Apt2B is a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) furniture store that sells high-quality, stylish pieces for less. Founded in 2010 by Alex Back and Mat Herman, the duo scaled the company from Los Angeles into a nationwide distributor and in 2018 was acquired by The RoomPlace. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Alex shares the logistical challenges of shipping large items and how to make your business attractive for potential acquisitions.
Identifying a market ripe for disruption
Felix: Tell us about the idea behind the business, and how it started.
Alex: When we got started the online home furnishing space was just getting off the ground and was very much undiscovered territory. My business partner, Matt Herman and I, were in the furniture industry. Growing up his dad was in the industry, and he just fell into it. I found my way through other means. We had realized at the time that there weren't too many places to go and buy furniture, let alone online. You have your big box stores like Bed Bath & Beyond and IKEA. You have your big mall stores like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, et cetera. Then you have your mom and pop furniture stores, your Bob's Discount and out in California, Living Spaces, Jerome's Furniture etc. There weren’t any places that were targeting what would now be considered the modern millennial.
There was a big gap in the marketplace. We said at the beginning that we wanted to bridge the gap between IKEA and Crate and Barrel. We also wanted to address some of the inefficiencies of selling to younger people through the mom and pop furniture store model, which relies heavily on salespeople, who would make others feel uncomfortable at times. The market was just really ripe for disruption and modernization.
Felix: How did you know that this would be the future of the industry? Now we know it made sense, but how did you know back then?
Alex: We already understood that there were some definitive gaps in the furniture space to begin with regarding furniture retail, and how it didn’t cater to the younger demographic. There was a gap between the IKEAs and Crate and Barrels of the world. There were a few things that happened, the biggest of which was the fact that my business partner was a wholesale representative for a furniture manufacturer based out in Mississippi. It was an old school manufacturer that he represented on the West Coast selling to various furniture stores. He got an email from somebody asking to open up an online account. The manufacturer had not ever opened up an online account or sold to an online retailer. It was a little bit uncomfortable, but it was also, "Well, sure. Let's see where it goes."
Matt opened up this retail account, and as he tells the story, he would wake up one morning and it would be two orders, one going to Virginia, the other going to Seattle. The next day five orders, the next day 20, 30, 50, and it just kept growing. That was CSN Stores at the time, which ended up becoming Wayfair. It's a great story because Wayfair is such a major player in our industry. They were really at the forefront of things. One of their major advantages was getting started a little bit earlier than everybody else. They really paved the way for smaller independent retailers like us to flourish in the coming years.
Consumer education: Why Wayfair is an ally, not a competitor
Felix: What kind of marketing is required for customers who just aren’t used to buying these kinds of products online?
Alex: The growth of larger players like the Wayfair’s of the world over the past 10 years has really only benefited Apt2B and our efforts. In the beginning our biggest barrier to entry was consumer education, making sure people felt comfortable placing a large purchase of furniture online, whereas back in the day our conversations about SSL certificates were more important than some of our marketing tactics. You get a sense of where the industry was then and where it is now. Over the years people would say to us, "Oh, that Wayfair they're just buying the market. Can you believe how low they're selling this or how much they're advertising or how much Amazon's getting into the game?"
To us it's always been like, "That's fantastic. We just want our piece of the pie." We've intentionally, with eyes open, piggybacked on the backs of these major players who are really doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of educating consumers that it's okay to buy furniture online.
Felix: Are there moves that you made or that you would recommend other people consider making to make sure that you're riding the wave rather than being swallowed by these bigger players?
Alex: When it comes to understanding how to position oneself against major players with a lot more money and a lot more resources, it's extremely important to understand who you are and who you're not. We had the benefit of having to be scrappy and having to deal with limited resources. It defined our path and course of action. We didn't have deep pockets, so we had to be crafty and define a personality and a brand identity that made us unique. It added a boutique aspect to our brand–this idea that when customers buy something from us, it's something that they can show off to their friends and say, "Hey, I found this really cool furniture brand that you've never heard of."
"When it comes to understanding how to position oneself against major players with a lot more money and a lot more resources, it's extremely important to understand who you are and who you're not."
In doing so we're able to differentiate ourselves and position ourselves as a boutique and very branded/curated retailer online. We didn't try to play the same game as the rest of them. We went a different route. We went the branded route and tried to build our customer base from more of an organic standpoint. I think it really paid off.
