Up until the middle of the 20th century, much of the furniture found in American homes was handed down from previous generations, and most of the pieces were handmade. The origin of the “wood goods” was from East Coast furniture manufacturers, like Virginia-based Bassett (1902) and New York and North Carolina-based Stickley (1900), among others. They drew on a bounty of available hardwoods and softwoods grown in the region as well as the talents of New England craftsmen, many of them immigrants.
Heirlooms on Decline
Back in the day, it was considered an honor for the next generation to receive a cherished collectible or utilitarian item being handed down. It was viewed with the same respect and appreciation as a great uncle or aunt held for family heirlooms. Not so today.
The EPA estimates that 9 million tons of furniture are tossed every single year. That is roughly 5 percent of everything brought to landfills (a sizable amount considering all the food waste and packaging we throw away).
When it comes to present-day furniture hand-me-downs, most bets are off. Unless you are talking about a 19th Century Louis XVI roll-top desk or some coveted mid-century modern pieces from Eames or Le Corbusier. Next gens are likely to turn up their noses at once treasured offerings.
Where Furniture Goes to Die
Now with the proliferation of low-cost composite wood furnishings out of Asia and the growth of “flat-pack” case goods from IKEA and others, the challenge of what to do with the “unloved” loveseat or the college dorm desk has become an ever-increasing environmental nightmare.
The EPA estimates that 9 million tons of furniture are tossed every single year. That is roughly 5 percent of everything brought to landfills (a sizable amount considering all the food waste and packaging we throw away). Not only is this furniture wasteful, but it is also clearly not a worthwhile investment.
The problem has been exacerbated given the popularity of lower quality “fast furniture” which gets randomly discarded. These products are often difficult to recycle, as they contain multiple materials, requiring costly disassembly. In some cases, they contain toxic chemicals, making them impossible to recycle. More often, however, the items are still useful but out of favor, so what to do?
Recommerce Is Front Row Seating
The recommerce industry has flourished over the last few years. This is attributed to rising inflation as well as consumer and market trends such as sustainable shopping and supply shortages driven by the pandemic. Next-gen consumers accept the idea of secondhand, applaud, and seek it out across a wide product spectrum. In fact, home goods and furniture are the fastest growing recommerce categories, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9 percent since 2020. It is expected to reach $23.6 billion by 2025.
For the upper-end furniture market, there are several players acting as market intermediaries and resellers. They cater to luxury, high-design brands, and vintage or collectible furnishings. Among them, are resellers 1stDibs, The RealReal Recollection, Etsy, and Chairish. Like other marketplaces, these players offer a forum for third-party resellers, antique or estate dealers, and the like. They have avid, but niche followings and offer both buyers and sellers attractive highly shoppable websites, but they have their limitations.
More recently there has been an influx of new players, addressing the much larger mass-market furniture resale needs. These go well beyond the established Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay sellers, which have been an effective “clearing house” for forgotten or unloved furniture, along with tons of other stuff.
In fact, in 2022, eBay’s recommerce alone resulted in 73,000 metric tons of consumer goods being reused instead of ending up in landfills, along with 1.6 million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions.
Now, the world’s largest furniture company has done a major circularity turnabout. In response to years of criticism aimed at IKEA’s recycling practices, the company has had a major refocus on sustainability. It is part of Ikea’s effort to become a circular business by 2030, starting with selling their “gently used” items through their “As-Is Online” program where selected online products may be reserved and picked up in-store.
Ikea also piloted a buy-back and resell program in Philadelphia in the summer of 2021 and shortly after that began to expand to other cities. The program is available exclusively to IKEA Family members, and payment comes in the form of an IKEA refund card. According to IKEA the buyback value usually runs between 30 and 50 percent of the original price.
Kaiyo: The Disruptor
But there is another brand way ahead of Ikea in the furniture recommerce space with a holistic, turnkey offering. Kaiyo (pronounced kiyo) set out to “own the furniture resale business, from beginning to end” as their CEO Alpay Koralturk described it to me when I first interviewed him in December 2021.
Since their founding in 2014, their mission has been to keep as much furniture out of landfills and in people’s homes as possible. I recently received an extensive update on the company’s developments and growth over the relatively brief period since my initial contact.
Besides doubling the amount of product that they have kept out of landfills to nearly five million pounds, Kaiyo has experienced more than 100 percent consistent growth every month over the past two years due to growing interest in the circular economy and pandemic-induced supply chain issues. Frankly, they have built a superior industry mousetrap.
Covering All the Bases
Once a customer has registered on the Kaiyo website and completed the requisite queries, Kaiyo offers customers an “instant offer” on selected furniture items. The caveat is that in cases where Kaiyo “is unable to make a fair and desirable offer to the sellers” given the condition or low secondary market value; the rejected items usually end up on other marketplaces.
Once sellers receive an offer, they can calculate their delivery cost during checkout. Currently, Kaiyo offers white glove pickup and delivery to the greater New York City area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the Washington D.C. metro areas. For customers outside that area, they have established relationships with a network of trusted third-party shippers who will pick up the furniture and deliver it to one of their warehouses.
Once received, the items are inspected, cleaned, and photographed, in preparation for posting on their user-friendly marketplace. After having introduced the white glove offering in Los Angeles in July 2022, they plan to expand the service to additional markets in the future.
Getting Very Social
One of the contributors to Kaiyo’s impressive, recent growth has been a very stealthy and effective social media marketing effort, which revolves around two content pillars. The first is “Kaiyo Finds” — videos that feature the amazing pieces that arrive at their warehouses daily. “Our viewers love the thrill of the hunt, so these videos are a great way to build excitement around our unique, ever-changing collection of furniture, as well as the amazing bargains available.”
The second pillar is Kaiyo’s “Better with Age” campaign. This involves a peek inside the homes of notable designers and tastemakers who share Kaiyo’s love of all things pre-loved. “Our followers love getting the personal, inside scoop.”
Additionally, Kaiyo is encouraging its brand ambassadors to share on TikTok. That strategy is a mixture of design, secondhand, and sustainability content in the style that makes TikTok unique and addictive. Grace Baena, Kaiyo’s director of branded content has done an impressive job of giving the brand great social media context. It’s clear that the @getkaiyo TikTok effort invites a younger, Gen Z audience and Instagram skews toward a millennial consumer, which on trend.
Overall, Kaiyo appears to be meeting a need that blends the best of the furniture recommerce marketplace with the convenience of an end-to-end full-service offering.