From Site to Shop and Back Again: Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar Business Models

Like many small, art-driven businesses, our practice started in the form of an online shop. Eventually, and after running the numbers through dozens of scenarios, we gained the independence and financial ability to open a physical location. However, this transition does not come easily. In this workshop, we discuss the pros and cons of moving from online to in-store sales.

First, there is no right or wrong answer, and we’ve witnessed furniture companies make the transition both ways. Business owners that once had a central brick-and-mortar location and the production/sales numbers to absorb extra costs go online at the same time they go into semi-retirement and close their brick-and-mortar location. We’ve also seen a new generation of furniture-making entrepreneurs come up who had all the necessary skills and vision to start their own company but not a lot of start-up capital naturally gravitate toward the online model….but they invariably aspire to eventually own a location where they can showcase their signature pieces in person.


Be Diligent and Research Multiple Options

We can also tell you that, before you fall in love with a business location, much less before you sign a long-term lease or close on a property, you need to check on the local and state laws. Small-scale custom furniture manufacturing companies may not need a ton of space, but that doesn’t mean they can buy a residential property and assume they can sell the furniture they make on that property. Additionally, furniture makers must comply with a number of hazardous waste disposal and consumer safety regulations, so you need to make sure your workspace can accommodate these regulations. As you scale up, you’ll also have requirements to limit and report formaldehyde and other greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these regulations apply to both brick-and-mortar locations as well as online stores.


Success Stories for Custom Furniture Businesses

You can exploit inefficiencies in the big-box store model by minimizing the number of shipping points between your workshop and the retail customer. Online stores that enable a direct sales model are finding creative ways to scale up. More than an online store vs brick-and-mortar showroom floor, the bigger driver of success may be the efficiency and size of your storage solution. With even a modest sized warehouse on the same site as your workshop, you and your team can focus on producing furniture, while also being able to consistently sell your pieces at a lower rate than big-box stores and still make a decent profit. Don’t believe us? Check out this success story about a father-son custom furniture company.