A Melbourne firm has put technology at the centre of its furniture business
Ivan Lim thought he was done with wasted weekends of fruitless hunting after he finally bought his first property.
Instead he found himself pounding the pavements of Melbourne’s furniture district, dismayed at how expensive the couches were. His mother, an interior designer, had forbidden him from shopping at IKEA, and after four weekends of frustration, Lim realised he had stumbled upon an untapped market.
“It’s a painful experience to go shopping for furniture,” Lim said. “I realised that once you had graduated from IKEA there wasn’t really a mid-range option that offered a wide choice with the quality and craftsmanship that you would find at a designer furniture retailer.
“What really stood out is that those expensive pieces had fat margins on them and there wasn’t a lot of design or style variety. I thought I could do something about that.”
So Lim teamed up with two friends, David Wei and Richard Li, to form a perfect three-piece suite for furniture disruption.
Lim had a background in digital marketing, Li came from manufacturing homewares, and Wei was an operations expert who sold his first business to Groupon.
Together they identified that the key to success would be a combination of creating a seamless, curated customer experience and cutting out the costly layers that came with dealing with wholesalers and setting up brick-and-mortar stores.
The team launched Brosa.com.au in February 2014 with nine pieces after approaching designers directly. Now they carry more than 4000 pieces, with makers in Australia, Europe, India, China and Vietnam, and are growing at 20-30 per cent month-onmonth. In July 2015 they raised $2 million from AirTree Ventures, and while revenue is more than $10 million, they are more focused on growth and scale than month-to-month profitability.
What separates Brosa from other furniture companies is the obsession with technology, Lim says.
“Tech powers the business,” he says. “A lot of furniture makers are very manual, very paper-based, which means there are a lot of costly, inefficient layers. What we are doing with our technology is vertically integrating and automating the supply chain. Everything from the crafting process through to packaging, labelling, warehousing and delivery is managed via our technology stack. We are continually looking at what processes we can automate, how we can manage timbers, fabrics and components for our makers. Trimming out those excess costs means we can cut hundreds, if not thousands, off the price of furniture.”
Lim says that by automating much of the process, Brosa is able to release three or four new collections a week, with up to 50 prototypes in development at any stage.
The team at Brosa intends to keep working on the supply chain but also to hone the customer experience. So far, most of its customers have come via search or word of mouth. It plans to grow its social media presence but is also keeping an eye on what major online retailers such as Amazon think about creating a great buying experience.
“We want to make sure the customer experience is pristine,” Lim says. “Furniture is big and hard to ship and customers buy a variety of items that they want delivered at the same time, so mastering that customer experience is so important. Technology can help make that experience great if we can get the product range right, the delivery right. We want people to have a great time buying from Brosa.”