Seventeen years ago, Christiane Lemieux created DwellStudio, a popular catalog and e-retailer that built one brick-and-mortar store in SoHo before being acquired for undisclosed terms in 2013 by the online store Wayfair.
Now, she's back with The Inside, a two-person, New York-based direct-to-consumer home decor brand that's creating fashionable made-to-order furniture, and which just raised $1.5 million from renowned e-commerce investor Kirsten Green and her firm, Forerunner Ventures.
The items, which are made of wood and foam and made-to-order printed fabric, are priced around $300 on average and include everything from chairs, couches and beds, to screens, ottomans and benches. (It's making kids furniture, too.)
As an added enticement, The Inside, which relies on 3D imaging and digital printing, also promises fast delivery. Specifically, it says it can make its furniture in just to six to nine days and ship it directly via UPS from where it's made in Chicago. (Typically, custom upholstered pieces take anywhere from eight to twelve weeks to create.)
We talked with Lemieux earlier today to understand better what she's aiming to do. Our exchange has been edited slightly for length.
TC: Why pursue this idea right now?
CL: What consumers have had up until now is a sea of gray product that all looks the same. Anyone in furniture retail knows this formula: inventory plus protracted design cycles plus large minimum order quantities plus long lead times plus and onerous logistics equals big pain points -- also known as the traditional supply chain.
Like most retail companies, at DwellStudio, we also followed this cycle: design, sample, manufacture and import. This process typically takes 18 months from start to finish and because of the minimum order quantity from manufacturing partners, the selection becomes narrow quickly to avoid inventory exposure.
I really saw a hole in the market here - where consumers were lacking choices in design, fashionably fun furniture and accessibility, as well as fast shipping. With The Inside, we’re aiming to reimagine the furniture industry by leveraging virtual manufacturing and a zero inventory model to offer unique designs made with incredible speed.
TC: What is the full range of furniture pieces that can be made?
CL: The Inside has over 800 SKUs and an incredibly wide-ranging selection of fabric patterns, so in addition to choice, we also want to give shoppers a very curated offering. We have tons of amazing guest designers in the pipeline -- right now we’re launching with Peter Som and Claire V -- that we'll be rolling out post-launch.
TC: What type of fabrics are you using?
CL: The printed upholstery is cotton linen or linen. This is the most popular ground cloth for furniture.
TC: What is the company’s return policy?
CL: We have a 30-day return policy.
TC: What are some of the prices that customers can expect to pay?
CL: The Inside’s prices start at $219 with an average price point of $300: Our Queen-size headboards start at $499, for example, and the average price is $559. Our Ottomans start at $219 and the average cost is $429. Our accent chairs start at $349 and average $489.
TC: Where is this furniture available to buy? Are you partnering with other stores or is it available through your site only?
CL: Yes, everyone can find our products on [our site].
TC: What would you say is most unique about its construction?
CL: Everything is made-to-order, so we carry no inventory. We digitally print the fabric, so the footprint stays amazingly small and there’s no fabric waste. We use virtual manufacturing, a digital design process that uses 3D models to allow for products to be adaptive.
TC: How do you overcome the concern that “fast furniture” could suggest slightly shoddier furniture, as with fast fashion?
CL: Consumers can expect our furniture to still be high quality, as well as unique to many other choices out there. With our zero-inventory model, we're able to offer unique designs at attainable prices as a solution to the cost-efficient imports that inundate the market while maintaining a precise attention to detail and an emphasis on quality.
TC: Forerunner is known for a portfolio of companies that use innovative marketing tactics. What’s in Inside’s bag of tricks? Print catalogs? Facebook ads?
CL: We're of the mindset that you need to try everything, because the landscape is changing constantly. Because we're creating beautiful interiors, imagery and content will be central to our marketing. We will also be partnering with a wide range of collaborators allowing us to speak to consumers in unique ways. And we see some of the more traditional routes like direct mail as being an important part of the acquisition strategy.
TC: Everyone has pieces they'd probably love to refurbish affordably. Do you see a day when The Inside refurbishes existing furniture with its fabrics or is that too far afield from what you're working on?
CL: This is definitely something we’re considering for the future. We’re just focusing on launch right now.
TC: What do you see as the company's target demographic?
CL: Consumers who crave style, exclusivity, and adaptability to accommodate their transient and urban lifestyles.
Our goal is to turn “social media inspo” into a reality with signature assortments of stylish and eclectic furniture, purposefully curated to bring all of the most Instagram-worthy Pinterest boards to life.