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Disrupting Furniture Shopping with Edgar Blazona

George Grombacher April 10, 2022

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Disrupting Furniture Shopping with Edgar Blazona

LifeBlood: We talked about disrupting the furniture industry, why it takes so long to get a couch, the challenges of delivery, and how to make the entire process better, with Edgar Blazona, Founder and President of BenchMadeModern. 

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

edgar blazona

Edgar Blazona

Episode Transcript

Come on one lead this is George G. And the time is right welcome. Today’s guest is strong and powerful Edgar Blaze Zona Edgar, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:19
I Sarah am. Thanks for having me.

george grombacher 0:20
excited to have you on. Edgar is the founder and president of Benchmade modern, they’re a new tech driven self, a company on a mission to change the way that people shop. Edgar, tell us a little about your personal life more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:35
Yeah, absolutely. While I’m at Google, zona, as you mentioned, I am the founder and have a have a fun and exciting company, I’m trying to make the sofa buying experience not suck, you know, so I started this company, you know, to, to change the way you know, the way that we buy furniture, you know, you It reminds me the day when, when I was being asked him, you know, let’s go furniture shopping. And I would think and I don’t want to waste my Sunday, you know, driving around from furniture store to furniture store and so on. Let’s just pick a sofa. And and, and that kind of inspired me to start this this brand venturing modern, you know, how can I create a company that is fun that that, you know, you can get furniture made quickly? You know, why does it take so long? You know, there’s all of those things that kind of blend into the buying experience of upholstery. And as weird as it is, you know, who starts an upholstery company? I come from the furniture background. You know, I left high school very early on starting my first company never looked back, you know, I made a little bit of money and thought, Man, this is this is my new life, you know, and so I never looked back. And I’ve been doing furniture ever since.

george grombacher 1:50
Nice. I love it. I wonder I was just thinking about the last time I went and bought furniture. And it was almost exactly as you described, walked into this huge place have to go into two places. There are all these people. I was like, what are all these people doing hair, I just want to you know, buy this thing or that thing. And it did suck at her and I still haven’t gotten it. So I should talk to you first. Anyway. So you had this personal experience? You said it’s got to be a better way. Before we jump into that. Why? Why does it take so long?

Unknown Speaker 2:23
Well, that is a great question. And I had to ask the same question. You know, I, I’ve been to a million dinner parties and heard a very similar story as as yours, right? I bought the sofa. And, you know, I bought it to read and you know, why is it still not with me, you know, I have a friend currently big name retailer, I will not mention their name. He was very like, apologetic and even buying from another retailer. He’s he still hasn’t gotten his sofa. And it’s been six months already. And I like to rub that in his face every day. Frankly, I’m glad he didn’t buy so because I can rub it in his face every day. That’s much better. But you know, it takes a long time for the, for the wheels to turn right. And it doesn’t have to. And so, you know, in reality, you know, I mean, how long do you think it actually takes to build a sofa? Once it’s like started once the paperwork has been started? How long does it take? It takes a day? Yeah, a day. So why is it six months? You know, and so so that’s the kind of thing that I was pushing at, right? That’s what I decided to, to really open up and understand. And a lot of that has to do with, you know, how the materials are ordered. You know, frankly, do they even have the materials when you order it? You know, that’s a big part of it. Right? I want that red sofa. And at the retailer, the salesperson is going Yeah, absolutely miserable. Zona, we’ve got red for you. And in reality, they don’t have read. And in fact, guess what, the fabric supplier even dropped red because red doesn’t really sell. Right. And so by the time you actually get that information back, now, it’s been a month because the sofa supplier is dragging its feet, how are we going to get red and all that and so things just end up backing up. And so I decided that I would build a business that was you know that there was eyes on everything that that you could really just I would just say to people, hey, look, we don’t have read and they’re not going to carry read instead of just dragging it on, on and on and on. So how can I be the most transparent upholstery business we’ve ever seen before?

george grombacher 4:37
Love it, you know, and it always sort of boggles the mind. I come from the financial industry, which is as clear as mud and it’s not transparent. It’s getting there. But it’s always like Why Why? Why aren’t people more upfront and just clear and now we don’t have red are never going to have red. So you can’t have red. You can have these colors, but you’re never going to have red Is that just they? They don’t want to turn people off? They think that the answer should always be yes to the customer.

