitement about NYC that led to us naming our pieces after famous New York neighborhoods like The Tribeca for our desks, The Greenwich for our dining tables and The Soho for our coffee tables.

 

What life skills have been most useful in pursuing a career as an independent online business?

Being open to feedback while sticking to your vision. Creating a startup is very challenging – it certainly tests your pride and patience. If you’re willing to listen to those offering guidance, and then act on those suggestions, you’re halfway there. That’s a critical step in developing a better product or service for customers.

And remember that it’s okay to get your hands dirty! At the beginning of my Furni Fit journey, I’d outsource everything I didn’t understand — like web development. Finally I decided to learn how to do it myself. That was a huge money and time saver. Plus, it enabled me to better understand certain aspects of the business I’d never been a part of before, like the visual merchandising of our online store.

Another skill I carried with me into Furni Fit was the understanding of how to manage people. As a startup, working with people is critical to success. I’ve have had the pleasure of working with a whole host of freelancers across the globe e.g. industrial engineers in Serbia, mathematicians in the U.S., product designers in Vietnam and graphic designers in India – each bringing something unique and valuable to the table. Plus, finding a connection point with each of them has helped hone my inter-personal skills – and we’ve shared a lot of laughter along the way – win/win!

What has been the most surprising lesson you’ve learned by being an online furniture vendor in New York City?

Never would I have thought that in a city like New York, there’d be so many resources on my doorstep to help create a furniture company. From wood workshops to cafes with free WIFI – New York has a plethora of assets for new businesses just starting out. I’ve also found that New Yorkers are friendly and happy to help their neighbor out. They’re completely different than the stereotypical New Yorker. There’s a real sense of community among the startup world in this city, and it’s really encouraging to know that the friends I’ve made throughout this journey are so supportive.

As a new resident not only of NYC but the U.S., what has your experience been in building an independent online business?

New York is probably the most entrepreneurial city I have ever had the privilege of calling home. I don’t think I would have started this journey if it weren’t for energy and buzz that New York commands. This city sets the bar for new products, design, ideas and influence. The old adage “if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere” is honestly spot-on. Because New York is the melting pot of this nation, you have a never-ending supply of education and inspiration – a perfect atmosphere for anyone considering starting their own online business. This city is a living, breathing classroom! The key is to figure out a way to be seen and remain top-of-mind at every point of the potential customer’s shopping journey.

What tips would you offer to new online shop owners?

First, be brave, persistent and try your best. When things get tough, take a step back and remember that overcoming these challenges are what will make the next challenges easier and make the product better for your customers in the long run.

Next I’d say to try the impossible and get out of your comfort zone. If you’ve never designed something before, created a website, learned about tax and accounting or tried to sell something, that’s okay — “successful people” once didn’t know either.

It’s also very important to ask for feedback every step along the way then take a step back and remember that overcoming these challenges are what will make the next challenges easier.

**This post is sponsored by Furni Fit, a small online business whose mission is to make custom furniture for any size space affordable. Thank you for supporting our sponsors who help us bring you free, original content every weekday.**


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