Sometimes, the best way to figure out product-market fit is to go on Craigslist.
That’s what outdoor furniture brand Yardbird did in 2016 when it first launched. Co-founder Jay Dillon had spent some time in Hong Kong learning about outdoor furniture manufacturing. He brought back some items to Minneapolis and marketed them on Craigslist. “We sold about $100,000 within two weeks,” he said on the Modern Retail Podcast.
Over the years, Yardbird has outgrown its scrappy online marketplace roots. The company has its own website, as well as seven showrooms around the country in cities like Minneapolis, Denver and Washington DC. More are slated to open this year, and Dillon said business has been consistently doubling year-over-year.
But 2021 is certainly an interesting year — especially after a pandemic. The outdoor furniture category saw a big boost, and many new competitors entered into the mix. Before 2020, many of Yardbird’s competitors were what Dillon described as “middlemen.” These were large furniture showrooms operating out of big cities like Chicago that sold most of their goods to big businesses like “ski shops in Colorado that are looking to offset their seasonality.” He added, “almost none of these guys are sourcing direct from factory.”
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But now new brands are emerging that, like Yardbird, take great pains to have connections with where the furniture is manufactured. “We view that it’s just largely great for the consumer,” said Dillon.
Things are beginning to return to normal, and that could mean the outdoor furniture sales bonanza may begin to temper. Dillon, however, is optimistic because many people have changed the way they lived. Millennials are “moving to suburbs, and increasingly wanting to be outdoors,” he said.
As long as that continues, that means more business for him.
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Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Starting out on Craigslist
“[In our first year,] we started marketing it on Craigslist out of our warehouse. And we sold about $100,000 within two weeks out of our warehouse in our first year. This was in Minneapolis. Then the next year, we brought in about half a million dollars for the product and we launched a website. And we continued to sell out of our warehouse — and we sold out in about three weeks, half a million dollars worth of product. We’re a little bit different — we weren’t digitally native. First, we tested it on Craigslist and out of our warehouse, and then we grew into a website and then the showrooms right now.”
The expansion playbook
“When we look at a new market, usually when we move there, we already have a good amount of customers from our website. Then from there, we do a lot of the traditional marketing: Google Facebook, Instagram remarketing — we do TV; we’ll do a little bit of print and NPR… And after the first year, we just see a massive word-of-mouth tailwind. For our first year in a market, it’s not unheard of for us to spend half a million dollars announcing that we’re there. But in year three, we’ll spend a small, small fraction of that because we’re known in the market.”
Outdoor items will remain in high demand
“The outdoor category and furniture — even pre-pandemic — was the fastest growing in the furniture category — Covid seemed to accelerate that even more. And so you are seeing more and more brands get into it. We really like specializing in it because there’s just a lot of questions around outdoor furniture, and you want somebody who’s an expert talking about it. And so we obviously saw tremendous growth. Now, the big question everybody asks is, what does that growth look like after Covid? And I think that there’s some big trends of millennials moving to suburbs, and increasingly wanting to be outdoors and outdoor spaces are just becoming more and more elaborate.”