By Victoria Kertz, California Business Journal
The parent companies of traditional furniture manufacturers Thomasville and Broyhill filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, which tells you all you need to know about the state of the industry. Throw into the mix that big chain stores like Ashley Furniture still find it difficult to compete against edgier, more affordable sellers like Ikea. Consumers, meanwhile, are finding that furniture can be found where they’re already shopping for other items, whether is it at a grocery run at Target or a bridal registry trip to Crate & Barrel.
Then, of course, anything can be found at Amazon.
What the more successful furniture sellers have in common is that they offer more than just furniture. Art, decor, accessories, table settings, and everything in between are just an aisle away.
Karl Sutton, founder and CEO of Qolture took note, and then put it all in one place: online.
Qolture, which rhymes with “culture”, is a name that Sutton says was designed to be “unique, novel, and memorable.” The brand’s main differentiator at its onset three years ago was that Qolture was completely online, a strategy that will obviously continue for the foreseeable future, as Sutton is very quick to point out, primarily because of this: no big showrooms to lease, no employee salaries, and no print catalog; just a prominent online presence.
Part of what inspired him to focus on furniture is the lack of online furniture availability and a high potential for growth. He says that while 90 percent of furniture stores have a website, only 25 percent of them accept online orders. And everyone needs furniture. Buyers spent $59.44 billion in 2017 alone and worldwide furniture sales are expected to grow 11.9 percent through 2022, according to Furniture Today, a weekly furniture industry magazine. That growth is almost certain to come from online sales — and Qolture seeks to be at the top.
“Our focus is differentiation,” Sutton says. Offering tens of thousands of items online is one thing. Attracting and keeping customers is another, so Qolture’s new initiatives and products are designed with customer retention in mind.
The first initiative, which will launch soon, is one to connect buyers with local, certified interior designers in their area. Qolture is known to provide local contractors for furniture assembly, as opposed to employing a team themselves, so reaching out to local designers is a logical next step. It’s one way that an online-only company can put a human face on its product — and it echos the exclusive interviews Sutton has on Qolture’s blog that includes some of the most famous names on HGTV and DIY network shows.
Visitors to Qolture.com will find insight from Drew and Jonathon Scott from The Property Brothers and Chip Gaines from Fixer Upper, among others. The Scott brothers and Gaines share tips and tricks for design and decor that can’t be found anywhere else.
The relationship that Qolture has with HGTV and DIY network personalities “creates value for our customers,” Sutton remarks. “Our blog content has had a powerful — and positive — impact on our brand.”
Sutton says their new app will add even more value. Currently in beta and called “Vuuroom,” the multi-platform app will allow customers to imagine the placement of their furniture selections with a drop-and-drag feature, then share the layout on social media or email to friends and family.
Qolture will also begin offering financing options for “big ticket items,” Sutton says. While most of their furnishings are affordable compared to some of the more modern furniture sites, a handful of the larger sofas and sectionals reach upwards of $3,000. The company’s new financing option will help make its furniture a reality for more people. Sutton points out that the three highest selling departments for Qolture are Living Room, Outdoor, and Kitchen, so financing options will reinforce already strong selling areas.
Innovation is perhaps the element that Sutton finds most important of all. Qolture is currently developing an LED faucet tap light that is expected to launch before the end of the year. While Sutton would not share too many details, the faucet attachment will be Qolture-branded and provide a brightly lit stream of water with just a tap of the hand. It’s success could result in future white label products for Qolture.
“New product development is something we need to focus on,” he says. “We plan to manufacture more products in the future. It’s very exciting to be part of this movement.”
As retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and others have discovered, the best-selling item in a furniture store isn’t necessarily a piece of furniture at all. In Qolture’s case, it’s the Nature Grazer Fruit Slicer, a stainless steel apparatus that cores and slices a variety of fruits. It sells for $9.95 and is only available at Qolture (even when the item is purchased on Amazon, the sale is processed through Qolture). It’s proof for Qolture that good things come in small packages.
“As we move into our fourth year, we’re focusing on new products and an overall great customer experience,” Sutton says. Expanding market share and building awareness of the brand are two goals for 2019 — and there are no plans for stores or showrooms. The Internet is big enough for Sutton.
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