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Last MileNewsTechnologyTrucking

When returning a sofa is as easy as returning a blouse or a dress

Austin, Texas startup FloorFound manages the return and resale of furniture, appliances and other oversize items

  • Austin, Texas–based FloorFound manages the return and resale of furniture, appliances and other oversize items.
  • In 2017, the EPA estimates, over 19.6 billion pounds of furniture occupied U.S. landfills.

Speaking during FreightWaves’ recent Last-mile Logistics Summit, Erik Caldwell, an XPO Logistics executive, noted that returns are among the most complex activities the delivery giant handles, and, moreover, that many consumers and retailers wish they could wave a magic wand and have the returns disappear.

If so, FloorFound, an Austin,Texas-based startup, is a modern-day fairy godmother.

“We’re kind of that magic wand,” founder and CEO Chris Richter told FreightWaves, “except it’s not magic, it’s technology.” 

FloorFound manages the return and resale process of oversize e-commerce items such as furniture or large appliances. The company, founded on April 1, came out of stealth on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, FloorFound announced it had raised an undisclosed amount from Schematic Ventures, an early-stage fund focused on supply chain technologies.

An untapped marketplace

Oversize e-commerce returns are increasing at a rapid clip, as customers during the pandemic have adapted to purchasing large items such as mattresses, furniture and exercise equipment online.

The online furniture return market alone is valued at $40 billion. According to Richter, 8 million pieces of furniture were returned in 2020 —  40 million over five years.

That’s an eye-popping number, all the more so because the vast majority of those returns go straight into landfills. Apart from a few liquidators and dedicated outlet stores, there are few alternatives for vendors faced with a deluge of castaway sofas and outdoor lawn furniture.

“No one wants to spend $200 to bring an item back to the warehouse,” Richter explained, “only to find they don’t have a way to sell that thing off.”

How it works

A veteran sales leader and software entrepreneur, Richter has found a way. Key to his solution is a nationwide network featuring several 3PL partners —  J.B. Hunt, Pilot Freight Services and Metropolitan —  through which the company can pick up and manage customer returns in any major metro area in the country.

Once the item is plugged into FloorFound technology, the 3PL partners pick it up and bring it to a local warehouse, where carriers can use an inspection application to take photos and write a description of the item, noting its condition.

“So we are locally sorting which ones are sellable and which ones are not,” Richter explained.

FloorFound then prices, markets and sells the item, targeting customers within a 50 mile range of the warehouse.

The furniture resale category clocks in around $22.5 billion. Of that, Richter estimated FloorFound can capture a 25% share over five years, yielding a cool $5.6 billion.

“If you can make the experience of returning a sofa as easy as returning a blouse or dress,” he observed, “it’s a huge unlock for the category.”

Millions of sofas, sitting in landfills

In 2017, according to EPA estimates, over 19.6 billion pounds of furniture occupied U.S. landfills. Since an average three-seat sofa weighs around 350 pounds, the equivalent of 56 million three-seat sofas filled landfills in 2017 alone.

The environmental degradation “weighs on” vendors, says Richter. “Every retailer I talked to is clamoring for a solution.”

He described FloorFound as a mission-driven business, and said to meet sustainability commitments, a growing number of brands likely will begin to offer resale along with new items, much like outdoor apparel companies REI and Patagonia offer used gear sites.

Aiming to accelerate that process, FloorFound releases its API so retailers can resell items through a link on their websites. The startup also sells items through local marketplaces, Facebook, Instagram and eBay.

A tangible business

To date FloorFound has secured four major customers in the indoor and outdoor furniture space: Floyd, Inside Weather, Outer and Feather.

“When I see one of these new items roll into the warehouse, it’s like Christmas for me,” said Richter, whose previous experience includes a stint as vice president of revenue at Convey, a delivery experience platform.

Convey was an amazing business, he explained, but it was a pure technology play. 

“I love the idea of having a tangible business — how radically this can change the way consumers think about and buy in this category and how it enables brands that frankly really hate the fact they have to dispose of this stuff.”

Richter recounted a story about his sister-in-law, who has committed to buying only second-hand clothes — for the rest of her life.

The furniture industry can embrace that, he believes. “Heretofore they haven’t been eager to, but that is changing quickly.”

Related stories:

Heavy bulky market: Fragmented and fast-growing 

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Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to lbaker@freightwaves.com.

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