The guys from Furni have been making the rounds in the blogs lately, starting over at cool hunting and then over at joshspear.com. After seeing some of their work, and being very impressed with the pricing, I decided to get together with them for an interview. They were kind enough to take a time out to talk about some of the challenges to designing affordable modern furnishings, and what they are doing to join in the affordable modern revolution. They also hinted at some great new products that they should have rolling out very soon.
Check out the full interview after the jump.
GRM: OK, lets start with the basics, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got involved with the whole Furni deal.
FURNI: About four years ago I fell prey to "corporate" downsizing and found myself applicable for 10 months of unemployment assistance, about that time Devin a childhood friend (my business partner) had arrived back in Montreal after relocating to Calgary with his family a few years before. He also was applicable for unemployment benefits due to the fact that he had moved back to Montreal with his "common-law" girlfriend at the time. So there we were, to guys with allot of time on our hands, not particularly raring to get back into the "9 to 5" . After learning that Devin had taken cabinetry classes and done some production work he was asked to do some cabinetry for a friend of the family, he needed a hand lugging round materials so I was happy to oblige. Within a couple weeks of finishing that job we made the decision to approach the local "employment services" agency to see what funding we were applicable for if we were to start our own business. We managed to secure a small grant, rent a shop and through word of mouth start working full time on custom projects. Just like all businesses we began to experience down time........coupled with an itch for a little more creative control. Let's just say installing wainscoting and building Bookshelves weren't keeping us creatively fulfilled! So basically about 6 months ago we decided to speculate to accumulate and ceased taking on "contract" work and began to design a line of our own. Early december we finally had something to show, and have been trying to get as much exposure/feedback since.....
GRM: It sounds like you both spent some time where you didn't exactly have a lot of money. How did that influenced your new product line?
FURNI: Pricing!!!! it really made us focus on our price point, all of the pieces in our line were cut, sanded, veneered, stained and finished by either Devin or myself. They kind of become part of you, so when it's time to sell them you want to charge an arm or a leg. Ultimately we decided it was super important to get our stuff into the hands of people like our peers who could not only appreciate it, but actually afford it. So we kept the prices to a minimum, deciding not to make the pieces incredibly expensive, as I find most modern furnishings are, rendering them basically unobtainable to the very people who we felt could truly appreciate them......maybe not the most economically viable business model...but an honest one.
GRM: Its funny you should mention pricing, it's obviously a big thing on my mind when I consider what I should put on the website. As I was looking through your pricing on your site I was thinking to myself "not too shabby". Then I realized it was all in CAD, which means it is even more affordable when I convert to USD. So to me you guys are kinda the poster children of the grassroots modern revolution, making quality modern goodies at an affordable price. So the question, how do you do it, and is it sustainable?
FURNI: Actually we are not sure at this point!!! Obviously we know our cost of raw materials and the amount of time it took to make the products, but there were so many hidden cost involved in putting the line together that it's really gonna take some time to figure out how "profitable" it will be. As it stands right now if we can sell the balance of our inventory (approx 400 units) in the next month or two we should pretty much break even.....which, I will be more than happy with, cause we have been paying ourselves a minimum wage throughout the production process, so breaking even actually means that even with minimal production and a little online presence our business is viable. If we get enough orders to make another production run things are gonna be much easier/quicker as all the designs and dimensions are finalized and our suppliers have been sourced.
GRM: What do you think is the biggest obstacle when it comes to making modern design affordable?
FURNI: I think it's volume. Most "modern" pieces are expensive because they are produced on a relatively small scale. The only way to keep down the price of the end product is to be able to keep the raw material cost to a minimum, as an example, we could look at the digital displays we used in a couple of the pieces, the unit cost decreases substantially from ordering one unit to let's say 1,000 units. So for modern to be more affordable, it actually has to become more "mainstream" so it's able to generate enough orders to keep the price down. In essence,volume is what makes a product affordable....but it also makes the market stagnant and stale, It's a huge catch 22. I am hoping to find some sort of balance.
GRM: Now that you are starting to get some exposure, and things are picking up a little for you, what are your plans for the future?
FURNI: not to loose momentum or focus .......it's taken us four years to get to this point (with more than a few temporary distractions) Now, with both the orders and feedback coming in from visitors to the site, I see a clear path ahead of us. The interest is definitely there so next sites include getting a rep and sourcing a couple other small woodshops to help us shorten the production time. We've also been busy working on two new prototypes that are going to be available soon...
GRM: Any hints on what the new prototypes are?
FURNI: I just finished a prototype called the Kaupus "SP" I basically mounted a really sweet "Vifa" speaker (high quality from denmark) into the base of the Kaupus light, it fires upwards and uses the acrylic shade to amplify the sound.....you can hook it up to any amplifier and have a sweet sounding lamp!!! The second prototype is actually on it's way from oversees, it's the only place we could get the raw materials. It's a bamboo cutting board with three interchangeable prep bowls......we have to assemble them at our shop so I won't feel totally separated from the manufacturing process!! This is the first time I've worked with a supplier oversees and I'm interested to see the results.
(They were nice enough to let me post the pic, as long as you know it won't be available until Feb. some time.)
GRM: Sounds like you guys are doing some really exciting stuff. Make sure you keep us posted over here at GRM.