Flexibility: your greatest advantage as an SMB
Felix: Tell us about the journey to creating a brand identity and message that’s consistent across your marketing, product, etc
Alex: One of the things we've always been very consistent about is making sure that our brand identity is fun and approachable and has an air of attainability. That coupled with what we like to think is really good taste and style has been our winning formula. We have fun collateral and edgy copy. Those things have always been part of brand identity. That's fairly common these days. Early on we were doing that and really pushing the envelope more than a larger entity would be able to do safely without upsetting somebody.
We took risks and acted very nimbly to do interesting things. Whether it's going to do an in-person activation at a festival or on a hiking trail. Just goofy stuff that you would never get approved in a larger corporation–things that were fun and made us “of the people” I think have been part of our keys to success. And then staying consistent with that even as a larger entity now. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We try to have fun and try to really embody this lifestyle approach to home furnishing and comfort and good metropolitan style.
Felix: So you stop to consider whether or not your strategy can be replicated by the bigger brands. How important is that consideration when you’re thinking about marketing campaigns?
Alex: Yeah. Interestingly, we don't take too much stock in what some of the larger entities are doing. We've found that they move a lot more slowly in some ways, at least from a marketing perspective, than some of our like-minded lifestyle brands. We usually draw inspiration from being aware of not just other like-minded home furnishing brands but also other players in the lifestyle place, whether it's a coffee brand or an apparel brand. We like to take our cues from things that we see out in the ecommerce industry in general amongst boutique brands that embody some of the same ideals that we do. Technology is something that a boutique brand in ecommerce has a lot of difficulty with, I would venture to say, just in the sense that there's so much out there. It's very difficult to sift through.
The larger companies out there, the Wayfair’s and the Amazons of the world, have tons of resources devoted to developing new technology whereas we have limited resources to do that. We've had the benefit of not having the opportunity or choice to heavily pursue brand new technologies, and we have to play second fiddle in a way to some of the larger entities out there from a technological perspective. When it comes to a branding and marketing perspective, we like to take our cues and join ourselves to the company of other boutique lifestyle brands.
The logistics of running an ecommerce furniture brand
Felix: Once you had recognized that there was opportunity, what were the first steps? What's the sourcing process for a home furnishing brand?
Alex: That's an area that we felt very strongly. Sourcing the product was something that we had already had a lot of experience in. We came at this furniture first versus technology first, or from another retail sector. My partner Matt and I were both in the furniture industry. He was much more deeply than I. We knew how to run a furniture store, and we understood the sales. We understood the marketing. My partner Matt had run a retail operation here in L.A. for a number of years. That much we knew how to do. When it came time to get up and running, we went to the furniture conventions and the markets and contacted people that we had worked with in the past or had sold to his store. We wanted to leverage our experience and contacts to at least get started and to open a few accounts to put up some product listings online and start selling some products.
Felix: Is that the same process today if someone were to start a brand like this? Would you go on the same path?
Alex: Every industry is different. One benefit of the furniture industry is that there are few brands or recognizable companies within the manufacturing space. There are other industries that follow suit as well versus if I was opening an appliance store, I would need to go to the major players. I would need to talk to Whirlpool and whomever else. There I can imagine it would be quite difficult and competitive, but within furniture there are so many different players of large and small nature. None of them are generally known by the consumer. One can build a retail operation–be it a boutique one that's very brand-focused or a larger marketplace style one–by having a similar competitive advantage to many of the other furniture players out there. That’s to say that if somebody started an online furniture business right now, they would have almost equal access to products as we have over the last number of years. Their product selection and their presentation of it may certainly differ, but there's very little barrier to entry when it comes to our industry and selling products.
At this point we're sourcing a lot of products. We produce our own. We have white label partnerships with a number of manufacturers. We have some advantages in that regard, but at the end of the day I don't know how much the customer really understands or knows or appreciates that. We certainly leverage a lot of the same suppliers and manufacturers that many other furniture retailers do across the country.
Felix: Right, from the consumer perspective they don’t necessarily care so much about the brand of the furniture, as they do about the credibility of the online retailer. Are there challenges and benefits to that kind of mindset?
Alex: There are challenges and benefits to that mindset. In our industry there are few recognizable brands. One that I always will go back to is Ashley Furniture. Ashley Furniture is both a retailer and mostly a manufacturer, and their manufacturing business is the strongest part of their business. They supply so many furniture retailers across the country, and it's become a household name by way of its manufacturing efforts and retail partnerships with other retailers outside of Ashley.
