In 2018 we saw the sharing economy reach new heights and the opportunity for brands and consumers to work together in a mutually beneficial relationship. From clothing to cars and even homes, monetizing materials had become mainstream. At the time, we imagined what it would mean for a brand like Airbnb and Wayfair to come together for the ultimate mashup. We envisioned a concept where life meets style, letting consumers experience products in real life as they might in their homes. Little did we know a burgeoning brand was on the brink of bringing a similar idea to life. Enter outdoor furniture brand Outer.
With a mission to bring life back outside, Co-Founders Jiake Liu and Terry Lin launched Outer in 2019. Lui’s computer engineering education and entrepreneurial startup background, combined with Lin’s experience as the former Head of Design at Pottery Barn and exec at Casper, resulted in the perfect coalition to create the direct-to-consumer business model. Add to that Lui’s family connection to a company manufacturing furniture for more than a decade in China; they had all the elements to level up in a 9 billion dollar a year industry. After securing investment from Sequoia Capital China and Harry’s co-founders Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeff Raider; Twitch founder Justin Kan; and Boll & Branch founder Scott Tannen, among others, all that was left was marketing.
Aside from the innovative, eco-friendly product the brand designs, the approach to market sets them apart from the rest of the DTC market. Understanding the complexities of buying outdoor furniture online, Liu and Lin adopted an authentic approach that creates transparency for the end-user. Purchasing a premium product is a major decision that often drives the need to see the product in-person to touch and feel the quality. Rather than launching retail stores nationwide, they embraced their customers and enlisted them to turn their backyards into showrooms. These Neighborhood Showrooms not only allow potential customers the opportunity to see the product in real life, weathering the elements of mother nature, but also the opportunity to hear from real people about the product.
With showrooms in almost every state, customers can search or browse on the site to find a Neighborhood Showroom nearby. Much like Airbnb, Host profiles describe the showroom like “Charming Roof Deck with 360 Views of Downtown Birmingham” or “West Coast Style Meets East Coast Roots in Santa Monica.” Additional lifestyle details, including family size and pets, help create context for product use. Customers can then schedule an appointment for a visit. Once there, they can experience the product, ask questions from the Host and hear how they like it.
The brand had to suspend in-person showrooms, but they launched virtual visits in a true forward-thinking fashion, allowing customers an opportunity to still connect with Hosts and conduct a video visit.
To Be an Outer Host
To encourage customers to become Outer advocates, they provide a 10% initial purchase discount. Applicants go through rigorous background checks as part of the vetting process. Selected Showroom partners then receive a small fee for each visit (not commission), meaning they’re incentivized for their time, not the sale. Vetted hosts also get complimentary styling services for their outdoor space. Hosts set their schedules and earn reportedly anywhere from $200 to $2,000 a month based on location and the number of visits scheduled. They also get to play a role with the development process, getting early access to new collections and pieces to give feedback before release.
Outer states the brand experiences a 33% conversion rate, with one in every three Neighborhood Showroom visits resulting in a sale. Last year alone, the brand has seen a 1000% increase and expects annual sales to surpass $12 million this year. Reportedly they plan to grow the network from 500 to 1,000 backyards nationwide.
With the launch of Neighborhood Showrooms, Outer has managed to think beyond online and uniquely engage with consumers. Might there be a physical store in the future for the furniture brand? We’re not counting it out. With a strong emphasis on community development, we could see the brand creating a retail space for awareness and entertainment.