This is a follow up story for Branch Furniture. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, my name is Greg Hayes. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Branch! We’re an office furniture company that has taken a new approach to the industry, selling our line of desks, chairs, and other essentials directly to consumers and businesses, saving them time and money along the way.
When we spoke to Starter Story last year, we were strictly focused on the enterprise market, applying D2C principles to an antiquated B2B industry by producing high-end office furniture and selling it directly to businesses. We had no consumer-facing business to speak of, and no plans on launching one. Only a couple of months after our Starter Story ran, the pandemic struck, rendering our enterprise-facing business temporarily obsolete: nobody needed new furniture for office spaces they were no longer using. By April we saw our revenue drop to its lowest levels since we started the business. So we did something that had once been unthinkable for Branch: pivoted and entered the direct-to-consumer market. It required a huge effort from our team, but a year later we’ve grown the business by almost 600% and will generate $2M in revenue this month.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
It’s been a banner year for Branch, as we’ve steadily and profitably grown revenue from about $300k/month when we spoke last year to $2M/month (and quickly growing) today. But it hasn’t been easy.
Throughout 2019 and early 2020 we were doubling revenue every quarter, growing our team steadily, and had reached profitability in our first year of operations. But the arrival of the pandemic changed all of that: in late March of 2020, we saw the entirety of our multi-million dollar pipeline evaporate as companies paused their moves and office expansions. Office furniture was smack in the middle of what turned out to be one of the hardest-hit industries of all: commercial real estate. We realized very quickly that to survive, we’d need to make a major change. And the DTC market provided just the avenue.
Getting creative and not following the crowd can produce fantastic growth results.
Although we had products that could be redirected toward the emerging WFH audience, we had no other DTC prerequisites in place. We were used to marketing to and serving customers who were ordering hundreds or thousands of units of furniture at a time - a customer base requiring a very different acquisition strategy and operations process than the DTC market. In the course of about six weeks, our team re-oriented everything about our business, from marketing to packaging to shipping practices, to suit our new target audience.
By early May we’d officially launched our DTC effort, and by the end of the month were doing more revenue every few days than we’d done in the entire month of April. The path to building a successful DTC business was becoming more clear, but some hurdles still needed to be cleared. We worked through a summer of inventory shortages, packaging issues, customer experience learnings, and team building to come out stronger than ever in the fall.
The growth tactics that were especially helpful along the way were PR (including articles in Forbes, CNN, WSJ, and more), traditional paid channels like Google and Facebook, and word of mouth generated by our sales and customer service teams.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the past year, but two stand out as being especially important. These may seem like obvious lessons, but they’re true: your team matters a lot, and that the way customers experience your brand has a huge impact on your ability to grow efficiently.
Concerning the impact on our team, we simply couldn’t have pulled off our pivot and subsequent growth without everyone on our team going all-in. To a person, they did, working seven days a week for most of April and May, and barely slowing down through 2021. They created a “can-do” culture that has continued to build on itself to this day. Everyone who has joined since last spring has come on board with the same approach. You’re taught that culture starts with the founders, but in our case, the culture starts with the team.
The second lesson is that customer experience matters above almost everything. From the beginning of our foray into the DTC market, we were exceptionally focused on ensuring a fabulous customer experience. Furniture is a big purchase, and we felt a duty to ensure that the customers who chose us out of all of the options available to them walked away delighted with their decision. As we grew, we decided to build our Customer Support function in-house and domestically. The result is that we’ve sustained one of the highest NPS scores in the furniture industry, have a nearly perfect Customer Satisfaction Score, and generate a significant portion of our revenue from word-of-mouth. A secondary effect is that our culture has become even stronger. Everyone at Branch (founders included!) takes turns working on Customer Support, which has been important in developing company-wide empathy for our customers.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Beyond designing and launching new products for both the home office and traditional office, this year we’re working on digital products (there’s more than one way to interact with furniture!), expanding our team, doubling down on our enterprise capabilities, and generally working on increasing brand awareness. We’re also seeing a lot of interest for Branch products outside of North America, so we may entertain an expansion beyond US and Canadian borders.
Looking beyond the next year, Branch’s long-term roadmap is all about sustained growth into each of our target markets. The evolution of how people work - no longer only in a traditional office - aligns incredibly well with our offering. There’s an exciting opportunity to build a flywheel between our DTC, enterprise, and commercial landlord business lines in which there’s no work environment that Branch can’t accommodate.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I wish! I was recently discussing with my cofounders, Sib and Verity, how little time we’ve had for things like reading over the past year. But I plan to get back to it in a real way this summer.
In the meantime, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and reading newsletters. Podcast-wise, I listen to How I Built This and Pivot, and newsletter-wise I read Not Boring, Axios, and Morning Brew.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Over the past year, we’ve learned that getting creative and not following the crowd can produce fantastic growth results. We don’t use outside agencies for our growth program - everything is done in-house. One of the things our team is great at is looking for new growth channels that aren’t immediately obvious.
I think that as Millennials and Gen-Z’s we tend to think that the whole world operates the way we do. But not everything is sold through Amazon, Instagram ads, or even on the internet. For example, we recently learned that Consumer Reports has over 7 million subscribers. I didn’t even know that Consumer Reports was a going concern, but it has as many subscribers as the New York Times!
There are plenty of interesting growth channels like this that entrepreneurs don’t know about or are predisposed to ignoring. It’s not even a case of thinking outside of the box, it’s a box full of tried and true ideas that have worked for generations, but we tend to regress to the mean and just follow what other startups are doing.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At the moment we’re hiring a VP of US Sales, and Operations Planning Manager, and a Canadian Operations Manager.
Where can we go to learn more
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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