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Made.com CEO on becoming a fast-furniture retailer

When Made.com entered the market back in 2010 armed with VC funding, it was a company of firsts. It was the first online furniture retailer to truly disrupt the aging UK market, it was the first brand to get serious about ‘pop-ups’, as well as being one of the first retailers to engage with its customer through user-generated content – inviting fans to share images of their furniture in their own homes.

And little over six months ago, Made.com announced profitability in the UK for the very first time, revealing a gross profit increase of 58% to £49.3 million for the year ending December 31 2016.

Last week, Philippe Chainieux, who became CEO of the innovative online furniture retailer 18 months ago when founder Ning Li stepped down, invited a small group of journalists to breakfast at Made.com’s brand new HQ in Shoreditch.

Upstairs in Made’s loft space, surrounded by tastefully curated homeware and sticky cinnamon buns, Chainieux shared his thoughts on the brand’s unique manufacturing process and future vision.

What makes Made.com different from other traditional furniture retailers – other than having a very minimal store presence – is its operating model which is based on vertical integration within its supply chain.

“There’s an element of fast fashion,” he explained. “We’re doing our biggest distribution in the way we operate.

Chainieux described how Made.com, as an online brand, can reduce its seasonal design cycles by streamlining the manufacturing process. Unlike a traditional furniture or fashion retailer which designs collections 18 months in advance for release every quarter, Made.com works on capsule collections with a new launch every day, launching 2,000 SKUs a year.

Test & learn

Additionally, Made.com can launch products quickly, asses their popularity and quickly discontinue products which aren’t doing well. This test and learn approach often used in agile IT, again comes down to the way it is structured allowing it to take risks on products without too much associated cost.

“We’re very fast to release new products and if we get it wrong, it’s not a big issue – the failure is part of what we are doing.”

Because Made.com manages the sourcing, supply chain and marketing directly to its customers it can cut out many of the “middle men” this industry is so familiar with.

“The idea was to reinvent the value chain make savings and pass that onto the consumer.”

He explained that the designs and prices resonate strongly with millennial customers who get their inspiration from their peers through apps like Instagram. And interestingly, due to the impact of social media, similar customer types from all over Europe now shop with Made.com as Chainieux says the internet has encouraged style to become similar across borders for the first time.

European expansion is a big focus for Made.com, with new markets on the horizon and plans to have double the number of showrooms on the continent in the coming year – especially in France and Germany.

Talent Lab

The e-tailer will also continue to invest in technology, such as QR codes which will soon appear in the retailer's showrooms. While Made.com initially used QR codes in its showrooms years ago, it found that consumers had not caught up with the technology. But Apple has now upgraded its camera software, meaning customers can hover their smartphone lens over a QR code which will link them to a webpage providing more information about the associated product. 

Made is also using digital to shake up the way it finds new designers. Late last year, the e-tailer launched Talent Lab, which is a kickstarter project for emerging designers.

Made uses this platform to find its more unusual designs, which are supported by Made.com customers who can choose a project to back – the first selection process went live this month.

“The idea is to really accelerate all collaboration,” explained Chainieux, noting the company has a goal to launch 200 new designers a year, up from the 120 collaborations it has partnered with over the last eight years.

The most successful Talent Lab projects will be launched by Made.com as collections.

“Customers become co-creators of a range,” added Chainieux. “For me, it’s fantastic to launch the talented people we’re going to work with and test much more daring products than we could have done in the past.”

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