Startup Burrow takes American story to consumers

Burrow Chapter 3NEW YORK — Start-up sofa company Burrow hasn’t had much time to relax since it launched its online sofa business earlier this year, and now it has two domestic manufacturing partners to help carry out its American-made furniture for the modern consumer.

Burrow has teamed up with New Houlka, Miss.-based upholstery manufacturer Chapter 3 and Kings Mountain, N.C.-based upholstery fabric maker STI to execute its plans to build quality sofas that are affordable, easy to assemble and delivered quickly to consumers.

“Creating jobs at home is not about politics. It’s something you should want to do. Producing here (in the U.S.) has always been part of our plan, but we weren’t able to find the right partner until now,” said Stephen Kuhl, Burrow co-founder.

After a fruitless search for a U.S. manufacturing partner that started two years ago, Kuhl and co-founder Kabeer Chopra began production in Mexico, but they did not give up on their vision of a made in America product.

In January they were introduced to Chapter 3 owner Jennifer Schock by Bill Martin, former director of the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University, and the pairing appeared to be good fit at the outset.

“They understood our vision from the beginning,” said Kuhl. “It was a good fit from a cultural perspective, and from a business standpoint, they are flexible and nimble enough to make this work. Jennifer and (her husband) David were the most eager of all the companies we had met with to win our business.”

Schock described her company as a “new old business” after she bought Golden Chair, a 30-year-old company, last December and renamed it to represent a new chapter in her career after 15 years as a Target buyer and eight years running U.S. operations for a Chinese upholstery business.

“We were all in from day one, believing in Burrow and admiring Stephen and Kabeer’s courage and confidence to do something different in a traditional industry,” said Schock. “Chapter 3 is big enough to get the job done and small enough to get the job done.”

As a partner supplier to Chapter 3, STI will provide its Revolution Performance Fabrics for Burrow sofas. The makers of Revolution said the fabrics are stain-resistant for life and free of perfluorinated (PFC) chemicals yet soft and durable, making them a fit for Burrow’s goal to provide comfortable and long-lasting seating along with the sustainability and transparency that more consumers value.

Revolution fits well in the domestic manufacturing story, as the fabrics are produced at STI’s wholly owned subsidiary Brentwood Textiles, a family-owned factory making upholstery fabric since 1964 and currently employs over 300 people. Additionally, the base yarns for Revolution are made within 200 miles of the factory.

Selling the ‘modern consumer’

The Burrow sofa was designed to “solve problems and address pain points from the perspective of today’s consumer,” Kuhl told Furniture Today.

The modular Burrow sofa has clean lines of Mid-Century Modern styling featuring high-density foam cushion and upholstered in stain-resistant, chemical free fabrics. The sofa that is claimed to be assembled in 10 minutes with no tools also offers consumers the choice of seating size from one-seater up to four, low or high armrests, and USB charging ports and A/C outlets options. Delivered in two to five boxes, depending on the size of the sofa, the shipping cost is included with free returns within 100 days.

“People are moving more these days, on average every three years for people under the age of 40. If you’re moving a lot, you want furniture that can move easily, be taken apart and assembled quickly,” he explained. “We don’t understand why high quality sofas have to cost so much, and people don’t want to wait 12 weeks for it. Burrow and the direct-to-consumer model solve those things without compromising quality.”

Drawing similarities between Burrow’s model and that of online mattress retailers, he said, “The modern consumer is used to buying online, and they are buying larger items with increased confidence. Just look at what happened in the mattress industry where the top three online mattress startups are each selling more than 20,000 mattresses every month.”

While many call Burrow’s target customers Millennials, Kuhl prefers to describe them as the “modern consumers.” He said that at first Burrow viewed its product as “solving pain points for young professionals,” but after taking about 1,000 pre-orders, the team got a better picture of their consumer.

“Pre-orders came from 40 states, not just in major cities. The age range was 25 to 40. They appreciate the value proposition, not over-paying for quality product that gets to you fast,” he said. “Subsegments were young mothers, who wanted furniture not treated with harmful chemicals that are safe for their family and home, and the gaming community that wants something comfortable and easy to put together.”

As for the made in America story, Kuhl said he thinks it resonates with the modern consumer: “Made in the USA is desirable from a quality perspective and for supporting the local economy.”

Schock added, “Today’s consumer wants to buy a product with a back story. The Burrow story is not about traditional industry. They wanted to solve pain points for the consumer. When you combine that with the story of a U.S. factory that’s also female-owned and trying to compete in the U.S. and globally, it makes for a powerful story.”

Another way Burrow breaks from the traditional furniture retail model is its approach to showing product. Partnered with local businesses throughout the country, the Burrow sofa is placed in public spaces for people to use, such as a coffee shop, and in turn driving traffic to these businesses that are showroom partners.

“Nothing can replace the in-person experience,” said Kuhl. “Some people are comfortable with reviews online; some still want that tactile experience. There’s an efficient way to show furniture. We don’t have to be confined by traditional ideas of furniture, how to buy it and how to provide the whole customer experience.”

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