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This Detroit Furniture Startup Wants To Dethrone Ikea

Floyd wants to furnish your house forever.

This Detroit Furniture Startup Wants To Dethrone Ikea
[Photo: courtesy Floyd]

A few years ago, Kyle Hoff moved to an apartment in Chicago and decided to bring his Ikea Malm bed with him. He took extra care to remove every bolt and screw and package them for safekeeping so he could reassemble the bed when he arrived at his new place. He was able to piece it back together again, but the bed wasn’t sturdy, felt rickety, and eventually broke down. An architect by training, Hoff knew there had to be a more structurally sound design. The average person moves 11.4 times in a lifetime. Shouldn’t their furniture be able to as well? In 2014, Hoff packed his bags again and headed to Detroit. There he, along with Alex O’Dell, founded Floyd, a direct-to-consumer furniture company targeted at urban dwellers like themselves.

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The allure of affordable, easy-to-ship furniture looms large in the home design arena. A handful of young companies are trying to develop a new direct-to-consumer model, but they haven’t successfully disrupted the traditional furniture buying process. Shoppers still haul bulky pieces home from Ikea, buy from major retailers like West Elm or Crate & Barrel, and order cheap items from Wayfair and other bargain sites. Startups like Casper and Tuft & Needle have completely upended the mattress industry; the furniture industry has been slower to change. Floyd wants to be the one that cracks the code.

“The furniture industry, even the new players, aren’t considering what the shift to selling online means,” Hoff tells Co.Design. “It isn’t just about making commodity products shippable and easy to assemble; it’s about design, serviceability, and disassembly. Those are all factors that, at the end of the day, will make a difference and keep customers loyal to and excited about Floyd.”

[Photo: courtesy Floyd]
Floyd launched its first product–the Floyd Leg, a kit of metal table legs you can use to turn any flat surface into a table–on Kickstarter in 2014. Essentially clamps, the legs made it easy for Floyd’s customers to assemble and disassemble furniture–a key detail since the brand targets people who live in cities and are likely to move frequently.

In the years following, it launched a bookshelf kit and a platform bed kit based on a similar conceit. This week it debuted its newest offering, the Floyd Table, which features legs that fasten to a linoleum-and-birch-plywood tabletop without the need for tools. Everything Floyd sells is manufactured in the United States–with the exception of the linoleum veneer, which is made in the Netherlands–and packs flat.

[Photo: courtesy Floyd]
To Floyd, disposable design–the idea that you buy something cheap that you don’t really care about because you know it won’t last longer than your lease–is the furniture industry’s go-to strategy since it ensures customers continually buy their products. The solution is to aspire toward creating something as enduring as an Eames shell chair–a thoughtfully designed, functional, universally loved, and durable product–but not as expensive as it is today. Originally introduced in the late 1940s, the Shell chair married modern engineering with a design sensibility that emphasized comfort and flexible use and was priced to be attainable for middle-class users. (Though it’s an expensive status symbol now.)

The Floyd Leg [Photo: courtesy Floyd]
“In Detroit, you can see an Eames chair in a high-end home and in an elementary school,” Hoff says. “They’ve been around forever. The design and aesthetic has been simple, minimalist, and timeless. It’s not about chasing trends.”

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The trick is taking the shell chair’s philosophical underpinnings and applying them to the needs of 21st-century shoppers. Midcentury masters like Charles and Ray Eames have long served as inspiration for young furniture designers. Floyd, however, is going a step further and thinking about how supply chain, marketing, and delivery can come together to support a viable business model centered around giving you the “just-right” product–not cheap, not too precious–you’ll keep for years.

Detroit [Photo: courtesy Floyd]

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

Instead of trying to continually release new products, Floyd is taking a slow-burn approach. It’s a deliberate move to make sure the products are perfect, and customers feel confident about the company and shopping options. There aren’t 10 tables to choose from; there’s just the one, in two neutral colorways. Floyd plans to expand into other furniture categories in 2018 and long-term, it wants to create products for the whole home. But all in due time.

