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Letting Stuff Go: Online Furniture Marketplace Move Loot

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As far as a sales pitch goes, it's an easy one; selling people on the idea that moving is a pain in the ass. Bill Bobbitt's none-too-original insight, which came at the tail end of a Dallas-to-San Francisco move that wasted thousands of dollars and hours of his time to end up with a nearly identical set of furniture, led to him and three other friends to co-found Move Loot.

An online marketplace for used furniture that started in San Francisco in 2013 and has slowly expanded to other markets, including recent entrees into New York and LA, the startup lives up to its shorthand description as Craigslist plus: curated inventory, scheduled delivery and pickup service by pro movers, higher quality product photos, and a resulting premium price for the convenience.

But Move Loot isn't just growing a marketplace for sellers and buyers of old chairs. The company's expanding business model, which includes offering services to existing brands, reflects the ways social shifts and technological changes are disrupting the existing furniture industry. After all, what better way to track the way Americans live than to follow their stuff?

The company's recent expansion into Los Angeles and New York offers economies of scale to the startup, which now has 150 employees and has posted 25 percent growth month-over-month (the private company won't release revenue figures, but they're holding "thousands of pieces in inventory, with millions in sales.")

Purchasing warehouses in the nation's two biggest markets and putting out a fleet of their custom delivery vans, decorated with the skyline of the city in which they're operating, gives them connections with new arrivals in both cities, as well as presenting point-to-point service for those relocating from one Move Loot market to another.

But the company's general premise, that users consign their furniture to Move Loot,which stores and sells it and saves people from the timesuck of other online sales services, creates a system that syncs with the changing way we live; more urban, more focused on renting than buying, and generally, move change.

"People just aren't as attached to their furniture and their places," says co-founder Jenny Morrill. "When people are sometimes renting and moving every two years, you'll need to have the flexibility to switch sofas. We can play an important role in making that easier."

Like many other startups, Move Loot profits by introducing ruthless efficiency; they're currently considering how to offer more enterprise-specific sales channels, such as integrating floor samples and returns from big retailers to help them maximize profit, or offering to delivering new pieces and then pick up and consign old ones, making selling and swapping out items at home even faster.

"Only 10% of the $200 billion furniture market is online," says Bobbitt." That's crazy. It's cost prohibitive because of the logistics. Our goal is to offer that last-mile solution."

The company can also offer market intelligence to furniture brands by leveraging sales data, offering an increasing valuable overview of how a particular brand is performing in the market. By analyzing consumer behavior, they can give brands an idea of what previous owners of a particular table upgraded to, or see what products their key demographic is glancing at before purchasing a rival's chair.

This gets even more interesting when you look at how furniture sellers are trying to tap into the power of social. Move Loot has plans to rework their interface to encourage this kind of interaction, and has begun working with designers, such as New York blogger Hey Natalie Jean, to create content and photo features starring Move Loot goods to help broaden the company's reach and style profile. Bobbitt admits that design isn't the company's strong suit, but this kind of outreach and audience interaction positions the company as not an arbiter of taste, but a trusted source of data.

Brandon LeNoir, Head Designer for New York-based furniture line Collector, knows the challenges facing new designers trying to establish their brand. He first encountered Move Loot at this year's ICFF; the company was approaching designers to see if they would be willing to part with unused prototypes and sell them online.

LeNoir saw unused inventory he would usually trash or toss in an empty room and forget about, and decided to see if he could make a few extra dollars. Move Loot took some, but not all of his items, often cutting the market rate prices he suggested to find something more appealing to their audience.

"They know their market," says LeNoir. "I feel like they're sort of going for that Pinterst/Tumblr group, who likes nice things and has an eye for design, but can't really afford anything."

As far as the designer is concerned, Move Loot offers great service, though it could improve its product photography, says the designer. But LeNoir believes they're making inroads into answering a much more important and intriguing question for the industry, how to turn social activity into real sales.

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