Dezeen Magazine

Joel Roos of One Nordic

Furniture brands "terrible" at selling online

News: the way design is sold to the public is "stuck" in the past and hasn't changed since the seventies, according to the founder of a brand that aims to sell high-quality furniture online (+ interview).

"I just feel that this whole industry is terrible at seeing that many people are moving online and willing to buy furniture online," said Joel Roos (above), founder and CEO of One Nordic. "It just feels like, when you go to Italy, time is stuck. Nothing has happened in this field."

Roos made the comments at the Stockholm Furniture Fair this week, where the Finnish company unveiled new furniture lines that fold flat to enable them to be shipped more cheaply.

"In many other retail fields so much is happening," he added. "But in the furniture field many, many companies retail exactly the same way as they did in the seventies."

One Nordic is developing innovative sales strategies that involve working with traditional retailers to showcase products to customers, who then buy them online. Retailers will be given a percentage of sales generated through their stores.

Hai armchair by Luca Nichetto

To reduce shipping costs, the brand has introduced products such as the Hai armchair designed by Luca Nichetto (above), which features a folding backrest. This cuts the shipping volume by half.

We don't want to call it "flatpack" because that has a bad ring to it," says Roos. "It's more about effective shipping."

"Most design furniture costs a fortune and is for this reason not accessible," says One Nordic's website, which can ship products to customers across Europe within two weeks. The site adds: "By making the shipping smarter and more effective, we can make our products more affordable."

Levels lamp by Form Us With Love

Another product, the Levels ceiling lamp by Form Us With Love (above), collapses to around a third of its size while the Pal Stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt (below) can be easily taken apart and put back together.

Pal stool by Hallgeir Homstvedt

A prototype shelf by Steffan Holm has a scissor-like structure so you can unpack it, open it up like a concertina and attach it to the wall.

Bento chair by Form Us With Love

One Nordic debuted at the Stockholm Furniture Fair last year where it showed the Bento chair by Form Us With Love (above), which also comes as a kit.

Innovation in the sale of design online has come from new players rather than established companies. Last autumn online furniture retailer announced it was opening a physical showroom in London, while flash sales site told Dezeen it had "IKEA-sized ambitions".

This month a private collector put his 1,000-strong of Braun products designed by Dieter Rams up for sale on eBay.

Here's an edited transcript of an interview with Roos conducted by Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs:

Marcus Fairs: We're at the Stockholm Furniture Fair on the One Nordic stand. Tell us about yourself and your company.

Joel Roos: I'm the founder of One Nordic, and this is our first birthday. We showed the prototype of the Bento chair by Form Us With Love one year ago, and now we're at the fair showing nine product families. So we've come pretty far in a year I guess.

Marcus Fairs: Tell us about your business model because it's quite different from other brands. You want to use the internet as much as possible; a lot of your products fold down for easy shipping.

Joel Roos: Yeah. I just feel that this whole industry is terrible at seeing that many people are moving online and willing to buy furniture online. But one of the biggest [limiters] has been the size of the items. What we want to do, without destroying the design and the high-end elements of these products, is to create smart shipping. We don't want to call it "flatpack" because that has a bad ring to it. It's more about effective shipping.

So, for example, our new lounge chair by Luca Nichetto has a folding backrest, which means that you get half of the volume of a normal lounge chair. All the air is gone so the shipping is so much more effective. Of course it's pretty green and good for the environment but also price-wise it's pretty effective.

Marcus Fairs: Are you going to be working with traditional retailers as well, or will people only be able to buy the products online?

Joel Roos: We are definitely going to work with traditional retailers. We're building a retailer network as we speak. We want to have good retailers. Because I don't believe in only online, or only bricks and mortar. It's about the combination. It's about having a really nice combo where you can rely on your retailers to show your products but then give back to them by, for example, giving kickbacks for sales online and so forth.

We're in a very weird situation in the field where some retailers are really suffering because of the big online stores, especially here in the Nordic countries. We have small retailers and customers go to their stores, have a look at the items and then disappear. The store never sees them again because much bigger retailers selling online with zero transport costs ship them for maybe 50% less to the customer.

Marcus Fairs: We call that "showrooming" in the UK. But how do you get around it? If a customer sees one of your products in a physical store but buys it online from you, how does the retailer benefit?

Joel Roos: This is a very interesting issue. We're looking into different alternatives. One alternative we've already started with is to look at where the purchased is based. Let's say Berlin: say we see a customer from Berlin on our web shop. If we have a good retailer in Berlin we give them a kickback for that sale via our web channel. It means that even though that customer might go home and buy it from our store, the retailer will still profit from this sale.

Marcus Fairs: Will people only be able to buy it online from you, or will they be able to find it cheaper on other websites?

Joel Roos: We're one of the few manufacturers that really focusses on selling through our own online store. So we'd like to be the most important online seller of our own products. Of course there are really beautiful online stores that we might use as retailers, but those are not the ones that are robbing sales from us.

Marcus Fairs: What about other aspects such as customer service? If someone buys an armchair online and decides they don't like it, or there's a fault with it, what will happen? How will you give the customer service that people expect?

Joel Roos: That's the other part of good retailer contacts. What we're working on is the mechanism of customer claims, so that unhappy customers can go to their familiar retailer in their city. The problem usually with online sales is that you have nobody in your country: you're trying to call Germany, nobody answers, they tell you to send an email. But if we have a good collaboration with our retailers they can be the ones doing this. Of course they will get their fair share for the work they do. This way we can make it more secure for the customer.

Marcus Fairs: Another problem with buying furniture the traditional way is you go into your nice local design store, you choose your piece and then they tell you it's going to take three months to arrive. How long will it take people to get the products they buy online from you? People expect things to arrive faster when they buy online.

Joel Roos: This is of course a problem with online sales: people's expectations are really high. There's two sides to it. When people visit an online store they expect everything to work perfectly and their tolerance of mistakes is very low. And then of course with delivery times, people want things to arrive pretty quickly. We are now looking at two weeks, which for a lounge chair is okay.

Marcus Fairs: Worldwide?

Joel Roos: No, right now we're working in Europe with our online store. Outside of Europe we are working through partners because it would be too difficult to handle. Our own webshop works within the limits of Europe, where we can guarantee transport within 14 days. So far that has been sufficient for our customers.

This is such an interesting topic to think about. Where is this field going? Where are we now? It just feels like, when you go to Italy, time is stuck. Nothing has happened in this field.

I'm a lawyer by education but my family has a background in the furniture field. The family business is furniture retail. I was working as a lawyer in New York in 2008 when the market crashed. At that point my mother who was the CEO of the company called and said could I come back to Finland to help in the furniture business.

So I came and after that I started going to fairs and meeting people. It was so interesting that in many other retail fields so much is happening. But in the furniture field many, many companies retail exactly the same way as they did in the seventies. That's how this idea came up: that things that could be done differently.

Marcus Fairs: Are all these products available to buy now?

Joel Roos: Almost all. The new shelf by Staffan Holm is still a prototype. The other new items here will be ready in six weeks, for example the Luca Nichetto lounge chair. But all items that we already had in our collection, plus the Levels ??? lamp by Form Us With Love, are already available online.