Bespoke furniture maker grows with B2B ecommerce

When high-end furniture company Uhuru Design saw the opportunity to enter the B2B market, it took it seriously.

The company had had success in the residential real estate market in the early 2000s by building bespoke pieces of furniture from recycled materials they found on the streets of New York City and selling them to high-end customers. Some of their pieces, made from reclaimed materials from famous New York landmarks like Coney Island and Domino Sugar Park, ended up at the Smithsonian and Brooklyn Museum.

Leo Lucisano, CEO of Uhuru Design

With this credibility in the architecture and design world, Uhuru became a sought-after brand. Several well-known companies, including Shake Shack and Vice Media, turned to Uhuru to design furniture for their spaces. One of them asked to buy pieces in bulk at a significantly reduced price. “For example, instead of buying one piece for $ 5,000, the brand may want to buy 1,000 pieces for $ 500 each,” said Leo Lucisano, CEO of Uhuru. “It made sense to do this on a large scale and we realized that there was a great opportunity on the B2B side.”

Build a B2B business online

In 2017, Uhuru launched an office furniture collection that solidified its place in the B2B space. The company entered the hospitality industry, designing furniture for companies like Aloft Hotels and Starwood, as well as for the flexible and collaborative environment. Next, it wanted to start selling these pieces directly to consumers.

So in 2019 the right office was conceived, which is high quality home office furniture that is sold directly to consumers at a cheaper price. The brand was planned to be launched in 2020 – but it knew it needed a strong tech focus to be successful. “We knew we had to be successful. We had to sell these products directly to consumers online,” says Lucisano. “E-commerce was the only way forward.”

In early 2019, Uhuru developed a three-year strategy to scale from a custom B2B project business to a product-driven omnichannel B2B2C business. “The plan was ambitious, and then COVID-19 really accelerated this advance,” says Lucisano.

E-commerce in the time of COVID

At the beginning of 2021, Uhuru consisted of three brands, a fourth of which was on the way. Uhuru’s core brand, which sells bespoke furniture to big companies like Shake Shack, was a B2B brand – as was the Renegade Customs brand, which sells bespoke furniture to businesses from the ground up. Proper Office is Uhurus’ home office furniture brand. And later that year, Uhuru Home will be launched, which also goes direct to the consumer and offers home furniture at more competitive prices.

Like most companies, Uhuru felt the effects of the pandemic. It closed and immediately reopened one of its factories to make hospital beds to aid the pandemic. And then, as Lucisano put it, Uhuru was hyper-focused on business.

“The pandemic has a four or five month window to think about what we need to do now that we wouldn’t do if we had a normal growth path,” explains Lucisano. Uhuru decided it needed to increase its technology investment to remove sales disruption from the shopping experience.

Grow into the future

In the fall of 2020, Uhuru received capital of $ 6.9 million. This gave the company the funds it needed to support its growth in e-commerce for all brands. In addition to product development and expansion of offerings, Lucisano says the company is leading these funds to support technology and e-commerce initiatives across the company.

“We focus on the things that support e-commerce like inventory and technology building,” he says. “We’re also using it on the B2B side to refine sales channels, focus on the Proper Office brand, and deepen the e-commerce offering and tech stack for all brands.”

Uhuru currently uses the basic Shopify e-commerce platform for all of its brands

For large real estate companies and clients who need kits and SKU catalogs, Uhuru also works closely with dealers to make bespoke furniture. “We optimize off-the-shelf products to suit this retailer and then mass-produce them through the supply chain,” says Lucisano. These transactions are carried out offline.

They also partner with merchants through marketplaces like 1stDibs and Huckberry and work with them on these platforms to deliver curated offers.

“The real goal here is to use our family tree in museum quality and create a brand platform to offer design-as-a-service to the masses,” says Lucisano. “It’s difficult – it takes a strong supply chain and credibility in design. So we’re moving through e-commerce driven platforms – and looking at all of this through the lens of how we can deliver design in a smooth manner. “

Cate Flahardy is a Chicago-based freelance journalist specializing in business and technology.

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