Thanks to the fact it’s nigh on impossible to get through an episode US podcast without hearing an ad for Casper Mattress, the mattress-in-a-box model is now fairly well known and established around the world, with Sleeping Duck and Koala perhaps the most well-known Australian offerings. It has also spawned spinoffs applying the model to other types of furniture.
Applying the model to the lounge, Sydneysiders Joseph Greathead and Andrew Hambly have launched Companion Couch, an ecommerce business delivering customers an easy-to-assemble, modular sofa in a box.
The key problem the pair set out to solve, Greathead explained, is that the traditional experience of buying a sofa usually means paying a delivery fee and a headache trying to figure out how to get inside.
“If you want a couch that you know you’re going to be able to get inside your front door – rather than having to winch it over a balcony – without paying a huge delivery fee or hiring an AirTasker, flat-pack furniture is a great solution, but these products are often poorly-made and rickety,” he said.
“My last moving house experience involved winching a sectional sofa over my Bourke Street balcony and jamming it through a screen door, breaking it in the process. Once I got it inside, I realise that it was then trapped in my bedroom as it wouldn’t fit down the stairs. It was a nightmare.”
The cofounders each have complementary skills: currently a credit advisor at a mortgage brokerage, Greathead previously ran florist delivery platform Bloom Porter and took part in the University of Sydney’s Incubate program with another business, while Hambly is an industrial designer, currently working as a senior product designer for high-end homes.
The goal was to create a sofa that, as Greathead put it, looks and feels like a $10,000 sofa, combined with all the “helpful aspects” of flat-pack furniture.
What this meant in terms of actually creating it, he admitted, was “a hell of a lot of design work on Andrew’s part, and not a whole lot of contribution from me”.
“Andrew having the right skills to use [computer-aided design] to put together a detailed design saved us huge amounts of time. It also allowed us to screen potential manufacturers by asking them certain design or manufacturing related questions and testing how professional their responses were. It’s easy to get ripped off or get an inferior product otherwise,” Greathead said.
The pair tested designs on Facebook, asking for input with friends and having them vote for their favourites; they came away with a modular design that includes an in-built charging dock to keep your devices on during a Netflix binge.
The startup offers a two-seater for $850, three-seater for $1050, and lounge chair for $650.
Companion Couch recently launched and sold out of its first small shipment, with customers coming primarily from word of mouth.
“It was great to do this, mostly to friends and family, so we could fail and get different aspects with the delivery and packaging wrong to learn enough to start selling larger volumes,” Greathead said.
As it takes on pre-orders for its next shipment, which will offer more colours, Greathead said the company’s main competitor is the traditional furniture industry, who are “starting to wise up” and provide more value for less online.
Having taken inspiration from Koala’s model, the Sydney startup will become a competitor itself over the coming months as it adds a sofa to its range.
“Koala is more directly a competitor, definitely. But we don’t see that as a problem. It’s really great to have competitors in certain industries, as it validates the market for us,” Greathead said.
“I’m confident that our design is going to be the best quality couch in our price range, but I’ll look forward to doing a side-by-side with theirs in the coming months.”
According to Greathead, Companion Couch’s core customer base is women – “but also a lot of dutiful boyfriends seemingly buying a nice couch to impress their girlfriends,” he added – generally aged between 24 and 54 and living in the inner city, though they have also seen interest from regional areas.
Again taking a cue from Koala, Companion Couch is donating a share of the profits from every couch sold to Maggie’s Rescue, an animal shelter which works to find homes for rescue animals.
“We love the idea of a one-for-one charitable gift for each product sold; it’s a really tangible way to buy ethically. You feel like you’re moving the needle on a particular issue, and you really are. The money that comes in really does help organisations like Maggie’s – which goes towards finding a foster home for more and more rescue animals.”
With pre-orders open for the startup’s next shipment, which will start delivering in April, the goal for the cofounders is simple, Greathead said: “Just to survive the shipment arriving and getting all the orders delivered, and not dying in the process. At the moment we’re just putting one foot in front of the other.”
Image: Joseph Greathead and Andrew Hambly. Source: Supplied.