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01/21/2021

Twist on showrooming: the home-owner’s backyard

A California outdoor-living start-up seeks to expand ITS Neighborhood Showrooms.

Examples of Neighborhood Showrooms at Outer.com.

A California start-up and maker of outdoor furniture says it plans to expand its footprint to more than 1,000 Neighborhood Showroom locations in 2021.

What’s a Neighborhood Showroom? Essentially, it’s someone’s backyard.

Santa Monica-based Outer is a direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand founded in 2019 and best known for its Outer Shell furniture cover. In January, the company announced a $10.5 million financing deal that it says will lead to expanded product lines and Neighborhood Showroom growth.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the model is the Neighborhood Showroom concept. This feature allows prospective customers to explore the products in the backyards of existing Outer customers, called “Hosts.”

Why would someone turn their backyard into a showroom for an outdoor living brand? First there’s the 10% discount on Outer products for those who apply for showroom status. After that, Outer describes benefits such as “payments for virtual tours, payments for in-person customer showings, early access to new products and more.”

There are more than 100 Neighborhood Showrooms listed on the company’s website. Clearly, the pandemic has affected the concept. Currently, all showroom visits are virtual, but Hosts continue to conduct showings through video or over the phone.

The company’s latest financing was led by Sequoia Capital China and backed by a number of existing and new stakeholders, the company announced. It will enable Outer to expand their product line beyond outdoor sofas and rugs, strengthen their commitment to sustainability through material development, and grow their innovative showroom footprint to more than a thousand Neighborhood Showroom locations in 2021. 

Outer's direct-to-consumer model was founded in 2019.

The company also promotes a focus on sustainability. The brand is a committed partner of 1% for the Planet with the goal of supporting and advancing environmentally-focused non-profits worldwide. In late 2020, Outer introduced the brand’s second product line, the eco-friendly 1188 Rug Collection -- made from 100% recycled plastic water bottles.

The business is still small, by any home improvement standard. The company predicts sales to exceed $12 million this year. But the founders say it is growing fast, and riding the wave of virus-induced spending on the home and "surprising growth" for the outdoor-living category. 

"Growing more than 10x in year two of our launch and rapidly increasing word-of-mouth is a testament to our debut product, the Outer Sofa,” said Jiake Liu, Co-Founder and CEO of Outer, which believes that customers have found sanctuaries within their backyards, decks and porches. 

The Series A financing builds on a year for Outer in which it experienced a 1,000% increase in sales over last year, he added.