Here’s why the secondhand marketplace should be keeping you awake at night | Cindy Hodnett

Our industry is built around “new,” relying on the voracious appetite of consumers eager to spend their discretionary dollars on the latest sofa, chair or table. The model has worked for decades and will no doubt continue to be the norm, but anyone paying attention to the self-described interests and lifestyle preferences of future consumers might want to have a backup strategy ready for customers that embrace the secondhand marketplace.

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Here are a few things to consider as you ponder your store’s future:

Secondhand is big business

Some analysts predict the furniture resale business will hit $16.6 billion in sales by 2025, a 70% increase from 2018. In a recent Fast Company story on NeoCon, the Chicago Merchandise Mart tradeshow for commercial furnishings, author Elissaveta M. Brandon overviewed one exhibitor at the show that has created a business around secondhand office furnishings — Reseat — a company described by owner Brandi Susewitz as an “online marketplace for second-life office furniture.”

Brandon notes that Reseat’s client portfolio includes Oracle, LinkedIn, Rivian and Yelp, and since launching in 2020 as Clear Office, Reseat has tripled in sales and diverted more than 3 million pounds of furniture from landfills.

Certainly, the ongoing flux of the commercial real estate landscape provides a healthy list of potential customers for Reseat via business owners downsizing office space to accommodate new work-from-home models. However, the juxtaposition of its empty booth show space at NeoCon in a tradeshow environment filled with “new” is worth noting, as is the company’s strategy of providing cost savings and sustainability options for its customers.

Of course, for home furnishings retailers, sustainable initiatives require more ingenuity. That said, in a time when customer data is gold and engagement translates into brand awareness and loyalty, Reseat’s membership-based model that allows customers to sell or donate their furniture on a user-friendly dashboard is intriguing.

Takeaway Idea: Develop a members-only resale page on your website that allows your customers to list the furniture they are ready to replace. Think of it as an Etsy type of service for your local shoppers with transactional and delivery coordination left to the individual buyer and seller, but one that also positions you as a partner in sustainability while building your data base and interaction with potential repeat customers.

Conscientious consumer behavior

The home furnishings industry has been talking about sustainability for years, but developing strategies to support it that generate comparable profit margins continues to be a challenge. Perhaps one of the billion-dollar questions for the next decade is whether the next generation of consumers shopping the home furnishings category will draw a line in the sand and put their dollars behind their ideals. If they do make this commitment as they reach peak-earning and buying years, then it could be a seismic shift unlike any our industry has seen before.

At NeoCon, Brandon noted that furniture powerhouse Steelcase showed a sofa made with 70% recycled foam from discarded mattresses and upholstered with recycled fabric. Also seen on the show floor was the Flex Perch stool collection, made of 70% recycled electronic waste.

Mattress waste + sofa design = sustainable. Electronic waste + stool design = sustainable.

Although only one part of the Steelcase offering, these products illustrate commitment to the cause, a narrative likely to continue to increase in importance in the next decade, including for home furnishings consumers.

Takeaway idea: Emphasize the sustainability stories of your manufacturing partners to attract customers who want to buy new, but who also want to support eco-friendly companies. The secondhand category will always attract buyers looking for bargains or vintage icons, but a segment of the sustainable consumer market also wants new furnishings for home. The marketing message could make the difference in a sale for you versus one for a competitor that tells a stronger sustainable story.

Take a cue from fashion

Pop-up shops selling vintage items — mostly high-end brands — within better apparel stores have been part of the retail scene for several years. But the model doesn’t have to be limited to secondhand Louis Vuitton or Gucci handbags. In fact, a sizeable number of consumers report that they consider their preferred home design style to be “eclectic,” an ideal mix-and-match demographic for new and vintage.

Takeaway idea: Create a vintage furniture and décor pop-up shop within one area your store or as a part of your website if storage capacity allows. Tell the story of the older icons and offer suggestions for new pieces in your store that complement retro designs. Blend old and new, just as your customers do in their homes.

How the secondhand market continues to evolve is, at best, an educated guess. However, with companies like Chairish, 1stdibs and, now, Reseat continuing to benefit from a dedicated consumer market, it might be time to think of secondhand devotees as potential new customers for your store.

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