However, there are very few Ashleys in the furniture industry. Generally by default unless customers are willing to really get their hands dirty and dig for information on the 40 or 50 manufacturers that a given furniture retailer will work with, they're left to the retailer itself to rely on to get all their information from, to build trust with, to be marketed to by. And that's an advantage we've always played on as.
How Apt2B cracked the code to distributing heavy products
Felix: Now furniture is probably the heaviest that it gets in terms of shipping from online. Tell us about some of the logistical challenges you deal with as a furniture brand.
Alex: Inventory has its own separate issue. There are many in our space that have vastly different inventory positioning strategies. Apt2B has from the beginning been based on us taking little to no inventory position. The bulk of what we sell is made to order. A lot of the other pieces that we sell are house and distribution facilities across the country and are not actually inventory or stored by Apt2B. This is a common practice in ecommerce, of course. It's a concept of dropshipping. We were doing it from the beginning by default because furniture is very expensive. It's very expensive to store. We didn't have a choice. We didn't have a 100,000 square foot warehouse and enough change in the bank to supply enough or get behind a good amount of skew.
To present a variety in the furniture space one has to be very crafty. Recently, inventory issues have taken on a whole new meaning during the pandemic just based on the supply chain challenges that everybody has been going through. It's really a major, major part of our industry. So much so that you're finding new styles, new players emerging, new types of furniture just by way of what's available and what isn't. That's an interesting thing to explore. Overall, the logistics of an online furniture operation that serves the entire country are definitely the most difficult part of the business. It is very hard to ship large pieces of anything across the country. As many of us who have received deliveries of large items and have maybe been involved in the shipping of them, you know first-hand how tricky it can be.
Felix: The consumer expectation regarding process and time in the furniture industry is different from other industries. People don’t expect two-day shipping. Do you see that mindset shifting where people are expecting things to come sooner? Do you feel like there's going to be a squeeze on how quickly customers want their furniture?
Alex: It's really interesting. This comes up a lot, especially this past year. In 2020 and the early part of 2021 where we've been conditioned to rely on fast shipping for everyday functioning, whether it's groceries or health, medical supplies or things for our children. These are things that we didn't get shipped to us. Now we are used to receiving things faster than ever. We’ve also experienced massive delays on so many items from so many industries that there's a tolerance that has been built for the timing of things. I've noticed our customers being a lot more patient with regards to timing and a lot more willing to wait than they were in the past.
At the same time generally the prevailing thought of the public will be that there is an expectation that things should ship quickly. The furniture industry and furniture logistics has a long way to go to keep up with the upcoming demand for faster shipping and more efficient and technologically advanced shipping methods. We're still in the dark ages compared to some other shipping methods and companies out there, who are able to ship things a lot more quickly.
Refining your processes as your expand your business
Felix: You used to only ship to L.A. but now you service the whole country. Tell us about that expansion and the process of creating a much bigger footprint.
Alex: It was a no-brainer at the time, but our initial business model at Apt2B was to operate like a mom and pop local furniture entity online, but in a given metropolitan or geographical area that could be duplicated. That was the model to start–where we would open up in a singular city. We started with Los Angeles, and everything would be within that city. We built our business in Los Angeles, and we were fairly successful for the first few years. At the same time, there was a lot of demand. People requesting products. We geofenced our website as much as possible, but people in Florida and New York City, would be shopping–which is currently our biggest single metropolitan area that we service right now.
The request would come in. Being entrepreneurs we wanted to make as much money as possible and serve as many people as possible. We started experimenting, realized that it was extremely challenging, but at the same time the opportunity was so great that we felt it was really important to get in the game. We opened up the floodgates back in 2013 and started taking orders nationwide. We just figured it out little by little, step-by-step, putting it together, putting off fires, optimizing, learning, and getting more experienced at the art of shipping. It's one of the best things that we do in our company compared to others out there. It's something we're very, very strong in.
Felix: When you do make this kind of expansion geographically to ship to more places, is it just a matter of, "Hey, we can now start changing the shipping labels on these products?" What was actually involved in expanding your geographic footprint?
Alex: A lot. Quite literally you need to work with some different providers and different third party service providers. We had to find some partners that had nationwide coverage that made sense for us at the time, which is to say that we didn't have the resources to manage 30 different partnerships. We needed one size fits all solutions, so we went in that direction. Product needs to be packaged differently to ship long distances, of course.
