For a while now, stores have been selling furniture online, even as the media scoffs at the very idea. An August Forbes article compared buying furniture online to "marrying someone you've met in a chat room, but have never actually seen in person." Now it seems that furniture dot-coms have caught on to customers' unease and embraced everyone's favorite buzzword: business-to-business.
Red Herring writer Vanessa Richardson, who joined the chorus pointing out that customers are reluctant to buy furniture online, discussed the VC funding recently received by furniture online retailers Homepoint and Krause's. Both companies have set aside much of their VC for b-to-b applications. "About 85 to 90 percent of our business is b-to-b anyway," said Homepoint CEO Mike West.
Krause's Furniture agreed that most customers will order from traditional stores, so they're focusing on selling to independent retailers, online retailers, hotels, and restaurants. Furniture Brands, the largest furniture manufacturer, doesn't do consumer e-commerce at all, but it hasn't ruled out b-to-b transactions.
Specifically, a typical b-to-b furniture deal might work like this: Homepoint would buy furniture from manufacturers, then sell it to retailers (online or traditional) and collect markup fees. Homepoint also plans to build an online store for dealers and manufacturers, and collect transaction fees for wholesale orders. We're surprised none of these retailers mentioned the office furniture market. Forbes.com called that sector "cookie-cutterish," but that would be perfect for online bulk buying, wouldn't it? And it's still b-to-b, sort of.
Maybe after they give up on your living room, furniture Net retailers will target your conference room.