We love discovering companies that are disrupting the traditional industry model. We especially love those that challenge traditional retailer gimmicks, practice what they preach, and make an awesome product.
It wasn’t just their beautiful outdoor furniture that caught our attention, but their unique way of serving customers. Outer’s mission is to make it easier for people to spend more time outside by creating hassle-free furniture. By creating beautiful, well-crafted, and easy to use products (not to mention environmentally-friendly as Outer furniture is made partly from ocean plastics!) the Outer team removes any barriers to enjoying one’s yard.
Looking for an Outer retail store to visit? You won’t find one. Outer’s loyal customer base serves as its in-real-life showroom as existing customers host prospective buyers in their homes. This dedication to Outer’s brand speaks to the quality and authenticity of the company’s mission. Neighborhood showrooms build connections on all levels!
We had the opportunity to chat with co-founder, Terry Lin, about what makes Outer so special, why the team felt it was important to change the existing shopping experience… and learn about what it’s like to be selected for a highly coveted spot on Shark Tank! We think you’ll find his views refreshing!
Tilly and Outer share a similar passion for helping people enjoy their own outdoor spaces. How does your company encourage this?
This response may sound odd coming from a company whose business model is to design, produce and sell outdoor furniture. Let’s be realistic. When you think about memorable experiences in your outdoor space - whether it was a backyard barbecue or quiet moment reading a book there are details that you may recall. You may remember what you may have been eating and drinking, what the weather was that day, the people that attended and maybe the topics of conversation, but do you remember anything about the furniture you sat on? I would guess not. Outer is not trying to change that behavior. Furniture is just a supporting actor in the bigger picture of enjoying your outdoor space. Our design was created to reduce the friction of getting outside.
Who wants to take off a bulky rain cover or worse yet, plan ahead by cleaning dirty cushions or making 3 trips from the garage to put the cushions on the furniture? We designed our sofa to simplify the “bookends” of uncovering and covering so that you can focus on the best part - relaxing!
We love your unique model with homeowners actually acting as your showroom or retail front - tell dour readers more about why you chose this approach and how it works!
Shopping for outdoor furniture is typically online or if you are lucky, the brand may have a physical location so you can see it in person. The retail showroom is indoors, climate controlled, the furniture may have never seen the sun, the store associate may be able to recite the features of the product but probably doesn’t have direct experience with it, and more importantly, the customer doesn’t get to see the furniture in its natural context. We saw an opportunity to improve the entire product and shopping experience and that’s how we started on the path of dreaming up the Neighborhood showroom (NBS) model.
The model is simple. Instead of opening up retail locations in commercial shopping districts, we are building a nationwide network of “showrooms” where retailers can’t follow us - in our customers’ backyards. Any customer can apply to become a host and we encourage them to do so. This helps address two key benefits. First, it allows us to expand quickly and efficiently without having to bear the burden that so many retailers are facing today with the ball and chain of too many locations that are costly to maintain. Second, it gives homeowners, or hosts as we call them, the opportunity to monetize the outdoor space.
NBS is similar to how one might book an Airbnb. A visitor can browse through our network of showrooms and decide if they want to schedule a visit with a nearby showroom or they can schedule a virtual visit with a showroom that inspires them. Our team helps with coordinating a time based on the NBS host and customer availability. For every showing - physical or virtual, we pay a fee to our hosts. RIght now, our payout is $50 per visit. A typical visit is between 20-30 minutes and the interaction is supposed to be neighborly. We ask the host to answer questions how they best see fit and don’t provide any talking points - (like Yelp reviews IRL!) The $50 fee is paid for their time and not contingent on a sale. That’s a pretty good ROI for your time!
There are some additional reasons why this is important to our brand. Retailers all have a certain “look”. Outer is taking a different approach and we want our style to be design agnostic. Our goal is to create a sourcebook of inspiration for Instagram worthy outdoor lounges. To do this, we are constantly looking to add different spaces (types of backyards), different places (geographies) and different styles (design aesthetics). In doing so, NBS highlights how flexible, timeless and durable our furniture is.
The home showroom concept could be a great way to potentially meet a new friend! Have you heard any fun stories from customers?
Hearing about host/visitor interactions is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job. I speak to customers and hosts every day. And have made friends that I would have otherwise never have made. I’ve had skeptics that I speak with about what makes our furniture different that have become promoters. I think that’s the best indication that we are doing something right. I’ve heard a number of stories of hosts and customers who meet and plan to meet up after the visit. The best quote I’ve heard from a host talking to a customer was this “It's like I’m looking at a mirror of myself.” We believe that the interactions come easy since our customers and host share similar values - the importance of creating a relaxing outdoor sanctuary so you can spend time outside.
What are some outdoor trends you are seeing?
Rather than address design trends, I think it would be interesting to highlight a behavioral trend that has gotten more popular since we’ve been sheltering in place. Spring break vacations were canceled. Summer travel plans are up in the air. Consumers who have been less impacted by the current conditions have allocated the budget that was meant for summer trips and are upgrading their outdoor spaces - both the furniture, softscape and even hardscape. They are finding time to acquaint or reacquaint themselves in activities that help to make this strange and uncertain time feel a little more comfortable for themselves and their family.
We love thatOuter furniture is created from ocean plastics and is also recyclable. Do you have any other sustainable outdoor living tips for our readers?
If you have the space, put your hands in the soil and build a garden! Not only does it help you get outside which has proven health benefits but it also helps create a relaxing pastime that you can do it as a solitary activity but it could also be fun to get the family involved. Planting your own vegetable garden makes you more self-sufficient and is one less produce bag. One less produce bag could mean that you saved the life of a sea turtle that may have mistaken it for a jellyfish. Acts like this, however insignificant it may seem in the moment, will make an impact. We teach our kids to be empathetic. Why not extend that empathy to Earth and its magnificent creatures too?
*Note from Tilly - you can also check out Tilly’s 8 Eco Friendly Landscaping Tips on Outer’s blog!
What advice do you have when it comes to finding the right outdoor furniture for your space?
Outdoor furniture comes in many sizes, shapes and materials. Plan ahead to understand what it is that you want to do and understand the environmental factors. If you want to maximize seating, a sectional may not be the best option since the corner seat is essential wasted space. If you live in an area where there is a lot of tree cover, it's best not to pick fabrics that are light colored as they will get dirty fast. Darker fabrics will hide dirt much better and the level of maintenance will be easier. If you are pure modernists, you may narrow your frame choice to stainless steel because it achieves the modern look, but do you live in an area where the summers hover in the 90’s? A 90 degree day means that the steel frame has a surface temperature between 115-145 degrees. It might look great, but you’ll just be admiring instead of sitting on it.
Lastly, we saw you on Shark Tank, holy moly! One of our all-time favorite shows! Tell us about the experience?
Shark Tank was a once in a lifetime experience. We learned that Season 11 had a total of 41,000 companies. 150 made it through to pre-pitch which meant that you could pitch to the show's producers to make sure that it was interesting as a business but also entertaining for the viewers.
Out of the 150 companies, 130 made it through to pitch to the Sharks and in the end, 90 companies made it through the entire process and made it to air. Our episode was 1111 if you want to see the pitch.
Jiake (the other co-founder) and I did our best to prepare for any questions the Sharks might throw your way. It was like preparing for the SAT. You didn’t know what to expect so you make sure to know EVERYTHING about your business. Our entire pitch lasted 45 minutes and was edited down to under 15 minutes. I’ll let you imagine what it's like to have 1 minute and 45 seconds to pitch your entire business model to the Sharks and get them intrigued enough to offer you a deal.
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