When the New York Times writes about your product, sales inevitably explode.
That’s at least what high-end sofa company BenchMade Modern experienced. It was featured in a trend story in 2016 and then, in 2019, became highly rated on the newspaper’s review website the Wirecutter (it remains the site’s top choice). When the Wirecutter review hit, said founder Edgar Blazona, “our web numbers spiked.”
Blazona joined the Modern Retail Podcast and spoke about how he’s grown his company over the years. This isn’t his first furniture foray. In the 2000s he began selling modern children’s furniture online on websites like Wayfair. But he decided to get into the sofa game in 2015. BenchMade Modern makes furniture that averages between $3,000 and $6,000. It focuses on having as short of a lead time as possible while still being custom made. Currently, its lead time time averages five weeks, but Blazona said it can be as low as three.
Unsurprisingly, the last year was big for the company. Sales did nosedive in March, which caused BenchMade Modern to temporarily pivot to manufacturing PPE. But in May, things picked back up as people were stuck at home and in need of nicer furniture. According to Blazona, revenue went up 100% year-over-year in 2020.
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The focus now is on keeping this growth. Blazona said the company is still facing some supply chain hiccups, but he doesn’t think demand for furniture is going to dip post-pandemic. The company has slowly been adding new products like rugs and lighting. The strategy, he said, is “just fine-tuning all of that and adding these new categories so that we can be a little bit more of a one-stop-shop.”
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
When the Wirecutter review hits
“It was the day after [the Wirecutter recommendation published] when our web numbers spiked. The traffic alone spiked; our swatches — our swatch orders — were so overwhelming, because we weren’t used to that cadence. We were making the swatch boxes on the fly. We had enough to do a couple hundred. And then suddenly, now we need to do a couple thousand. In the scheme of things, it was a real game changer. It frankly helped us to understand the power of social proof.”
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On selling an expensive item online
“We have to find a way to show the customer that they can buy a $3,000 to $6,000 sofa online — which is really difficult. How do we get that customer past the hurdle of, ‘Hey, look, we’re not gonna swipe your card, take your money and never send you a sofa.’ In our price point, there’s a lot of people that are new to spending this type of money online; most of them have never spent this much of a dollar amount online in a single transaction.. We [overcome] that [with] our swatch box that we send out. We send it second-day air, it comes immediately … We then have 100-day return policies and 15-day no questions asked return policies. Those are all designed to reinforce, ‘Hey, we’re the real deal.'”
The growing foam shortage
“We were up 100% last year. And we expect to be up maybe 80% to 100% this year — if the material is there. Right now, there’s actually a demand run on foam. It’s not actually on the foam — it’s on the raw material that makes up the polyurethane foam. Nationwide, there’s a foam shortage and all the factories and foam buyers are being put on allocation and we’re literally being divvied out percentages. All of us are struggling. So when you see these crazy lead times … it’s due to foam allocation.”