There are plenty of other considerations such as what happens when furniture gets damaged in transit? What happens when a customer has an issue, if a button pops off of their sofa? It's certainly a lot easier to fix if they're down the street versus halfway across the country. These are things that we had to find solutions for on the fly back in 2013. Over the years we’ve refined our processes and procedures around the nationwide logistics aspects of our business. We do that better than many others out there just because we've been doing it for a long time.
The journey to acquisition
Felix: Another huge decision you made in the journey to grow was committing to a strategic partnership, by selling to a larger parent company. Tell us about that.
Alex: We were interested in taking our business to the next level. Initially we had bootstrapped everything ourselves, raised a little bit of money with friends and family but very little and self-funded the operation for a number of years. We always grew at a steady pace. We were happy with our growth. We consider ourselves to be successful, but we definitely were looking for more. We had been approached by one company in the home furnishing space that really stood out to us that we had pursued a possible either deep investment/partnership or possible buyout options with them of our entire business. Going through that process was very educational. It ended up not happening in the end, but it allowed us to ask ourselves some of the questions that needed to be asked. What are we really looking for? What would make us happy? What do we want the future to look like? Would this partner serve our needs?
It turns out that the first option did not fit all the criteria that we had established for ourselves, but we were soon after approached by another entity, The RoomPlace, which is our current parent company. We had a series of meetings and talks with them, and it was very seamless. They're currently a very successful omnichannel retail operation but have been deeply rooted in brick and mortar retailers across 20 to 30 stores in the Midwest, they’re based in Chicago and the surrounding area. They have tons of experience in the furniture industry. A lot of great sourcing partnerships for products. They understand logistics and the marketing of furniture. The conversations were just very easy flowing. We realized that we had a lot to learn from one another, us being of the up and coming boutique ecommerce entity and them being a well-established, well-oiled machine in the furniture industry.
We're in the same business, so we understood each other very well. It wasn't like we were talking to an executive board at a venture capital firm and trying to explain our business to them and take general business advice from those who didn't really understand. That was the backstory. We decided to go into partnership together. We sold our company to them, and we have been doing extremely well since that time. We have done what we set out to do initially, which is to enhance our operational reach and efficiencies, work on merchandising and our product line. It’s enabled us to support the business and some of the important ways that we weren't able to–whether it's accounting or IT and HR–just the larger corporation things that we were never really that strong in. They've come in to support us very, very much in those areas. We've been able to grow the business around 4X since we joined forces about two years ago. It’s been a pretty successful partnership.
Demonstrating value to potential buyers without “insane” sales numbers
Felix: How do you make sure that your business looks attractive to a parent company coming in and partnering with you?
Alex: We had a lot to offer in many ways, and in some ways less to offer than other companies that they were looking to bring into their fold or looking at. We certainly were not the biggest operation at the time. We didn't have insane sales and profitability numbers, although we were a very profitable business at the time, which would be attractive to anybody I suppose who's looking. The biggest thing is we had some proprietary knowledge and we had experience in something that this business wanted to be more experienced in, which was simply ecommerce home furnishings. We've been able to work together. Our presence over the last few years in their organization, whether directly or indirectly, has promoted many changes that have supported their own ecommerce business and reach.
Us having the experience and knowledge for the previous six or seven years in the ecommerce home furnishing space was probably the most attractive thing, and the fact that we were making money doing it was also very attractive because it's very difficult to make money in the ecommerce furnishings industry. I can tell you that first-hand.
Felix: What is it that they're actually purchasing when they're looking for something like the proprietary knowledge? How do you make sure that you build the knowledge and experience into your company so that the company itself looks attractive to a buyer?
Alex: Our biggest advantage outside of just general experience in the different areas–be it sales, customer service, marketing, logistics that go into running an ecommerce in our industry–was most prominently our marketing and brand positioning. That drew The RoomPlace to be attracted to Apt2B. We have always positioned ourselves as a brand first entity. The personality, the product curation, and everything else that goes along with that were perhaps the most interesting things. Our brand has changed over time. Sometimes it can be a little bit difficult to define in a nutshell exactly what Apt2B is all about, because we're about a number of things. At the end of the day we have a very strong clearly defined presence in an industry where presence and personality are very much lacking. That was probably the thing that drew them and others to us the most.
In the apparel industry there's no shortage of personality and players really putting forth a different voice or brand feel, but in the furniture industry–even today–it's still quite rare. That's something that we always offered that they or others may have been attracted to.
