If you’d told Fernish CEO Michael Barlow six weeks ago that contactless delivery would be a crucial part of his business strategy, he might not have believed you.
The co-founder of the furniture retailer, which rents home goods from such brands as Crate & Barrel, CB2 and Floyd to consumers on a monthly basis, has quickly learned that agility and responsiveness are the keys to succeeding in the current retail landscape.
Consumers who sign up for Fernish can rent such items as tables, bedframes, chairs and desks for a minimum of three months and a maximum of 1 year. Items are delivered, assembled and placed in homes; those who wish to keep anything after a year can extend their agreement — or they can hang on to it permanently by paying the difference remaining against the total value.
Those with buyer’s remorse within the first three days are also offered the option of exchanging an item for something else.
“Customers’ needs are always changing, and it's important to be nimble so that you can adjust to what your customers want,” Barlow tells RIS. “As demand for home office essentials has increased, for example, we've quickly been able to increase SKUs and inventory counts for desks, chairs, lamps and shelving.”
Fernish got its start when Barlow and co-founder Lucas Dickey bonded over a love of moving and the notion of fresh beginnings while working together at Atom Tickets, an entertainment start-up in Los Angeles.
“But we didn’t love the reality — the expense and hassle of moving existing furniture that might not match our new places, creating waste by kicking cheap furniture to the curb, or spending free weekends shopping for new furniture,” he says.
The pair began Fernish with the mission to transform the home furnishings industry into a more sustainable and contemporary model. Much as the apparel industry grapples with the disruptive fast fashion model, the home furnishing market is plagued with cheaply made, self-assembled fast furniture that gets quickly tossed.
While furniture rental services aren’t new, the company seeks to stand apart both through its offering of recognizable brands and its priority on sustainability. (Fernish even describes itself as “Rent the Runway for furniture.”)
“We're working to cut down on the 9.8 million tons of furniture that ends up in a landfill each year,” says Barlow, by sourcing items from trusted, credible manufacturers. “These items are high quality and guaranteed to stand the test of time.”
Fernish keeps its goods “circular ready” through fabric and part replacement, refurbishment and sanitation.
To be sure, it’s an interesting time to be in the rental business, especially one trading in home goods. For one thing, the sharp increase in remote work stemming from the spread of the coronavirus has some consumers taking another look at their home office furniture, especially those desperate for some boundaries between work and play.
“We’re finding our work from home items have been extra popular lately,” Barlow says. “We're actually seeing customers who specifically want an office setup that's separate from their table, or in some cases their bed, because it helps them with comfort and posture.”
The company has also been forced to make quick changes to its delivery services in order to ensure the safety of its associates and customers, including a default delivery option of a no-contact curbside drop-off. Associates will still assemble most furniture that fits through a doorway, and will then place them outside the customer's door.
For those who choose traditional delivery, Fernish associates apply hand sanitizer, wear gloves and a mask, and maintain a distance of at least 6 feet away, says Barlow. (It also asks customers to do the same.)
“While we’ve always used an industrial cleaning process for all of our furniture — and always go through a thorough inspection, cleaning, and refurbishing process by our expert in-house team — we are also now taking extra care in sterilizing our delivery vehicles each and every day,” he adds.
Beyond flexible fulfillment, Fernish is also prioritizing its customer engagement efforts at this time. In addition to customer service via phone and e-mail, the company has also embedded a chat function on its website. Delivery updates are shared via text messaging, and all customers are offered the chance to provide feedback in a satisfaction surveys.
“Internally, we keep a close eye on our most popular SKUs in order to make sure we have enough inventory to satisfy customer demand,” Barlow says. “We want to ensure items coming back from customers are being cleaned, refurbished and put back into circulation. So refurb rates are another key part of running a smooth operation.”
Fernish, which currently operates in the Los Angeles and Seattle areas, intends to expand to additional markets this year.