digital disruptors | Jun 15, 2019 |
Will consumers want to subscribe to furniture instead of buying? These rental firms say yes

We live in a world where if you want something, you can rent it, often at the click of a button. A house, a car, a dress, a movie—why not furniture?

New furniture subscription services are addressing a shift in the way consumers think about ownership and commitment.

The same group that doesn’t want to own homes or stay in the same city or job for too long also wants the freedom to pick up and move on a whim, without a sofa tethering them to a single location. These services are also making the home industry more sustainable by adopting the rules of circular economy: When you’re done using a product, it’s refurbished or sold to be reused, rather than discarded. Here are the brand names to know

Some 9.7 million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year. Jay Reno founded Feather in 2017 in part to address the problem of fast furniture: Instead of buying cheap pieces that you’ll throw away when you move to a new apartment, which 50 percent of renters do every year, why not rent high-quality pieces that can be reused when you’re done?

“The whole point of Feather is to give people the flexibility to do what they want at any point, because their life is constantly changing,” says Reno, adding that the millennial generation wants a different relationship to their stuff. “We don’t want to accumulate things and hunker down forever,” he says. “We want to be a little more lightfooted and flexible in our lives.”

Currently active in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County, the company bills itself as a subscription service. For $19 per month, plus a discount on the monthly fee for each item, members gain access to more than 150 pieces—which includes its own furniture designs (above), as well as brands like West Elm, Pottery Barn, Casper and Leesa. First-time delivery and assembly is free, and users can swap out the furnishings of a space once a year with no charge; after that, each change is $99. The West Elm Eddy sofa, for example, retails for $999 but costs members $39 per month. Non-members pay $99 for delivery and assembly, in addition to the regular monthly fee for furniture, but not the $19 monthly fee.

The company was born in 2017 out of a universal truth: Moving is hard. “Why is moving to a new city such a burden? Why isn’t it pure excitement?” asks co-founder and CEO Michael Barlow. “It came down to the notion of buying, owning, selling and moving furniture. It seems like an outdated way to live.” The company, which recently raised $30 million, makes it easier by taking furniture ownership out of the equation. The service, available in Los Angeles and Seattle, allows customers to rent whatever furniture they need—usually about 10 to 12 pieces, according to Barlow—for a minimum of three months, and an option to extend after a year. In addition to house-branded items, Fernish has partnerships with Crate & Barrel, CB2, Campaign, Floyd and Alder & Tweed. The service starts at $99 per month, plus a monthly fee for each item; delivery and assembly are free.

In a year, customers will pay less than half of retail price for any given item. At the end of a lease, users can either extend their rental or return, swap or buy each piece; if they want to buy, the amount they’ve paid in rental fees is deducted from the purchase price. For example, the round Floyd dining table retails for $655, but costs $27 per month through Fernish, which works out to $324 over a 12-month period; renters would pay the $331 balance to own it outright.

West Elm x Rent the Runway
Rent the Runway, which disrupted the fashion industry by offering women a “closet in the cloud” through its clothing subscription service, is trying its rental model in the home space with a West Elm partnership. Starting this summer, the service’s Update or Unlimited members (who pay from $69 to $159 per month) will have the option to choose from 26 West Elm textile bundles—a mix of throws, pillows, shams and coverlets—curated for the bedroom or living room. (A bundle is considered one item in a member’s subscription.) Lest you’re concerned about the ick factor of renting a used blanket, Rent the Runway owns the largest dry cleaning facility in the U.S. “We understand fabrics and garments more than any other company in the world,” Jennifer Hyman, RTR’s CEO, told Vox. “Fabrics and throw blankets are personal, but so is clothing, and we know how to restore items to perfect condition.”

Homepage photo: Courtesy of Feather

This article originally appeared in Summer 2019 issue of Business of Home. Subscribe or become a BOH Insider for more.

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