[Photo: courtesy Floyd]

A New Delivery Model

So while companies like Amazon and Target are racing to ship you the same midcentury derivatives fastest, Floyd is offering a different proposition: furniture completely redesigned, from the fastenings to delivery. The company is retooling its shipping model to help communicate more clearly with customers awaiting their deliveries.

Instead of trying to work within the constraints of freight shipping–where someone has to be home to accept the package–or UPS and FedEx–which just drops something at your door during a large time window–Floyd is trying to do something different with its larger pieces. (Its smaller products ship FedEx and USPS.) Instead of shipping them from a central distribution facility, it’s warehousing inventory near key markets and partnering with a startup that specializes in urban deliveries so that customers consistently know exactly when their products will arrive. (Floyd doesn’t sell through third-party retailers now, as it wants to oversee all of the customer touchpoints with the brand, but isn’t ruling out sales partnerships in the future.)

Floyd isn’t trying to get the same generic products to you faster and easier–like Amazon and Target are–but it’s redesigning the furniture so you can easily move it yourself later and have something more unique.

Joshua Tree [Photo: Liz Kuball/courtesy Floyd]

Building A Strong Design Brand (And Taking A Dig At Ikea)

Creating a strong brand presence and telling its story carefully is a priority. Floyd has invested in lifestyle photography on its site to show its products in a variety of residential spaces, from a Richard Neutra house in Los Angeles to a New York City studio. In addition to digital advertising, the company has also purchased two billboards next to Ikeas in Portland and Emeryville, California, that say, “Eat their meatballs. Buy our bed frame.”

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“It’s, for us, a playful way of getting out in the world and getting people excited about the brand,” Hoff says. “Not to troll Ikea, but they have an amazing, powerful brand. For us, the counter to that is making products that are a great experience to buy and lasting quality.”

The company doesn’t have a showroom, but still believes that one of the best ways to earn a customer is getting them to physically see and experience the product–just not in a stuffy retail setting. Floyd partnered with Airbnb hosts (cofounder Joe Gebbia is a Floyd investor) to launch Stay Floyd, a program in which select Airbnb rentals near Floyd’s key markets–New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco–are outfitted with its furniture. If a guest living in L.A. sleeps on Floyd bed in a Joshua Tree house, they might be convinced to buy one for their own home. Additionally, professional rental photography is another way to show how the products complement myriad residential settings. “It’s our way of breaking away from the traditional furniture showroom,” Hoff says. “It’s a dispersed showroom.”

In a couple months, Floyd will move to a new headquarters in Detroit’s Eastern Market where it will have a showroom-like space it can use for experimental installations, and it also plans to host a pop-up in New York next year to introduce the company to a wider audience.

[Photo: courtesy Floyd]

Challenges Ahead

Right now, the company’s challenge is scaling–ensuring its products are manufactured and designed to meet its standards, streamlining the customer experience, and figuring out how to get you in front of one of its products. Floyd received $5 million in series A funding this year to help bankroll growth initiatives.

The venture capital firms 14W–which has invested in Glossier,  Goop, and Everlane–and Brand Foundry–which has invested in Harry’s, The Wing, and Allbirds–have also offered insight on how to successfully negotiate the e-commerce space.

One of the investors is La-Z-Boy, which has also offered advice on finding the right manufacturers. Being a Detroit-based company has helped on this front, too, as the company is a car ride away from suppliers and Hoff believes in-person communication is critical for fabricating quality products.

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Floyd’s pricing is more than Ikea, but less than modern brands with similar aesthetics, like CB2. The shelf hardware is $85 (you have to provide a board for the shelf surface), the Floyd Leg is $179, the table is $595, and the bed is $489 to $1095 depending on options. If shoppers are budget-minded, they might just go to the cheaper retailers out there or trawl Craigslist. Floyd is targeting an informed customer who wants to consume more thoughtfully.

“We have a demographic who cares about things,” Hoff says. “Our hope is to show that making it accessible and understandable, more people should care about those products and a product should matter. There’s a parallel to food culture. Twenty years ago my mom wasn’t buying organic anything; now there’s a culture of caring about the food you buy. What you put in your home should carry the same weight.”

Will consciousness be able to usurp marketshare from mass brands? Ask yourself that the next time you’re driving back to Ikea for replacement bolts.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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