Article: Revolutionizing the Furniture Industry with a Digital-First, Direct-to-Consumer Business Model that Saves Time & Adds Value
6.6.18 Online Shopping

Article: Revolutionizing the Furniture Industry with a Digital-First, Direct-to-Consumer Business Model that Saves Time & Adds Value

By: Jessica Sommerfield

The Crunch: The idea to fix the inefficient furniture market with an online-only, direct-to-consumer business model came to Aamir Baig, Fraser Hall, and Andy and Sam Prochazka was no immediate. Instead, they refined their idea over a period of time, which included several late night conversations and even a trip to the Arctic. The friends called their concept Article , and today, the company drives down costs, lowers consumer-facing furniture prices, and provides fast doorstep delivery — without sacrificing quality. Article does this by bypassing the middle agents in traditional supply chains and brick-and-mortar showrooms to work directly with manufacturers. Article has experienced triple-digit growth because of the value it provides consumers by improving the furniture-shopping experience.

The most unlikely settings often inspire the most innovative business ideas. For the four software engineers who co-founded the online-only furniture company Article, it took many conversations and trips to new places to help contrast and spark new ideas.

When Andy Prochazka, a hands-on techie with a background in consumer electronics, traveled from Canada to Beijing to learn Mandarin for fun, he discovered that consumer-facing retail prices for furniture were often marked up as much as 400% higher than manufacturer costs. Not only that, but consumers often waited three to four months for their pieces to be delivered.

“The furniture industry hadn’t evolved, and the system for buying furniture was broken,” said Aamir Baig, Co-founder, Director, and CEO at Article. “The experience hasn’t adapted to the pace of life and doesn’t respect people’s time. We each felt the entire process — from searching for products to the final delivery — was unnecessarily painful.”

Article CEO Amir Baig said his engineering background helped him develop the online-only furniture store.

The self-proclaimed logic nerds with engineering backgrounds — Andy, his brother Sam, Aamir and the fourth co-founder, Fraser Hall — started meeting over coffee to brainstorm and discuss their ideas.

“We became fixated on re-engineering the furniture shopping experience, and we refined how we could strip away the inefficiencies in the current model,” Aamir said. “We wanted to simplify the supply chain and change the way people shop to make it better, faster, and less expensive. And we found we could make the most impact by improving how people buy good-quality, stylish, and well-priced furniture.”

In 2013, they launched Article, an online-only furniture store that sources directly from manufacturers and passes the savings in time and operational costs onto the consumer.

Aamir told us that early on people often questioned whether consumers would buy furniture — a category associated with showrooms and salesmen — sight unseen. Article’s success in reaching $50 million in sales within three years, along with the continued acceleration of furniture as one of the fastest-growing e-commerce segments, is a testament to the convenience and value that its disruptive business model has brought consumers.

“By taking a digital-first approach, we’re able to deliver our customers true value on quality products,” Aamir said.

Core Values Differentiate Article from Other Furniture Brands

The co-founders’ inspiring trip to the Arctic represents just one of the company’s core values— to be adventurous. But Aamir said every Article principle works together to help guide the decisions its leadership and team members make — Be Better, Be Direct, Be Good, Be Genuine, and, of course, Be Adventurous.

“We developed our core principles by understanding the values that make an impact, which has allowed us to scale the business quickly by bringing on an incredible team that believes in the vision and understands the way we do things,” he said. “Each core principle is a common thread between the people on our team, and they’ve each been instrumental in shaping our approach to work. We’re fortunate to have people join who are passionate about our mission and driven to make a difference.”

More than 180 Article employees, referred to as Particles, carry out the company’s mission from its Vancouver, British Columbia, headquarters and US warehouses in Seattle and New Jersey. From day one, the business model has addressed the most common pain points consumers feel when shopping for furniture — the time spent in showrooms listening to sales pitches and waiting for furniture to be delivered.

A screenshot of a chart comparing the Article business model to traditional retail

To do this, Article follows a strategy similar to that of direct-to-consumer, online-only mattress brands Casper and Purple that cut out the traditional model that includes multiple middlemen between furniture manufacturers and customers.