Unknown Speaker 5:07
Yeah, I think that that comes from an old school business. sense, right? And and look, let’s be honest, the furniture industry isn’t so new school, I mean, just just the makings of it alone. It’s an it’s a, it’s a business. It’s been with us in the, in the United States for a long, long time. And so I think it carries over some old school thinking, right? Let’s just take their money, like, let’s get the money, and let’s get them into a sofa. And we worry about the fabric later. And, and I think that there is a new customer, you know, that’s come about and really, you know, you could you could look back at retailers, like, oh, man, you know, bonobos, in the, in the clothing industry, Zappos, you know, they’re a great, great example of a customer, you know, they sell shoes, I don’t know if it’s familiar with Zappos, but, you know, he came along, Tony Shea came along and, and was like, yeah, man, you know, order this from us, we’ll be transparent about it, you know, we’ll ship it to you ship it back. It’s, you know, it’s no big deal. And don’t worry about it, we got you covered. And I think that really changed the mind of, of, of the customer today. And you start to have, you know, FedEx another great example, right? Where is my package? Right? FedEx will tell you where packages for better for worse, constantly. And I think those were all signals early on, it started to change the way we do business, in general. And I think that furniture business should should follow suit accordingly.

george grombacher 6:36
Nice. So you look at you say, There’s got to be a better way it should suck. In fact, we can even have fun in the process, you know, crazy. And, but there’s a lot that goes into I imagine making that decision, and then actually delivering on what you said that you wanted to do?

Unknown Speaker 6:53
Sure, sure. Yeah, you know, a lot of it too, is the shipping, right? So, you know, it’s funny, you know, when we very first started, we made sofas, we can make them as quick as 24 hours, you can pay a little bit extra money. And frankly, we had it we held a space, you know, in the manufacturing queue, so that we could do these 24 hour sofas. But interestingly, when you’re making a sofa that quick, even though that’s how long it takes the customers perception as well, it can’t be very good quality, right? And then you turn that into how long it takes to ship. It takes me anywhere from, you know, one and three weeks to ship a sofa across the country. And the way FedEx has got everybody moving, right. It’s just 24 hour, you know, second day delivery, first day delivery, we expect to Amazon’s a great example of that, right? I mean, they’re delivering things same day. And next thing, right, we expect the shipping to be in same line as the manufacturing. And so really, the hard part for us is shipping, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got to move this giant piece of furniture, frankly, in these little trucks relatively, and we got to move it across the country, and we got to get it in your door and all that. So I think there’s the real hurdle. You know, there’s a, there’s a big step there. And, and just the way that we see other products moving throughout, you know, it’s we’re not shipping a little box of shoes, so to speak.

george grombacher 8:20
Yeah, fascinating. It’s always interesting to learn about industries, you say, okay, yeah, that makes sense. I never really thought about it that way. And then what popped into my head is, somebody’s got to also then get the box off the truck and bring it into my living room and set the thing up. And I imagine that you’re interested in controlling that process as much as you can to because those probably aren’t employees of Benchmade. Modern,

Unknown Speaker 8:43
yeah, 100%. And even, you know, even just the trucks, right, the truck that actually is coming to you is different, those trucks have to have a lift gate. Right. Now, we learned that, you know, somewhat the hardware took a long time to kind of kind of get that together, why are we getting all these damages? Right, well, you know, the truckers, you know, are rolling the sofa off the back, you know, they’re almost somersaulting it off the back gate on these big semi trucks, right? And so it took a while to learn, like, hey, look, if we have a lift gate, right, and and frankly, if we if we demand a lift gate at every delivery, right, so now we’ve got that, that problem solved the sofas coming off the truck reasonably, but we still got to get in, right? You’d be amazed, you know, white glove delivery, you know, I don’t know if you just kind of described it. You know, these were guys that actually wore white gloves, right? Whole thing was like this, this very upscale business and you can imagine, especially in this day and age with labor shortages and all that you can imagine where things might get cut, but we we try to use tracking services. And you know, we use a ton there’s like 100 Different companies, whatnot. Do we have to use the service the country, and we try to use the upscale ones to make sure that that the product goes in the door as easily as possible. And you know, it takes it takes someone who’s moved some sofas, you know, you’ll notice a good guy that will just bring a piece right into the into the house, he’ll spin the sofa correctly, he’ll rotate it correctly, he’ll get it right in the room of choice. But it takes, you know, almost a craftsman that you know, in that regard someone who really knows what they’re doing.

