I finally chose my new couch. As soon as I confirmed my order, I had visions of settling in for my standard Saturday afternoon nap. That luxury is something I look forward to and try and protect in my calendar at all costs.
Then reality set in.
Twelve weeks. Approximately twelve weeks from order to delivery. I was told that timeline was “fairly standard.” I accepted my fate. But I can also tell you, I will never wait 12 weeks for a sofa delivery again.
Move Past “Standard” Thinking
A few weeks ago, I spoke to a group of leaders from the furniture industry and encouraged them to push past “standard” thinking to deliver more for customers and disrupt the traditional industry business model. During my Transformation Imperative keynote for the annual Furniture Today Leadership Conference, I focused very specifically on how maintaining “standard” thinking creates real vulnerability, especially as furniture retailers navigate disruption in the marketplace. I talked about how to maintain a change mindset and capitalize on the opportunities that come during periods of significant change.
Edgar Blazona is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who decided to capitalize on change by exposing “industry standards” as being completely out of touch with the customer. The founder of BenchMade Modern is able to turn around beautiful custom couches in seven days. That’s disruption by any standard and Edgar and the team at BenchMade are playing offense and winning as a result. Edgar and I talked about his approach to disruption in the furniture industry — sound principles that can be applied to shake up any traditional industry.
“The furniture industry has traditionally shipped a couch in eight to twelve weeks, and if they are late, well, that’s how it goes,” Edgar explained. “That’s the lesson people learn when they buy their first piece of furniture. But I say: That’s not right! That’s a bad scenario and a bad experience. I wanted to fix that.”
— Edgar Blazona (@EdgarBlazona) November 30, 2016
Find The Problem. Understand The Problem. Solve The Problem.
Edgar learned the concept of “custom-made” from his father, who would have side tables and coffee tables made to his specifications. “He taught me that I could design my own things; I didn’t have to choose something that was designed and sold to me,” he remembers. When Edgar started his own furniture company, he quickly realized that he needed to know more about manufacturing furniture on a large scale. He sent a portfolio to Pottery Barn, and was hired immediately. “I worked overseas in China as liaison between the design team and the merchant team,” he explained. “There, I saw manufacturing done on a much bigger scale. While I was creating new techniques and processes to produce furniture of consistent quality, I also checked out every machine and watched every operation.”
When he was hired away by a textile company, he convinced them to let him start his own company, True Modern, based on the modern design he loves. True Modern enabled him to explore by-the-inch custom sizing. “Those experiences transformed me,” he says. “I was ready to start a direct-to-consumer brand, BenchMade Modern, to create by-the-inch custom sofas in seven days.”
Why seven days? “I studied people’s faces when I talked to them,” he says. “There is something magic about seven days. When I tell a customer that the couch will be ready in seven days, I see excitement. When I said ten days, you could just see the disappointment on their face. There’s psychology in this equation. Even though ten days is just a couple of days more, it feels like an eternity.” He’s also built a network of trucking vendors so that all BenchMade couches ship for free.
Other than a single showroom in San Francisco, the interaction between customers and BenchMade Modern is completely digital. “The entire world is shifting,” says Edgar. “People like to shop at their desk; they want to start the shopping experience on their computer. We can’t have a store in every city — nor do we want to. We want to provide customers with the shopping experience that’s easy for them. Did you ever think you would buy laundry detergent — let alone a couch — online? Even five years ago, that was unimaginable. Now, it’s becoming the norm. What is standard is changing and if you resist changing with it you are increasingly vulnerable.”
What is standard is changing and if you resist changing with it you are increasingly vulnerable.…
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Edgar’s strategy for his customer experience focuses on creating confidence. “If you buy laundry detergent online, Tide doesn’t have to convince you that they make good laundry detergent. We need to create confidence about our couches. I talk to people all the time who can’t believe they are buying a sofa online without sitting on it first. For most of our customers, this is the first time they are making a major purchase online. They have to trust us. That’s a huge hurdle—it’s a leap of faith. That’s where our 100-day return policy helps. We also do video chats with our customers to walk them around the sofa. When they’ve customized their sofa, they can hit ‘Print’ and get a full-scale drawing of the sofa to lay out on the floor to make sure it fits their room and their family. We’ve designed a reassuring experience around buying”
“You have to be willing to push the envelope, and I think that’s the biggest challenge,” Edgar concludes. “You need the grit and determination to try lots of little experimental steps. At the end of the year, those steps can add up to big leaps.”
Egdar and the team at BenchMade are going to win because they are willing to take risks, venture down dark alleys and iterate their business model quickly as they come to understand what the customer wants. Seven days is truly magic for the furniture industry. Of course, it’s also a nightmare for a traditional retailer still operating in the dark with an industry-standard mindset. Therein lies the challenge for each and every one of us.
Are you ready?
5 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Disruption
- Ask yourself the tough questions. What if your primary revenue stream was cut in half? What if you lost your largest customer? What if you were handed a pink slip tomorrow? It helps to have a little productive paranoia and game plan the next series of moves. It’s worth considering how to build a better version of what you have today. If your business went away, would you be missed?
- Commit to constant reinvention. When the world changes, we have to change with it. The cycle time for transformation and category disruption is growing much shorter. Execution and reinventing yourself at the same time is hard work, but it’s work that is now required to stay ahead of the curve.
- Invest in sales. The next customer or order is the lifeblood of any business. It’s why top sales performers are paid at a premium. Don’t have sales growth? Get all hands on deck to implement corrective action ASAP.
- Listen to your customers. Customers determine your value in the marketplace, which is why it pays to listen closely and iterate in concert with the needs of the customer. Is your value proposition deteriorating? Are your customers brand evangelists? Customers can help you adapt, evolve, innovate and grow if you are close enough to them.
- Act now. Can you see change coming? Don’t wait until it’s too late to respond. The time to start preparing for disruption is now.
Disrupt yourself before the competition does it for you.