How to diversify your income

This year San Francisco-based Fyrn Furniture, which makes high-end, customisable chairs, created a secondary platform to sell their used chairs at more affordable price points.

Fyrn, which launched in 2016, prides itself on its high-end flatpack chairs, made to order using North American hardwood, and with customisable details including smooth leather upholstery and copper bronze brackets. During the Covid-19 lockdown the company, helmed by David Charne and Ros Broughton, unveiled the Fyrn Exchange programme, whereby they sell on used chairs and imperfect stock at lower prices. ‘We’re focused on changing patterns of consumption,’ says Charne. When manufacturing was paused during the pandemic, the Exchange allowed Fyrn to continue trading.

Clear old inventory

Fyrn’s business model allows customers — both B2B and consumer — to fully trial chairs before committing to buying. Some return chairs to switch colour palette, others are returned from restaurants after sampling prior to opening. These used chairs take up space in the studio; Fyrn Exchange allows the company to sell on this inventory — as well as blemished seconds — that cannot otherwise be retailed at full price. ‘We inspect, refurbish, and package the furniture flat for the customer,’ says Charne. Some 200 chairs were uploaded onto the platform at the time of launch.

Attract a new customer

‘We have never historically run sales or offered discounts,’ says Charne, noting many customers on the Exchange have been ‘people that love the brand and are excited to access it at a lower price point.’ It’s attracting a younger customer with ‘lower barriers to entry.’ For a made-to-order business, almost every order will be painstakingly considered by customers. Having off-the-shelf stock available to buy caters to a customer who needs something quicker than the usual eight-week turnaround. ‘The process is much like the purchase of our new furniture, except that it is in stock and ships immediately,’ says Charne. It’s also a means of upselling to existing clients. ‘Customers who have previously purchased furniture with us are now adding additional pieces to their collection.’

Build an online community

Crucially, Fyrn Exchange also allows former customers to sell on their used wares. ‘It supports person-to-person sales if someone would like to sell their Fyrn pieces directly to someone in their community,’ says Charne – for this, Fyrn Exchange currently does not charge a listing fee. (This could, in time, change.) ‘We provide a centralised listing and promotion but we do not participate in the transaction,’ he says. ‘It’s an extension of customer service.’ The more accessible retail prices also draw new customers.

Focus on longer-term gain

The initiative, launched in May 2020, isn’t immediately financially beneficial for Fyrn. ‘The administration, refurbishment costs and support required will exceed the near-term financial benefits,’ says Charne. But it has potential. ‘As we learn how to support the programme more efficiently and as the volume of furniture increases, we can do it profitably.’

Read about more businesses who have had to diversify their income.

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