The foundation of Apt2B’s optimization strategy: customer empathy
Felix: You’ve done a great job of just trying out new tactics and seeing what sticks. You mentioned some of these strategies were very successful, and others not so much. Can you talk to us about some of those?
Alex: The foundation of our marketing strategy–what it is today–is based on an understanding of our customers' journey and the furniture buying cycle online. The traditional marketing tactics didn't really work for us very well in the beginning. Bringing our brick and mortar experience into the mix. We took a stab at everything, including TV advertising. We had some good contacts in Los Angeles, so we tried that. Billboards, print marketing. In the online space, various paid advertising outlets, a lot of trial and error to see what might work for us. The more that we did that and had some successes and some failures, we learned about our customers' buying cycle and understood more about their journey in buying furniture online.
We have been able to optimize more and more along the way. We're very efficient with our marketing spend, and our strategy is very focused and well-oiled. It has room in it for some experimentation and branching out, and we certainly change things over time. At this point it's more the fact that we tried a lot of things that have worked and haven't worked. Display advertising for us can be great if it's in the exact right spot, but general display advertising for a furniture-only retailer may not be the best strategy, because you have to qualify your leads before you market to them in our industry.
That's an example of one of the things that we talk about and we've learned that our customer is a customer that probably needs to already be looking for furniture to really consider making a high AOB purchase. Our customer takes two to three weeks to make their buying decision for a large piece of furniture. It generally requires multiple decision makers. There are a lot of little tidbits we've picked up along the way that have defined and molded our marketing strategy to what it is today.
Felix: That’s a great point, about considering the consumer journey, because the way that people consider products in different industries varies, and it's not as simple as copy and paste one strategy from one industry to another. You have to consider where to capture them along the way.
Alex: It is very important, and it's ever-changing. It's something that evolves all the time. For instance, this past year during the pandemic the amount of time that it took to make a furniture buying decision drastically went down. I've talked to my wife probably four times as much as I did the previous year. We're able to make decisions on things a little bit more quickly. Things like that. Our lifestyles have been disrupted this past year and things have changed. You need to be really dialed into your strategy in order to change it and be as nimble as needed. That has been extremely important, but yes, the customer journey is so important to understand. On a very basic level, just put yourself in the shoes of your customer who is going through the process of buying something–be it furniture or otherwise. Whatever industry one is in, going to other retailers, subscribing to other retailers' email lists, just really understanding the industry and how customers are being marketed to within that industry.
The importance of remarketing with high-consideration products
Felix: How does this play out for you when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the marketing? What do you do differently than other industries because you now recognize that it takes a certain amount of time and they need to get this information from you to advance to the next stage?
Alex: The biggest thing to mention in an industry like ours–which is a high consideration purchase–is the power and necessity of remarketing to customers. There are other companies that maybe invest too much in remarketing and some maybe not enough. It's a very, very big part of our marketing strategy. Whether that's making sure that we get our customers onto our email lists so that we're marketing to them organically, or making sure that we are able to follow them around the internet to remind them of Apt2B, and the fact that if they're interested in buying furniture, they should buy it from us.
"The biggest thing to mention in an industry like ours–which is a high consideration purchase–is the power and necessity of remarketing to customers."
Over the course of the two or three week average that our customers are making these decisions, we need to stay in their faces and be in their mind. That is a fundamental example of how our strategy may differ from others. I know myself on Instagram if I'm seeing some ads for a cool t-shirt brand or whatever, I'm way more likely to buy it right then when I'm inspired by it than I am if they're remarketing to me two weeks later. I don't get as much remarketing from those because they haven't seen the return in that industry. I know for home furnishings if you start looking at a few home furnishings retailers or websites, you're going to see a lot of furniture ads for a long time because they understand, probably like we do, that it takes a little while to make those purchases, and that these customers will often come back a second time or third time to purchase too. It's not a one-and-done or love them and leave them sort of strategy.
Felix: How do you determine when you continue investing in a strategy, and when it’s time to move on to something else?
Alex: Experience is probably the most valuable thing when it comes to decision-making in any part of life, which is why a town would go to its elders to make the decisions. They probably walk slower and talk slower than everybody else in the community, but they have the wisdom of experience to be able to guide the others around them. Being able to identify a trend or a pattern early, whether it's a successful one or one path that's leading towards a potential failure, is incredibly valuable. That's one of the things that I'm thankful for, the experience that we've had to be able to make decisions quickly and efficiently.
"Being able to identify a trend or a pattern early, whether it's a successful one or one path that's leading towards a potential failure, is incredibly valuable."
