Breeze: Rental furniture
TJ Hoon, founder and CEO
Inside Retail: Tell me about how Breeze began.
TJ Hoon: I started Breeze because I was frustrated by how hard it was to create a home I loved. When I got my first job in Perth, I thought I would be there for a long time and invested in some nice furniture, only to move a year later for a better role in Sydney and lost a ton of money when I tried to sell my furniture.
Scarred from the experience, I paid a premium for a fully furnished option in Sydney that had furniture I didn’t love, but it ended up working out, as I moved to New York unexpectedly a year later, where I opted for fast furniture. That was my least favourite of all the options, as the assembly process was a nightmare and the quality always made me feel like I was in a temporary home.
When I moved back to Melbourne in 2019, I found the perfect sofa and coffee table, but wasn’t sure if my needs would change at the end of my one-year lease. I thought how good it would be if I could rent it for a year, then decide if I wanted to keep it or return it.
That’s basically the start of Breeze. I remember hacking together a website and listing some items online, and when we got orders, I would do deliveries with a guy from Airtasker, Julian, for the first few months. From the positive feedback and encouragement from our early customers, I realised that what we were building really added value to people’s lives. I’m still personal friends with almost all of them, whom I’m forever grateful to for their support and encouragement.
IR: How would you describe the Breeze customer experience?
TJ: It’s easy. You pick items you like on our website, and they’re delivered and assembled in your room of choice. At the end of your term, you can buy any pieces you fall in love with, or our team will pick up the items you want to return.
The goal of Breeze is to make life easier for as many people as possible through thoughtful and responsible design, which places an amazing customer experience at the centre of everything we do.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a delivery partner really let us down when they delivered an order late on a Friday evening and refused to complete the assembly because it was past 5pm. So we called all our friends in Sydney to help out our customers by completing the job. The customer was very appreciative of the outcome and even turned down a partial refund that we offered for the inconvenience.
IR: Tell me about the furniture design process and your partners, like West Elm. How does the production and design process work?
TJ: We don’t design or produce furniture, as we believe that there are already a lot of companies doing an amazing job at this. For example, West Elm, which is one of my favourite brands, produces beautiful designs, while also keeping sustainability top of mind in its production process.
Rather, we are building a service that [puts together] products from companies that align with our goal of making life easier in a responsible way and accessible to more people
This stems from our belief that the solution to sustainability isn’t forcing our beliefs onto others, but instead designing win-win systems that deliver more value to all stakeholders, with sustainability being a natural outcome of the system. In the case of Breeze, rather than trying to hammer home the point that fast furniture isn’t sustainable, we are building a service that makes it easier for people to create a home they love, with beautifully designed furniture that is made to last, which over time, will naturally create happier people and a healthier planet.
IR: How would you describe your customer base and what they’re looking for?
TJ: Our customer base is typically someone who has moved out of home and is either renting or just bought their first home. They’ve moved on from furniture that’s just functional and they want something nicer, but they also appreciate that their needs are likely to change and don’t want to commit to a large upfront investment in high-quality furniture. They also value convenience and want an easy way to set up a home that feels right.
Breeze enables this by offering nice furniture for bite-sized monthly payments, help from our interior design partners on styling, and a stress-free full service delivery and assembly service. And through our subscription model, our customers have complete flexibility to decide later if they want to own or return their items.
IR: How do you think consumers feel about renting furniture at the moment?
TJ: Most of the consumer feedback is that they appreciate the flexibility, sustainability and cashflow benefits of renting furniture, but haven’t really considered it in the past because most rental companies offer very average furniture designs. And in most cases, you end up paying more than the retail price for an item by the end of your term.
So we’ve been building a new service that offers all the benefits of renting, but with high-quality designs that are built to last, a stress-free customer experience, and a guarantee that our customers will never pay more than the retail price.
IR: What are your plans for Breeze in 2022? Do you see Breeze owning a physical space in the future?
TJ: We’ve received a lot of requests for our service outside of Melbourne and Sydney, as well as requests for home décor, so our key goals for 2022 are to be able to offer our service in all states in Australia, and broaden our offering so, hopefully, we can help more people across the country get comfy at home more easily.
We have no plans to open up a physical space, but we have something in the works that will make this decision make a lot of sense when we launch it in a couple of months.
Something Borrowed Blooms: Rental silk floral service
Lauren Bercier, co-founder
Inside Retail: Tell me about the story behind Something Borrowed.
Lauren Bercier: My cousin Laken Swan and I co-founded Something Borrowed Blooms, a rent-and-return silk floral service in the US, six years ago. We saw a need to modernise the industry by offering a stress-free and transparent e-commerce solution for wedding flowers. In doing so, we’ve created a business model that’s truly unique and provides value to today’s consumers looking for more sustainable and eco-friendly options for their wedding day.
IR: How does it work for customers?
LB: Our wedding flowers can be reserved online in a matter of minutes. Customers can browse through our 16 floral collections, selecting all items from one co-ordinating collection or mix and match to fit their needs. At checkout, 50 per cent of the order total will be initiated to reserve the blooms and the balance is automatically drafted upon shipment. Blooms are delivered three days prior to the event date and due back to your local FedEx the next business day. A pre-paid return label is provided for your convenience. The process is simple and stress-free.
IR: Have you noticed a rising interest from couples in your services since Covid-19 hit?
LB: Yes, we achieved a 35 per cent and 85 per cent growth rate in 2020 and 2021, respectively, in an industry that experienced significant contraction. The growth was largely due to the fact that we were more nimble and flexible with our terms and availability than the rest of the market. On the backside of Covid-19, we anticipate growth exceeding our 150 per cent average annual rate, with pent-up demand in the wedding space and increasing demand from Gen Z for weddings without waste.
