Outer Aims To Become The Leading Outdoor Furniture Brand With New $ 50 Million Series B Funding
Outer is a small company with big ambitions. Selling only a limited range of outdoor furniture and furnishings – teak, wicker and aluminum outdoor sofas, chairs and seating combinations, as well as a selection of pillows, rugs, tables bass and outdoor cushions – Outer aims to be the first brand consumers think of when planning their outdoor living spaces.
It’s on track, after seeing sales skyrocket by over 1000% amid the pandemic, which has kept consumers at home where they have looked outside and seen their furniture shortfalls. existing patio.
With a mission to “help people live better outdoors,” the company just secured a new $ 50 million Series B funding, led by Kathy Xu of Capital Today, after receiving funding from Series A of $ 10.5 million in January. The company, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, also received a boost from Lori Greiner when co-founders Jiake Liu and Terry Lin appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2019.
Where will the money go
The company is allocating the new investment to continue its development of revolutionary materials capable of withstanding anything Mother Nature throws at it.
“We are a materials science company disguised as an outdoor living company,” says Lin, Director of Design (CDO). As an example, he cites Outer’s new bug blanket that uses an insect repellant naturally found in chrysanthemum flowers to repel insects. It is invisible, odorless, and FDA approved.
With new materials being developed, it will also use funds to expand its product offering beyond living room seating, expand channel access, and continue to expand its line of commercial outdoor furniture, a market that opened unexpectedly during the pandemic.
And attracting new talent beyond the furniture industry is another priority for growing the business. CDO Lin, who came out of this industry after working as a furniture designer for Pottery Barn, understands the ‘inside the box’ thinking of the furniture world that puts him at a disadvantage when tackling challenges. outside the box ‘that are on the outside.
“We are focused on solving problems unique to outdoor furniture. We research and solve the problems customers have with outdoor furniture, such as durability and comfort, ”he continues.
CEO Liu also had an “in” in the furniture industry with his family owning a factory in China that made patio furniture for Costco, Home Depot and others.
“I’m a computer engineer and before Outer I started an e-commerce business for my family so they could earn retail margins instead of just wholesale. This is when I saw a huge demand for outdoor furniture. This is the fastest growing segment in the furniture industry, ”says CEO Liu.
The stars aligned when Liu cold-called Lin on his birthday, June 30, 2017. CDO Lin was born under the sign of Cancer, the household astrological sign. They came together to form Outer on November 13, 2017 under Scorpio, a sign of unwavering determination.
Together, they plan to make the outdoor living market Outer’s own.
An ambition as big as the outdoors
Outer sees a long path to disrupting the traditional furniture industry in its weakness in the design and sale of outdoor furniture. “Look at what’s on offer in outdoor furniture in big box stores, on Amazon, Wayfair and in furniture stores. The problems are the same: it is not sustainable; it is designed to be disposable; and it’s not comfortable, ”says CEO Liu.
This opened up an opportunity for Outer to become a leader in the outdoor living category.
“Ask the average customer to name an outdoor furniture brand and they won’t be able to,” CDO Lin shares. “They might mention Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, or Crate and Barrel, but those brands don’t just focus on outdoor furniture. Yes, there are holders in outdoor furniture that have been around for decades, but they don’t approach branding in a modern way.
“We are a challenger brand in a fractured category where there is no dominant player that people have heard of. We have the opportunity to be the domestic brand that everyone knows. Our goal is to become the global name for outdoor living, ”he continues.
Unique selling proposition
Given Outer’s disruptive approach to outdoor product development, it’s also not surprising that the company has taken a disruptive approach to selling its products.
“Shopping in a retail store is just not a desirable experience. How to buy outdoor furniture when it is protected 24/7 indoors? He never saw a drop of rain or bird poo or a ray of sunshine, ”shares CEO Liu.
They identified the problems with buying outdoor furniture and solved the problem: turning their customers’ backyards into outdoor showrooms.
“I’m a huge AirBnB fan, both as a host and as a visitor,” he explains. “So that’s where our idea for our neighborhood showrooms was born. And that was perfect for us because we didn’t have the money up front to open retail showrooms, ”he says.
To test the feasibility of a crowdsourcing model to sell outdoor furniture, they posted a single post on the Next Door social network and got over 30 responses. After visiting each customer, they signed up a handful to be their first customer ambassadors, rather than their sales reps.
“We don’t give them sales scripts. In fact, they are told not to sell, like the Tupperware model. We just ask them to invite their neighbors and give them an authentic experience. It’s special for us and it works, ”continues CEO Liu.
Neighborhood Showroom hosts receive compensation up to $ 50 per visit, whether or not guests purchase.
“It’s a pressure-free experience for visitor and host,” he explains. “People love it and we hear over and over again how wonderful it is for people to meet. We have built an amazing community of people who truly love living the outdoors.
The brilliance of the Neighborhood Showroom model is explained by design director Lin as the authentic combination of spaces, places and styles.
“People need to see outdoor furniture in real spaces, whether it’s a small space or a large space,” CDO Lin shares. “They need to see it in the places they live, whether it’s the desert like Palm Springs or rainy places like Seattle. And they have to have styles that work in all of these spaces and places. Our designs are transient, so they suit most everyone’s tastes.
Now with more than 1,000 neighborhood showrooms in 49 states, the company is also testing the waters of traditional retail with a pop-up store in the popular center of Palisades Village outside of Los Angeles.
“We’re not ruling out traditional retail, especially in population centers like LA. We want to be wherever our customers need us in an environment that is most comfortable for them, ”adds CEO Liu.
People move outside
As much as Outer has benefited from the tailwinds of the Covid pandemic, the founders see nothing but the continued growth of outdoor living. As early as 2012, the American Institute of Architects identified the outdoor living room as the most requested specialty room in the home.
More recently, a 2021 survey found that 82% of US homeowners were interested in updating their outdoor living spaces. And with Millennials are now the largest cohort of home buyers, they are ready to give up interior spaces, such as an extra bedroom, in favor of more exterior space.
With the long track that the company sees in selling outdoor living furniture not only in the United States but around the world, they also intend to sell their breakthroughs in materials science to others. other brands.
“When we started in 2017, Sunbrella had a monopoly on high-quality outdoor fabrics, but it was expensive and not environmentally friendly,” shares CEO Liu. “So we spent the next two years developing our own patented OuterShell fabric which is durable – it’s guaranteed for five years – and comfortable – it looks like cotton but it’s made of plastic. But most importantly, it is 100% recycled.
“Today we have competitors, but as we continue to develop breakthrough materials, like carbon sequestering materials that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could become ‘enemies’ who also need of our materials, ”adds CDO Lin.
“As we see people spending more time outdoors, it leads to a broader strategy for us. It opens up a whole world of things we can do in the backyard. Right now we’re in furniture, but there are so many other areas we can go to. Furniture no longer defines us, ”he concludes.