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How DTC furniture rental brand Feather has stayed afloat amid coronavirus

Feather CMO Jinal Shah discusses the startup's evolution during Covid-19

Designed for city renters on the move, Feather faced a unique dilemma when the crisis hit its core customer base hard. Chief marketer Jinal Shah discusses the pivots the startup needed to make – and not make – including sticking with Facebook and PR.

Feather had serious momentum in February. Its premise is clear: urban dwellers don’t want to buy furniture only to have to move it, sell it or trash it when they inevitably move to their next apartment in a year or two.

The three-year-old startup also recognized that its core millennial customer base values the planet and, in turn, circular economy brands. The solution: rent durable furniture that is both easy to repair and clean, enabling more flexibility for renters and less strain on US landfills, which house an estimated 20 billion pounds of furniture annually.

Then came coronavirus and it was time to rethink where the brand fit in to consumers‘ new daily realities. For many, the very concept of home has shifted from a sanctuary you return to after a busy day to a functional space where work and play live side-by-side.

“This will have a long-term impact on people’s lives. Because of the Great Depression there was a whole generation who distrusted banks and grandmothers who kept cash in mattresses. There will be residual behaviors that will continue to be a part of our everyday lives, whether it‘s hand sanitizers or just wanting your home to be a multipurpose environment,” says Feather chief marketing officer (CMO) Jinal Shah.

Within weeks of the pandemic, Feather did the following:

Bolstered its WFH product line. By mid-March, demand for desks, chairs and lamps increased fourfold.

Created contactless delivery. When home assembly became undesirable, it shifted to warehouse assembly whenever possible. It also made it clear how many people would be required to physically move a piece once it was delivered.

Enhanced cleaning across the board. For employee and customer safety, disinfecting warehouses, trucks and furniture to the fullest became the priority.

It also stirred up its marketing mix. Shah took a hard look at what was still effective, or not, and made some real-time adjustments, including

sticking with Facebook. This channel has been core to DTC brands. Shah says, “we are curious how DTC brands will respond. We haven’t ruled it out, but we may not [be able] to boycott Facebook.”

Staying the course on public relations. “Now is not the time to pull back on PR. For a young brand like ours to be considered, we need to be mentioned in the press and by influencers.”

Amping up performance marketing. “I still have loads of opportunities with scaling acquisition, investing in mid-funnel marketing and improving my digital experience. That’s my focus as we enter the live-in phase of the pandemic.”

Hitting pause on podcasts. “There was just a massive dip there.”

Tabling out-of-home. “OOH was a huge part of the media plan. We saw tremendous success from subway ads.” She adds that they are now hoping to resume OOH sooner rather than later.

Still, Feather continues to evolve. Late last month, it began creating its own furniture with durability in mind. In partnership with Pachama, it is offsetting 2,500 tons of CO2 this year and all of its deliveries are carbon neutral. In the spirit of circularity, it is supporting reforestation projects in Uruguay that focus on the cultivation of Forest Stewardship Council wood.

So, how is revenue? Shah says sales are not back to pre-pandemic levels, but demand is picking up in cities that are moving into Phase 3. “Early signals make us feel bullish about the coming months. We are taking the long view. The significance of what our homes mean to us is not going to wane. And so, for Feather, how we continue to make people feel at home whether their lives are still, or in motion, remains our core focus.”

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