“By forgoing showrooms and salespeople, the experience is simple and customers can shop at their leisure,” Aamir said.

Article focuses on the design and global sourcing, and, because Article creates a direct line between its customers and furniture manufacturers, each craftsman the company works with is personally vetted for quality and ethical practices. To solve the delivery timing issue, Article also handles all of the online sales, packing, and shipping so it can remain faster than the industry average.

“We deliver 80% of our orders in less than two weeks and have even begun same-day and next-day delivery in some major markets,” Aamir said.

Doorstep delivery for Article orders is a $49 flat fee anywhere in the contiguous 48 states and throughout most of Canada, with options to upgrade to room-specific delivery and even assembly. On average, Article ships roughly 10,000 orders per month.

By streamlining the furniture supply chain and purchasing process, Article ensures the customer experience is faster, more affordable, and more enjoyable from start to finish.

“We didn’t start Article to be yet another furniture store with better net profit,” Aamir said. “Our mission is to engineer remarkably better furniture experiences. This means looking at every aspect of the customer experience and asking, ‘Could this be better?’”

Designs & Materials Driven by Market Data & Consumer Feedback

An in-house team of professionals designs the furniture featured on Article. But it’s the company’s digital platform and its close relationship with manufacturers that help streamline information gathering so its used in near real-time to improve existing products and design new ones. “We’re nimble and implement feedback faster to ensure that our product line resonates with customers,” Aamir said.

Article features modern furniture styles that appeal to a range of tastes and preferences, from mid-century modern, to Scandinavian, to West Coast. Although stylish, the furniture is also functional, with family-friendly pieces like the Ceni sofa and Burrard sectional, and pet-friendly designs such as the Worthington and the Nirvana. The mid-century classic Sven sofa has been one of Article’s long-standing top-performers. In addition to sofas, chairs, tables, rugs, storage, and home décor, the company has more recently launched new categories such as bedroom furniture and an outdoor collection.

A screenshot of a an Article catalog image showcasing living room and outdoor furniture

Article sells quality, modern furniture styles that appeal to a variety of tastes and preferences.

“These designs are brought to life with best-in-class materials. Our leather comes from South America; our marble is from Europe; and our oak and walnut is sourced right here in America,” Aamir said. “We only use high-quality products that we know we can offer the best value on.”

Although consumers are becoming more comfortable with the idea of purchasing furniture online, Article understands the importance of accurate advertising to bridge the gap between in-store shopping and online browsing.
“We take care to ensure our product photography and descriptions are an accurate depiction of each piece. We have a customer care team on-hand to answer any questions, and we also offer a 30-day satisfaction guarantee so customers can try the furniture in their home,” Aamir said. “If they’re not completely happy, we’ll pick up the furniture and provide a refund, minus the delivery and pickup charges.”

Reaching $200 Million in Sales By Delivering Value at Every Touchpoint of the Furniture-Buying Experience

Article set out to provide an alternative to what it saw as an outdated, inefficient sector of the consumer market. The company’s rapid growth from startup to major online-only furniture brand — in just over five years — shows that its digital-first, streamlined business model aligns with consumers’ lifestyles and shopping trends.

“A major reason we’ve experienced so much growth is because of changing consumer preferences,” Aamir said. “People have an increased appreciation for the value of time, and they want shopping experiences to be convenient, quick, and easy.”

This year, Article expects to double its sales to $200 million, and Aamir attributes this to delivering a share-worthy furniture shopping experience.

“Rather than looking at price in isolation, we believe in delivering remarkable value,”he said. “Word-of-mouth referral is a key reason we’ve been able to remain profitable while maintaining triple-digit growth, and it’s a very intentional part of our growth strategy. You’re much more likely to tell your friends about your experience if it exceeded your expectations on all fronts, including the value you received.”

Article started its company to make a difference in people’s lives, and this continues to underscore and motivate everything the team does.

“The journey isn’t done. We know customer needs are always changing, so we are constantly listening to customer feedback and letting it inform our decisions. Every day, we show up to work and ask what we can do to make the experience remarkably better.”