Voices: A Route Interview Series Feat. Alex Segal
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Jun 16, 2021
Fitting Furniture into the Evolving Ecommerce Reality
“Furniture” might not be the first noun to pop into your noggin when you think about ecommerce, but the truth is that it’s a vertical that’s been steadily increasing—with a big prediction that by 2022, 14% of all furniture will be sold online.
One furniture founder that’s part of this change is Alex Segal of Croft House. Every handmade piece of custom-built furniture is crafted in Southern California, which means they’re all guaranteed to come with a whiff of salt water and sunshine.*
Since 2012, Croft House has been building and selling furniture with a keen sense of design that makes fine use of negative space in tandem with materials and form.In essence, it’s stuff you can’t just pull off a shelf in a big department store all nimbly-dimbly. Each piece is unique, just like you, which makes it a perfect fit for ecommerce and the custom experience it offers every shopper who partakes.
See the lessons Alex has learned along the way (as well as what the future holds) as he continues to forge a path for timeless furniture and his blend of traditional and nontraditional channels.
*We made that up and your furniture probably won’t smell like the ocean. Sorry.
Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
A: One thing I wish we’d known five years ago is a little bit more about the value for us of a cohesive brand across all of our platforms. We just now launched into having all of that together. It’s made a complete difference for our business, our brand, and who we are.
I’d like to not only have started that sooner, but I would have invested more heavily in it to be reaping those rewards now. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Yes, this is the way forward for the business, not these other paths that we were potentially pursuing.” It’d be really nice to be able to go back and let myself know what I’ve since learned.
Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?
A: That’s a good question! I used to answer this question basically by saying I feel like a lot of the middle tier of commerce is going to lose its place. Massive stores like Amazon that you just can’t compete with on anything—for price and for convenience—are always going to have a place. But there’s going to be this gap between behemoths and the next thing, which is basically stores serving people shopping for preference.
For example, look at all of the personalized brands that have flooded the marketplace recently. As they grow and fill this middle ecommerce space, they allow more people to shop by preference, brand mission, and values of the business, not just on price or convenience alone.
So, in essence, I think the ebb of middle ecommerce has actually started to come to fruition a little bit. I think that as that market of smaller, custom brands expands, it will become more commonplace. I also think these stores will wrap back into some sense of brick-and mortar extension of ecommerce. Instead of ecommerce being a result of brick-and-mortar retailers selling online, more brick-and-mortar locations will pop up as a result of ecommerce brands creating an in-person experience.
I also imagine ecommerce brands will start to create more partnerships, like I imagine several brands teaming up to have their own space or entrepreneurs, specifically. Highlighting boutique brands through a physical space could be a part of a great ecommerce strategy, and it feels like online native brands are realizing the value that a brick-and-mortar space can have.
I’ve seen even larger brands like Sephora do a pop-up shop inside of Kohl’s. So, strategies and opportunities like those are going to have to be rethought, and even smaller brands in can attain an in-person experience like that to bolster their online presence.
There is going to be a lot of opportunity for success, especially if the newer, smaller, more boutique brands are more cohesively created in the future, they’re going to have a much better idea of what they’re going to want to do in a physical space.
Q: What is your best failure?
A: We actually did a pop-up with something not dissimilar from what I described with Sephora. The brand we worked with would rotate all new boutique vendors every other month to come in and showcase as a pop-up. However, what we thought would be a great even that we could break even at actually ended up being not what we thought it would be.
We did our pop-up in San Francisco to try to test the market for ourselves up there. We really thought, “Oh, San Francisco is this great kind of marketplace for us.” But in comparison to what we expected to make, to be just breaking even ended up not being worth the hassle and the effort that it took to do this.
That kind of failure taught us a couple of different things, both about the marketplace that we thought was going to be a good marketplace for us and maybe wasn’t, and also about how our customer interacts with us and our sales cycles.
We learned our sales cycle is pretty slow, and it’s a lot of designers coming to us, working in our pieces, and custom designing and doing these very particular things, so there’s a lot of back and forth. So, having just a two-month period in a pop-up setting is not really long enough to get on a designer’s radar for their standard projects.
We learned, “Oh, this model doesn’t work for us. In our vertical, we can’t hop in and test the waters and see what works, then pop out and hope that it will have the same sort of longterm impact that our store in LA does.” With furniture, where many pieces have a higher end price tag, our customers aren’t really people just popping in by walking something off the floor.
We learned that for us and our products, an ideal setting needs to be something that’s more long-term. This experience showed us the value of our showroom through a different lens and taught us that it’s more about the actual infrastructure of the showroom—where shoppers are coming in, interacting in the show, and making a decision from there.
Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?
A: Our strategy has changed a little bit for us, when we were totally shut down. It was basically a pause and reset for Croft House. We were shut down completely for 8 weeks, and we used that time for a lot of project management and a reevaluation of the bones of the business. We took the time to see where we were at, and when coming out of that period, we knew we had the things that we wanted to do last year, or this current year and into 2021, and knew that it’s probably unwise to pull the trigger on those the same way we would have pre-pandemic.
So much seems like it’s going to be different and is already kind of exposing itself as such. Although some things have shifted, our strategy hasn’t changed drastically because we still have the same general goals and ideas. We still think that there is a place for those pre-pandemic plans, but there is a change in how we’re approaching those.
For instance, we see an opportunity that we maybe thought would originally take X, but now maybe only takes Y. Something like looking into getting a space in another city is still high on our radar, but now, all of a sudden, it’s like, “OK, well, a lot of people are leaving some of these cities and a lot of people are moving out of these retail spaces. Now the opportunity in those areas is completely different than what we anticipated prior to the pandemic.” It’s reevaluating how our plans fit into what we want to do in the future, not totally recreating our path forward.
Our strategy has turned into fine-tuning ideas to adjust to both the realities of what the new landscape will look like when the pandemic ends as well as the schedule of when that end will be. It’s a lot of trying to predict when we can expect something to return to normal. It doesn’t make sense to open a new store if we’re still going to be locked down. This reworking of strategies has essentially pushed us to spend this time doing the legwork and gathering information so that when we have a clearer idea of when we can move forward, we’ll already have that new plan in place.