Wayfair Professional is Coming to a Bid Near You

Most think of Wayfair as an online furniture juggernaut, but as more customers turn to a blend of residential and commercial furniture, the Boston-based company is finding itself in the office furniture industry as well.

It is a place Wayfair is happy to be and a segment of the business that is exploding with growth. The Wayfair entry into commercial furniture (or Wayfair Professional as they call it), though, might not be as welcome to the office furniture industry as yet another massive residential furniture seller enters its territory.

Wayfair has grown from $380 million in sales in 2010 to $4.7 billion in 2017. Even though a relatively small portion of that comes from office furniture sales, it is growing. And Wayfair is partnering with more traditional office furniture companies to bring their products to the company's offering creating, in effect, a massive online office furniture dealer.

Phil Cerrone is responsible for overseeing the company's strategy for commercial office. “I think we recognize that there's a fair amount of opportunity to leverage the infrastructure that Wayfair as a whole has, from an assortment standpoint, the sales and the service and obviously the technology backing that Wayfair has,” he said. His goal is to figure out the best possible way to do that and continue to serve the office customer in a new and unique way.

Wayfair is finding the commercial office furniture industry a bit different, but Cerrone said he thinks Wayfair has strengths, like going to customers with a large and growing assortment of contract grade furniture and leveraging the B-to-C assortment — the more residential furniture Wayfair has that “seems to be filling a need for customers.”

Wayfair has been able to capitalize on the move toward so-called “resimercial” furniture. It has entered the market through online sales, for which the company is known, and also through a number of traditional office furniture dealers.

“Our distribution, obviously, helps us a ton,” Cerrone said. “We can serve both the small to medium size businesses, as well as leveraging that network to fill a large commercial space and consolidate delivery … as well as create unique purchasing situations for the customers, whether they want to buy through the site or our sales team. So I don't necessarily know that we're going in a truly different way to those customers versus leveraging what we already have in place and filling needs that they're starting to notice.”

Wayfair entered the commercial office furniture market because the market came to it.

“Yeah, I think that's one of the great problems that we've had,” Cerrone said. “Our inbound of people finding us has been pretty significant and so for a long time that's what we've worked on. We haven't had to necessarily do quite as much outbound, but that's something that we are continuing to scale and to look into — how we actually now start to approach customers — because for a long time the inbound leads were significant enough. Obviously, as we looked to get a little bit more aggressive. It's helpful to look at both of those avenues.”

From a product mix standpoint, Wayfair Professional is following a similar strategy as its business-to-consumer side. The company looks to get a wide breadth and assortment of products. In the commercial office space, established brands are a little more well known, so Cerrone said it gives Wayfair “more of a roadmap of who to approach and who to partner with.” Wayfair has looked at the key players in the industry and approached them to see who's receptive to a partnership.

“We have the advantage of having unlimited shelf space if you will, and so we don't necessarily need to limit our partners versus approaching the true commercial players,” he said. “You can go online and see some of the folks that we have on site already today. Looking to grow that, we don't need to just pick and choose from the ones on site. Our customers are able to really pick and choose which of the products and which of the suppliers they will really gravitate to.”

Wayfair is already working with the likes of Kimball, Senator, HON and Global, to name a few. Hitching your wagon to Wayfair definitely has its advantages, but it also comes with risking relationships with traditional dealers for the promise of a massive online presence. “It's something we work with them to address,” Cerrone said.

The company is also happy to sell its own Wayfair products to the industry. Who buys what depends on the customer since Wayfair spans a wide variety of buyers from small up to enterprise-sized clients or customers. Cerrone said Wayfair is finding small- and medium-sized businesses are more willing to buy through the traditional online Wayfair format and are willing to buy B-to-C furniture for commercial applications.

“Also, we are seeing customers on the commercial side who need furniture potentially as a last-minute need or something to help fill out an office,” he said. “Customers do seem a little bit more willing than I would have expected to fill in with residential furniture. It largely depends on the individual customer and their size and what their actual need is.”

Wayfair isn't alone. It is an increasingly crowded field that includes West Elm, Crate and Barrel, IKEA and others. Wayfair hopes to compete by focusing on creating a great experience for its customers.

“On the Wayfair.com side of things, customer service and satisfying our customers is really one of our core values and that's something we strive for on Wayfair Professional and with our office customers as well,” he said, noting it does take a little more hand holding on the commercial side than simply shipping a sofa off to a home customer. “We do have a dedicated service department for commercial customers to help provide more of that hands-on personalized touch.”

Wayfair doesn't see the demand letting up. Trends in the office and a new generation that has no problem buying furniture online without actually seeing it are drawing customers to the company.

Offices are also starting to express more personality with fun elements and brighter colors in the resimercial piece. “I think with that we'll continue to see a fair amount of growth for us,” Cerrone said.