Fast-growing online furniture retailer expands

[caption id="attachment_41479" align="alignright" width="420" caption="The Humble Abode website."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Internet furniture retailer Humble Abode Inc., started as a dot-com entrepreneur's side project a dozen years ago, has turned into one of fastest growing companies in the U.S.

The 15-employee company ranked right in the middle of Inc. magazine's list of 5,000 fast-growing U.S. companies, based on revenue of $5.1 million in 2010. That was a 43 percent increase from $4.1 million in 2009 and up 94 percent from $2.6 million in 2007.

To accommodate that growth, Humble Abode (707-568-5800, will be expanding into a 23,600-square-foot facility in the business parks near Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport this month. The company also has completed a two-year upgrade of a new website and back-end merchandizing engine to allow shoppers to more easily search thousands of products by size, style, brand and delivery time and see the items in the close detail that's become expected, according to founder James Wickersham. The new system was moved to Amazon's web hosting service.

"Even though we've had good growth, we're like a catapult that's retracted," he said. "The stage is set for whole another level of growth."

The new location is larger than the 15,000-square-foot facility Humble Abode had been occupying in northwest Santa Rosa and has adjacent office buildings for expansion. Because the company ships orders from a number of locations nationwide -- from fulfillment houses to the manufacturers themselves for finish-to-order items -- the Santa Rosa warehouse plays a West Coast and regional role in nationwide fulfillment.

"It's hard to inventory the many thousands of SKUs," Mr. Wickersham said, noting the impracticality of having each option ready to ship. For example, iron bed maker Wesley Allen offers 40 different finishes. So Humble Abode has the most popular items ready to ship.

The additional space locally will help with product marketing. Items can be brought in and photographed, measured, tested and videoed in detail, helping consumers make purchase decisions from afar and supplementing manufacturer sales materials, Mr. Wickersham said.

Also, Humble Abode can decide what pieces to buy in bulk and offer lower-priced sets.

Mr. Wickersham has been in e-commerce since 1997. After college, he joined when it was a startup and became director of strategic sales during a time when it raised $120 million in capital. In 1999 while working at the San Francisco company, he started Humble Abode as a side venture and it continued as such while he was director of business development for Retailers Market Xchange, which raised $50 million.

In 2002, Humble Abode became a full-time business, and he relocated it to Santa Rosa. However, he has been funding it's growth primarily from revenue and bank loans rather than pursuing funding.

“At some point, Humble Abode, Inc. will raise financial capital, but it is important to build a proven business model of adding real value before massive top line growth," Mr. Wickersham said. "A growing company under realistic financial pressure is forced to find a way and make it part of the business instead of farming it out, and that’s a perfect environment for value innovation."

Relative to other Internet furniture retailers, Humble Abode has plenty of room to grow to catch up. The first such operation on trade journal Internet Retailer's Top 500 Guide is San Francisco brick-and-mortar store Gump's, ranked No. 497 with $12 million in online sales last year and 33.3 percent growth from 2009.

A major online retailer near the top of the list is CSN Stores, ranked No. 51 with $380 million in sales last year and 51.4 percent growth. CSN received $165 million in venture funds this summer to consolidate more than 200 websites into one.

Also on the Internet Retailer is San Rafael-based Restoration Hardware at No. 108 with $160.7 million in 2010 online sales and 3 percent growth from the year before. In early September, the company filed for an initial public offering of stock, reportedly looking to raise $100 million to $300 million. 

To compete in such a neighborhood, Humble Abode provides a better customer experience while keeping prices at or below competition, according to Mr. Wickersham. The company staffs its call center in Sonoma County with college graduates equipped with software tools and authority to be able to offer the best deals and handle consumer questions, he said.

Gil Saydah of Keegan & Coppin represented Humble Abode in its mid-July lease at 5621 Skylane Blvd. Kevin Doran of Keegan & Coppin represented building owner Theodore Lowpensky.

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