In late 2010, three Sydney entrepreneurs were seeking a new challenge in online business. Irene Lee, Gary Ng and Joshua Hay have worked together in the Internet marketing industry for nearly a decade. After helping hundreds of Australian companies grow their businesses online, including many successful online retailers, the trio eventually decided to start up an e-commerce store for themselves.
The idea of Furniture Escape came about when Gary was searching for an outdoor set and other furniture for his new home. He soon discovered that there was a hole in the market for unique outdoor furniture in Australia. Either the range was prosaic and limited, or the prices were so varied it was confusing to know what was a good deal and what wasn’t.
After sharing his experience with Irene and Joshua, the three partners were quick to seize upon the opportunity to revolutionise the outdoor furniture industry in Australia. Furniture Escape was founded to offer exceptional, stylish and quality furniture that could not be found anywhere else in the country. Its products would also be promoted at much lower prices than leading furniture retailers such as Domayne and Freedom.
From the beginning, it was obvious that the only way to beat Furniture Escape’s much larger competitors on both selection and price was to import furniture from overseas. Being that Gary still hadn’t found a furniture set his wife approved of, he decided to take a trip to Guangdong, China’s furniture manufacturing capital. “I had three goals for the trip to Guangdong,” Gary says. “Research what products were offer, learn about doing business in China, and achieve domestic bliss by bringing home the perfect outdoor set.”
By all three criteria, Gary’s trip was a success. However, success brought a new set of challenges for the start-up business. While outdoor furniture variety was limited in Australia, the opposite was true in China: Guangdong’s furniture district proved to be the size of several Sydney suburbs put together. Irene, Joshua and Gary would spend many hours choosing sample products, qualifying suppliers and testing market response before Furniture Escape was ready to do business.
Even more challenging was the long process of finding reliable partners to handle shipping and logistics, and the inevitable headaches that come with designing and developing a powerful e-commerce store. “We always knew that getting into online retail would be very different to what we were used to,” Irene says. “Once the e-commerce store was up and running we had our Internet marketing expertise to promote it, but first we had to take a crash course in the online retail game.”
“We’ve come a long way in the past year,” Irene reveals. “It was tough in the beginning because of the high start-up outlays and learning through trial and error. Things are much better now: we’re growing and improving profits every month, and our customers all love our furniture and our service. We have a guarantee: Love it or your money back. So far nobody has asked for their money back. We’re really happy to be able to bring our customers these one-of-a-kind furniture sets that they can’t get anywhere else.”