The making of a disruptor

How to shift a market's furniture

We’re dedicated to helping you disrupt your markets. Or cope with it when the inevitable happens. And to help with a little insight and inspiration of how it’s done, we’ve created the Virgin Media Business Disruptor 10 list, in conjunction with Fast Track 100 – as published in The Sunday Times.  

Here, in the eighth part of our 10-part series, we discover that disruptive enterprises can flourish even during the tricky climate of a recession. Let’s give a warm welcome to MADE.COM...

A new kind of online store

At the height of the global downturn, attempting to muscle in on the crowded home furniture market might, to some, have felt like a fool’s errand.

But the founders of MADE.COM had a plan. They would dispense with the physical stores shackling long-established competitors, simplify the supply chain and thereby take the majority of the cost out for the consumer.

Co-founder Julien Callede, says: “The recession meant people were willing to venture online for attractive prices and to purchase something they would previously have bought in-store.

“Being purely online we could generate volume for mass production, quickly, without having lots of outlets. Now we have a fast-fashion model, without the risk of being left with obsolete stock to get rid of.


“We can launch collections every week in low volumes to test the market. That’s something our competitors haven’t been able to match as they don’t have the infrastructure to manage connections between designers, manufacturers and customers.

“Ironically, the crunch got us off to a good start.”

Tech is the engine of the business

In just six years MADE.COM has raised £50m in funding, which together with the support of bespoke tech developed in-house, has enabled rapid growth. Now the firm releases 30 to 50 new products a week, which it claims are sold for 70 per cent lower than on the high street. In 2015, sales hit £62m, with growth of 50 per cent expected for 2016. Co-founder Ning Li, has no doubts about technology’s role in the story.

Ning says: “Tech is the engine that drives the business. It supports our lean model and the connections between designer, manufacturer and customer. We are present in six countries with a local team, website, payment method and delivery. So ‘online only’ has made it easier to build an international network too.”

Flexible, disruptive, inspired

Innovation has been at the heart of MADE.COM’s ascent, and in 2012 the company diverged slightly from its original “online only” concept by opening a series of showrooms. Customers can use in-store tablets to find out more about products using NFC tags, build their own wish lists and to order products.

The other innovation has been the creation of a community of loyal, social media savvy customers who are willing to post photos of their purchases online. They also answer questions from MADE.COM’s prospects, providing re-assurance about quality and levels of service. For Ning, the showrooms, together with this “Unboxed” community, represent the firm’s flexible and disruptive approach.

Ning says: “We have six showrooms in the UK and Europe. We can’t replicate the store networks of Ikea or John Lewis, but the showrooms play a part in our customer journey. They are tech-enabled to build connectivity into the online experience, including Near Field Communication, which provides showroom visitors with more information on products.

“We are also very proud of our ‘Unboxed’ network, where customers share images of their purchases and answer questions from potential buyers. This is a user-generated way to strengthen the brand.

“Our visual search engine also gives customers the option to look for sofas by specific sizes and colours, using visuals rather than search terms. This takes the risk out of finding something that fits - even when you’re buying online.”

Indeed selling furniture online has proved to be far from a fool’s errand - such is the power and speed of MADE.COM’s disruption.

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