With Over-Extended Supply Chains Leading to Sky-High Furniture Costs, Can 3D Printing Save the Industry?

By Phillip Raub, CEO of Model No.

After months (and months) of confinement, there is a growing trend of city dwellers leaving the likes of New York and San Francisco for less expensive and greener pastures. As urbanites head for smaller markets, the ‘burbs and farms, the one need each of them will have is for more furniture. As a result, the furniture industry is slated to grow by almost 30% by 2027 ($650B).

While traditional industry players will surely benefit from this growth, it also presents an opportunity to radically change an industry that has failed to embrace more automated and sustainable manufacturing processes.

In the same way that you can easily build the car of your dreams or customize a pair of Nike shoes online, customers are looking for a similar method to order a desk for their makeshift office or a kitchen table that doubles as a homeschooling desk.

It’s no secret that furniture shopping is a common pain point for consumers who are over-indexed with seemingly endless options that don’t quite match their desired dimensions, color preferences, or even budget. When it comes to buying furniture, consumers are pigeon-holed into two options: mass produced furniture that isn’t exactly what they want or customized furniture that is costly, with long wait times.

The cumbersome problem of finding furniture that checks off each customer’s preferences can be attributed to the lack of customizable furniture options. For most people, custom furniture is simply out of reach. As social distancing due to COVID-19 has forced manufacturing and delivery processes to slow delivery times, charges have only gone up for mass produced and custom furniture. This presents a significant gap in the market for quality and affordable furniture with automated, on-demand and on-time delivery networks.

It is also no secret that the current furniture and design industry favors the retail distributor over customers by mass producing furniture in order to minimize cost of manufacturing and maximize the rate of purchases. However, this business model is not only highly inefficient at providing customers with furniture that matches individual preferences, but also contributes to the surge in the over-production of items that are discarded in landfills. 

In addition, the negative implications associated with mass production expand towards a changing behavioral problem in America. The trend of “fast-furniture” has arisen from retailers and consumers prioritizing quantity over quality with cheap furniture that can be replaced every couple of years. This poses a great threat to the environment as Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings each year according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In shaping the future of the furniture industry, a direct-to-consumer solution aims to support consumers in their need for products that are affordable, customizable, and environmentally-friendly. By leveraging 3-D printing technology, retailers are able to provide consumers with the ability of choice and precision to streamline the time from creation to fabrication, so custom pieces can ship faster than most off-the-shelf furniture. 

In addition to the technology itself, the materials in our furniture matters. For example, typical furniture products are manufactured with formaldehyde or flame-retardant chemicals that can release toxic gases posing a risk to humans, animals, and the environment which is a non-starter for today’s consumers who spend most of their time working and lounging on their furniture. By sourcing local materials from American suppliers or even considering agricultural waste such as corn husks, sugar cane husks and beetroot, the furniture itself is a safer product for the environment, consumers and employees when used in 3D printing production. Creating a win-win situation, consumers are empowered to live an eco-friendly lifestyle affordably and retailers are able to provide a zero-waste product. 

At the intersection of technology, great design and sustainability, a customizable, direct-to-consumer approach to producing and purchasing home products is the future of the furniture industry. An experiential concept that not only advances the nation’s transition to a zero-waste environment but provides a furniture product that meets the evolving needs of today’s consumer as easy and precise as a keyboard stroke.

Phillip Raub is CEO of Model No., the only direct-to-consumer platform powered by 3D printers and robots to enable seamless ordering and on-demand deliveries, giving rise to furniture that is perfectly tailored to meet the expectations of today’s consumers. Formerly, Raub served as President and Co-Founder of b8ta, the software-powered retailer, where he expanded the brand nationally and internationally and pioneered the retail-as-a-service concept which leverages data analytics to provide brand partners with consumer product engagement and feedback data in real-time. Raub is a retail veteran, industry thought leader and prominent speaker.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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