IR: Something Borrowed recently received $1.5 million in series A funding. What are your plans for that investment?
LB: The latest round of financing supported the recent opening of our expanded 1400sqm warehouse expansion in Lafayette, in addition to expanding product offerings, tech solutions, and team members to meet the needs of our growing customer base.
IR: How would you describe how the rental landscape has evolved in recent years?
LB: We thank Rent the Runway for really championing the rental revolution. That revolutionary service has opened the doors and consumer mindset in the rental space. Today’s couples value experiences over consumption of goods and that’s just what we provide.
IR: What are some of the unique challenges of running a rental service?
LB: Technology is our biggest challenge. Unlike a traditional e-commerce business, there is no out-of-the-box solution that runs our rental business at scale. So we’ve had to build the foundation from ground zero, investing a lot of time and resources to develop a best-in-class experience for our customers and employees.
IR: What are your plans for the business in 2022?
LB: Our company has experienced so much growth in the past two years and we know we’re on the fast track to an even more successful 2022 as the wedding industry catches up. We are currently servicing blooms for over 900 weddings monthly, but we anticipate an expected order volume well into the thousands per month by the end of next year. With extensive inventory, an impressive tech stack, a new space more than three times the size we had, and a bigger team of wonderfully dedicated people, we are more than prepared for what is supposed to be the biggest year of weddings in decades.
Fashion Alta Moda, luxury fashion
Tanya Perilli, founder
Inside Retail: How did you come up with the idea to launch Fashion Alta Moda?
Tanya Perilli: I had to go to a charity event, where I wanted to dress up, but I knew it would cost an extraordinary amount to buy a dress, money that could go to the charity. So I looked overseas and came across a rental company that offered off-the-runway luxury rentals, but they couldn’t send the items to Australia. We don’t have many choices here from those quality European designers.
Then when I looked into it from a sustainability point of view, it felt like gluttony to buy those pieces. Clothing is the second biggest polluter in the world and I was contributing to that.
So I wanted to create a choice for the consumer to experience luxury and old-fashioned service, where they have the ability to control their wardrobes and what they spend, while doing something better for the planet.
IR: What is the ultimate Fashion Alta Moda experience like from beginning to end?
TP: Someone connects with me via email or social and I ask them what they’re after. Then they make an appointment at my home and when they come to the door, it’s like we’re old friends.
I have a curation of pieces ready that I feel will suit them. We have a chat about the event, how they’re feeling about it and what they want to project. It’s all one-on-one. It’s about connection and relationships. It’s like that feeling when you go shopping, you get that dopamine hit. But this is a dopamine hit without the crash you feel after spending thousands of dollars.
People can keep their outfit for four days, just to give them enough time either side of their event to get organised and send it back. And they normally bring it back here or we send a courier. It’s always about what the client needs and how I can service them best. I’m trying to create a space that’s like Net-a-Porter, where the client comes first and I’m giving them what they need to feel good.
I take care of the dry cleaning. We have one dry cleaner and they know the quality of the pieces and how to care for them. These are really delicate pieces that won’t get 100 wears or even 20 wears. Some will get only 10 wears if they’re lucky, because they’re so delicate. I always want the pieces to be pristine, so you feel like you’ve picked up a beautiful piece at a shop.
IR: The majority of your customers are already luxury shoppers. How would you describe their perception of rental?
TP: Luxury today is all about experiences you can’t buy, not about filling your life with stuff. It can be just as much fun trying on a couple of dresses for an event as it is actually buying one. That’s what I want to create. Many of my customers have not rented before. I offer what I suppose celebrities have been doing forever – they never buy dresses. I’m basically a stylist but with the whole wardrobe to go with it.
These women can afford to buy a dress every day of the week, but now they have a choice. Why should you buy a dress? You’re probably only going to wear it once. It doesn’t need to sit in a cupboard. Instead, you can find something at Fashion Alta Moda that’s not in any Australian shops. Normally, you can’t get most of my products online. It’s sold out or never gone online – but they get to experience it. They can find something different here.
But I’m also for everyday people. If I’m the customer, I don’t want people to look me up and down in a shop like I’m Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. It’s all about giving people the confidence to come in and try on a Dior that you spend only $300 on at Fashion Alta Moda, and then you realise, “Actually I can wear Dior!” It might be a basic piece like a bar jacket, that you know you’ll have forever in your wardrobe. You can experience different brands that you would never allow yourself to buy because of the price point.
It’s about people with all different shapes and sizes. I want to nurture people and say, “You can look and feel fabulous and I’ll show you how to dress for your style and personality.” There aren’t really trends here, it’s all about personal style.
Luxury is so out of reach and we all want to experience it. Anyone can stay in a luxurious Airbnb, or you can drive a luxury hire car for the weekend. Clothing is similar. You don’t actually have to own it to enjoy it. I want everyone to have the confidence to experience those good quality fabrics and designs.
IR: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges of running a fashion rental company right now?
TP: The psychology of people, but I’m so excited about what’s coming. I feel rental is definitely gonna be here for a long time and like it’s gonna grow. I feel if the brands don’t get on board or if they’re slower to get on board, they’ll miss the boat. It’s a no-brainer. If they’re going on sale all the time, why not do rental?
The hardest part of their business is definitely the logistics – tracking the items, getting them in and out. On paper, it looks easy, but the processes are quite complicated.
I do alterations as well. If it’s not fitting them quite right, I’ll try to take it in or out. If I buy a size 4 dress and no-one’s fitting it, I expand it. We have an alterationist, but if we’re running out of time, I do them. So I’m doing hems and putting shoulder pads in. We’re custom fitting the pieces. I’m bringing back that old-fashioned luxury and service and attention to detail.