Purchasing furniture can be an emotional experience. It brings to mind images of kids playing and frolicking, evenings spent relaxing by the TV, family meals being eaten. Places where memories will be created, where bonds are strengthened.
Furniture is also wildly expensive, which usually means extensive research and foresight are required to replace items. For most, a new bed or change in sofa are long-term investments.
Two years ago, Sligo native Deirdre McGettrick, an investment banker with one of the world’s largest banks, bought an apartment in London.
Excited by the prospect of designing and furnishing her own apartment, she went in search of her dream furniture pieces. The excitement, she tells the Irish World, quickly turned to frustration.
“As a consumer, you have all of this inspiration across Pinterest and Instagram and what you see in a friend’s house or a restaurant. You know what you want, but then you have to go and find the product,” she says.
“I found, from going on The French Bedroom Company or any of the retailer sites, that you’re repeating the process. The problem is, you can’t always find the item that you want. But you know it’s out there.”
Vexed and exasperated, she told Ray Wright, her Australian boyfriend who was working for a tech start-up, that an aggregator site in the vein of Skyscanner for flights, or Trivago for hotels, should exist for furniture.
“Why isn’t there one place to shop for furniture that makes it easy [for consumers]?” she asked at the time.
Not too long after these initial thoughts, she proceeded to take the mantle herself — along with her partner — to satisfy this curious gap in the market. “These solutions are out here to save people time and money and also to get them the right product as easily as possible.”
Off the back of this real-life frustration, the pair entered a business partnership and founded Kuldea — a play on ‘cool idea’, something they felt was self-evident — in the hope of shaking up the furniture industry.
It is estimated that, by the end of 2020, the homeware market in the UK will be worth £14.1bn, representing an increase of around £500 million in the two years from 2018.
Kuldea, the UK’s first online marketplace dedicated solely to home furniture and furnishings, launched earlier this year. It allows you to search, catalogue and even seek inspiration from a collection of over 100,000 furniture products.
At the time of its launch, the company held around 60,000 products from over 40 retailers on the site. Product numbers have risen dramatically, and McGettrick expects no slow-down: She estimates that the quantity of products will reach more than 300,000 by Autumn of this year.
On the site, shoppers can use detailed searches to find their ideal production: Items are presented by room or furniture type, with a search facility and filters including budget, colour and size.
Users can also ‘favourite’ products, set sale alerts on items of interest, share products with others, and build their own collections to help manage projects — or to simply compare styles and prices.
When people are ready to buy, one click takes them directly to the product of their choice on the retailer’s website.
Kulidea boasts a broad range of retailers, from well-known brands to smaller, more specialised independent retailers, including Graham & Green, Cotswold Company, Cuckooland, Curious Egg, Harveys, Barker and Stonehouse, Maisons du Monde, Houseology and many, many more.
Outside of streamlining the discovering and purchasing processes, she also noticed you couldn’t create collections across different websites. If you go on to an individual retailer’s website, invariably you are forced to create an account if you wish to save a product for consideration.
People, quite naturally, are hesitant to open accounts with dozens of websites. Many share links back and forth through email and spend more time navigating a deluge of open tabs, getting lost in the clicking and bookmarking.
Recent Eurobarometer figures show that about 30 per cent of furniture purchases are made online, a figure expected to rise.
Kuldea appeals to consumers, McGettrick believes, “because we’re bombarded with so much information, there is so much choice, there are so many different retailers”.
At the moment, there are over 900 furniture retailers in the UK. As with anything, online users tend to gravitate toward larger outlets with well-established brand names, willingly or otherwise.
“You can’t find all of the quirky, cool stuff that’s out there, because you don’t know the names of all these retailers to search for them,” McGettrick says.
“The marketing budgets of some of the players are so phenomenally huge that [smaller boutique firms] can’t compete. They get completely lost in all of the noise.”
As such, smaller firms have shown interest in Kuldea, recognising that it gives them a level-playing field with larger competitors. A price filter can be used, and if the product is good enough, cheap enough, relevant enough or aesthetically-pleasing enough, consumers should naturally fall in line.
In general, furniture firms have warmed to Kuldea. Many even contacted McGettrick and Wright directly, virtually pitching themselves instead of the other way around.
Presently there are 46 retailers on the site, with 12 signed up but awaiting a time for their products to be uploaded. This figure, if the current rate of take-up is anything to go by, should steadily rise over the coming years.
Another novel aspect of Kuldea is the content published on the site. Intended to act as a guide for shoppers, McGattrick writes regular blog posts about the market and the purchasing journey.
Sections such as Top Tips are intended to provide inspiration for home interior design ideas, providing practical advice on furniture shopping and pinning down special offers or sales.
After all, furniture purchases tend not to be rash. Oftentimes they’re mulled over in length, with sales only taking place when a perfect candidate is chosen and the financial timing is right. These articles, she suggests, will further bolster consumer’s decision-making process.
“When I’m purchasing a bed, for example: I don’t just go out and purchase one. It’s a big value purchase — you need to think about it properly. There was no comprehensive article out there that told me everything and I’m a big nerd. I like to feel like I’ve done all of the research and got all of my ducks in a row before I make a decision.”
Growth and scaling up are important. But, McGettrick says, she and her husband are aspiring, first and foremost, to bring in more retailers and increase their product range.
Breaking into international markets is next, Ireland included. Introducing new technologies might also be beyond the horizon.
But their long-term goal reads as resolutely ambitious, Amazon-esque in terms of their desire to disrupt and dominate: “We want to become known as the place where people go to shop for furniture. All retailers, all products, one website.”