In the absence of experience one interesting thing that I've really been developing more in my own mind recently is the concept of setting a strategy that makes sense that you at least can go and measure against it. A strategy that measures results against what you initially thought, throwing some numbers out there, maybe making some projections for what a new form of advertising could bring to you over the next three to six months, setting an end date. Setting as many parameters based on the information and knowledge that you have to measure success is the most important thing that one can do because when you do start to see results, you have something to measure them against. Then you can start to really make decisions about the results, once you start seeing them. You've undergone a very thoughtful process of setting some goals and metrics that you'd like to hit, versus taking a less organized approach where you're just hoping that something works for you, throw some money at something and you hope that you see a nice ROI.
It's not just about ROI. Some things take a little bit longer and they need some tweaking and optimization. Setting some goals and metrics, KPIs, something that you're really measuring yourself against your own performance is the most important thing, even if they don't even make any sense. It's about the process and the journey of thinking through what you're looking for out of a particular form of advertising or an opportunity that is the most important.
Felix: Right, so it’s not as haphazard. You set goals, and parameters. You define an exit plan if things aren’t going according to those parameters.
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely. Being that this is a Shopify podcast a lot of the listeners are probably bootstrapping. Small entrepreneurs like myself. One benefit and advantage, as I've alluded to a few times, is how nimble we can be and how quickly we can make changes and adjustments without going through various levels of corporate approval. That's a major advantage. If something's not working, you can pull the plug quickly. If something is working, you can put the pedal to the metal more quickly as well.
The other advantage of being a smaller entity is the fact that you have to be budget conscious, and the deadlines may be set simply by what's in the bank account. How long can we afford to do this without seeing a return? That sounds a little bit negative, but it can be empowering in the sense that it helps you more clearly define your strategy and really put your feet to the fire when it comes to trying something new. You know you only have a short amount of runaway to get something going before you may have to quickly turn in the direction or pull the plug.
Lessons learned: It’s not over till it’s over
Felix: Tell us about some of the changes you’ve made to the website along the way.
Alex: We are very happy to be on the Shopify platform. I would consider us to be early adopters just based on how much Shopify has grown over the past five or six years, but we've been on Shopify for a little over six years. That was a big turning point for us. Putting some of the control back in our hands wasn't a given at that time. We had previously been on a Magento website that was so difficult to manage and so confusing for people who were furniture first, technology second. It was such a breath of fresh air to come over to the Shopify platform to be able to install an app and be competitive with other people in the industry that are employing best practices or really have a strong conversion strategy.
On a base level just stripping it down. We're very happy to have the basics covered and some bells and whistles on top of that as well to support our specific product line, what we sell the most, to support visualization and ultimately conversion of furniture on our site.
Alex: The first thing you'll see when you go to our site, we have a very aggressive early customer retention structure, which is to say that you're agreeing with many pop ups and calls to action so that we'll have a chance at bringing you into our sales funnel. There are plenty of people who will browse our site and it's really important for us to convert those people into potential customers rather than just browsers. We use tools like Privy. We've used Privy since it first came out to now. They've grown a ton.
We've always been a fan of Privy pop ups. They're so extremely easy to use, integrate well with our ESP, which is Klaviyo, another Shopify favorite. Leveraging some of the tools like those that Shopify is really deeply integrated with has been extremely helpful because they have a lot of the kinks worked out. Even at this point we're still furniture and marketing first and technology second. Having these plug and play options is key. We're also using Okendo for reviews. It's a fantastic review platform. Those at our disposal are invaluable.
Felix: What do you think has been the biggest lesson that you learned this past year that you want to apply moving forward?
Alex: It's hard to think about the last year without just thinking about the incredible increase that we have seen as a furniture industry and an ecommerce industry on a larger scale. This time last year in March 2020 we all thought like, "Well, that was fun. It's over now." To see it just rebound and grow so quickly was one of the most eye-opening things for me and probably everybody in our space. The concept of it isn't over until it's over was a very, very important lesson to learn. Every time we faced adversity–our main factory shut down for two months–we thought we were done, but customers understood. We were able to get compassion and patience from our customer base when we most needed it, and we were able to even build upon that.
We were transparent and let our customers know when we were having delays and difficulties, and that paid off many times over. We've grown a lot this past year through a lot of adversity. Staying patient, understanding it's not over until it's over, and really just trying to assess each issue one at a time and really give it its fair shake before you give up on something is very, very important.