george grombacher 10:32
Yeah, yeah, I appreciate that. And then we haven’t even talked about actually designing the the sofa because we’ve all sat on a crappy sofa. And you know, there’s a lot of ugly sofas out there. I don’t want either one of those. I want a comfortable sofa that looks beautiful.

Unknown Speaker 10:48
Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting to you say comfort, right? What’s comfortable to me is not comfortable to you, you know, and, and vice versa. So as a designer, you know, as the head designer, myself, I need to design products that will, will fit and feel good for everyone’s comfort, right? What is, you know, a high seat maybe is really uncomfortable for a shorter person. What’s a what’s a relatively low seats, you know, is horrible for a tall person, right? Then we have soccer anuses and, you know, all of those things. One of the first things I always like to ask people and when I when I get on the phone, I still do some calls some some you know, I’ll pick up the phone and, and talk to customers, right? I like to stay in touch with them and whatnot. But one of the first things I asked him is what sort of sofa Are you coming out of, right? That’s the telltale sign because if you’re coming out of a big tall back cushy sofa, right and, and your partner is, is been looking at all these design magazines, and the style and trend is low, maybe a tight back, you know, you’re gonna get that sofa and you’re gonna be like, just like no sofa. What is this? Right, and, and so, so there’s a lot of that that comes into play, you know, how far are we pushing the envelope a bit? And, and, you know, frankly, I’ll ask him like, what retailer Do you like? Like, what are the signals that I can get out of them? You know, like, I’m an apple lover, right? Then I know, like, Okay, you’re a little bit more modern, you know, you’re looking at things in those ways, you know, what hotel bills do you like, you know, that has a lot to do with it, it it really starts to to speak to the design aesthetic that you’re interested in. And those are all great signals. That helped me as a designer at this point, I’m more placing you in a sofa than designing a sofa for you. You know, we’ve got 12 different collections you know, we’ve got all shapes and sizes I trying to hit you know a good portion of the design world with with that breath of design but don’t hit it all you know, we’re a little bit more modern. We’re a little bit more lower. We’re a little bit more sleep than your than your big you know giant couch so to speak.

george grombacher 13:10
Yeah, so yours don’t have like the refrigerator in it and then the crank where the deal pops up.

Unknown Speaker 13:19
Yeah, Craig You know, we have we have some some good lounge chairs. But all that stuff is pretty hidden these days. That’s for sure.

george grombacher 13:27
Oh, good. No, and I’m not I’m not disparaging Lazy Boy. Or, anyway, I’m like, y’all understand what I’m trying to say here.

Unknown Speaker 13:35
Those guys make a great product, frankly, you know, and they’ve, they’ve built a name on that big crank recliner and and, you know, hats off to them. Our sofas are a little different. That’s that’s for sure. But But hats off to them as well.

george grombacher 13:48
Just cheers. Alright, and then talk about change the way that people shop. So walk me through the experience.

Unknown Speaker 13:56
Yeah, okay. So you know, one of the things that we do is you come to our site and right at the top of the page, you see free swatches, you hit that free swatch button, we send you a a giant box with 100 different fabrics in it, you know, a typical retailer, you’ll go in and you’ll, you’ll look at a sofa, they’ll have five or six colors that they stock and maybe another 20 or so colors that you can get. And we offer 100 different fabrics, all performance fabrics, you know, really great for cleaning and so on. We offer one other thing too, that’s pretty unique to just us. If you go to a product page, you kind of pick yourself and you slide the slide around the sofa expands and contracts to the right size that you want. Then you can hit the print button. We actually send you a full scale drawing that you lay out on the floor of whatever custom size that you wanted vigilent rollout thing right even a corner sectional. And you can roll this thing out on the floor. You can you know you can sit on it. You can see did my family fit there? Does my husband fit between the arms you You’d never guess how many times that question comes up, you know, can i lay on this sofa, can my husband lay on this sofa and fit in between the arm. So we kind of solve all of that with, with, you know, a very simple old school, you know, piece of paper, no digital, you know, no, no fancy apps to get just a piece of paper that you can lay out on the floor. So, and at that, at that point, you can choose a sofa. And, you know, we make it right now we’re at about five weeks, which is, frankly, a long lead time for us. But you know, given given where we are, we’re still trying to recover from from the backlog of, you know, a heavy COVID days and shutdowns and all that so, so we’re coming back, we’re driving that that number down, you know, lower and lower, but right now we’re about five weeks. And, and, you know, you hit the order button, and we’ll be there in you know, in a very short amount of time, frankly, right now, it’s like six months most, most suppliers are out six months right now, which is way too long. That just kills me.

george grombacher 16:02
Yeah, it’s fascinating. What do you what do you hear most that, that it never ceases to amaze or surprise you? Is it I wish it was bigger? I wish it was smaller. Anything like that?

Unknown Speaker 16:16
Yeah. You know, proportions to the room plays a big, big role in it, if you notice a lot of our sofas are, are up on legs, you know, the, the footprint of the sofa, so to speak is is is a little smaller, right? And that, that fits into a smaller room, right. And so it sees proportion, things that you see, like, we’ll take a retailer like say Restoration Hardware, real big footprint sofas, you got to have a big footprint living room for that to sit in, you know, in our customers and our price point we tend to sell into the, to the smaller living rooms, and still pretty big living rooms. But But nevertheless, on the smaller side. And I think that that proportion thing comes up a lot, you know, and people order these sofas, and, and it looks too big, or it looks too small in the room. And I get that question a lot, you know, I want to I want to maximize seating space, right? Imagine that I want to maximize the space right, which I get right but but then at the same time, you’re putting this behemoth into the room. And so you know, we’re a little bit more in defined design a little bit more into what the overall room looks like. I always tell people let this sofa be the canvas and not the art, right? Like, don’t just like I want orange, orange, it’s cool, right? I’m gonna put an orange sofa like, you’re gonna hate orange and, you know, six months, it’s like, put some orange pillows on it. You know, let the sofa be the canvas and not the art.

george grombacher 17:51
Love it? Nope, I want red. And that’s all there is to it. At girl. I got the people ready for that difference making tip? What do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 18:02
Okay, so this is something that I learned pretty early on when when reaching out to other entrepreneurs. Right. And, and it was a lot of it had to do with fundraising. You know, we were a venture funded business in the beginning. And one of the things that I that I learned early on is ask for money, get advice, ask for advice, get money. Right. So I was I was something that was very, by the time I figured that out, you know, I was able to reach out to some people and hey, you know, I’d love to get a little insight on my company. And, you know, soon enough at the end of the meeting, they’d say, Well, I’d like to invest, you know, and so I I, I’ve proven that one out. And that’s what I got for you. Well, I

george grombacher 18:49
think that that is great stuff that definitely gets come. You looking for advice, ask for money. If you’re looking for money, ask for advice on it. Well, Eiger, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And where can they get a bench made modern sofa?

Unknown Speaker 19:07
Yeah, you can check us out at Benchmade And I’ve got a code for you guys, your listeners. You can use live 15 for a 15% off they can use it at any time doesn’t need to be sale or anything like that. But yeah, come check us out, order up some swatches, get this amazing box. They’ll be there in a couple days. And I think it’d be pretty stoked on our product.

george grombacher 19:29
Love it. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did, show your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to bench made and check out all the great stuff they’ve got going on. And should you find something that you cannot live without. Enter the code life 15 15% off. Thanks. Good, Edgar.

Unknown Speaker 19:51
Thank you. I appreciate the time.

george grombacher 19:53
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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