Global Business

Too hard to move a couch? Rental startups see a market

AP/New York
Filed on January 15, 2020 | Last updated on January 15, 2020 at 10.48 pm
Zachariah Mohammed and Pete Mancilla in their apartment in New York.


Companies aim to rent furniture to millennials who don't want to commit to big purchases or move heavy furniture

Zachariah Mohammed's living room is filled with stuff he doesn't own.

He pays $200 a month for the sofa, side table, bar cart, dining table and four chairs in his living room. It's worth it, the 27-year-old New Yorker says. If he needs to move, which he's done twice in the last 12 months, he won't need to lug a sofa across the city or worry if it will fit in a new place. The furniture-rental startup, Feather, will swap out items for something else.

"We don't want to be stuck with a giant couch," says Mohammed, a social media manager at a software company, who lives with Pete Mancilla and their dog.

Feather, Fernish and other companies aim to rent furniture to millennials who don't want to commit to big purchases or move heavy furniture and are willing to pay for the convenience.

It's part of a wave of rental culture that includes Rent the Runway, focused on women's designer clothing, and even Netflix and Spotify, which let you stream from a huge catalog rather than buy individual TV show episodes, movies or songs.

"They're moving a lot. They're changing jobs a lot," says Thomas Robertson, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, describing the types of people who would use the services. "Why would you want to be saddled with furniture?"

The furniture-rental companies target high-income city-dwellers who want a $1,100 orange love seat [$46 a month] or $980 leather bench [$41 a month] - but only temporarily. The furniture itself is a step up from Ikea.

"I'm 32 years old and have lived in 25 different places, five different countries, 12 different cities," says Chan Park, who co-founded online furniture rental company Oliver Space last year. He constantly bought and discarded cheap furniture. Then he moved to a furnished rental apartment in Singapore. "It was probably the first time my adult life that I felt like I was truly at home," Park says.

These startups are in just a handful of coastal cities, with few users, but seek to grow. They offer furniture from Crate & Barrel, West Elm and smaller brands.

Others are renting out home goods, too. Rent the Runway recently added West Elm pillows and quilts. Ikea is testing a rental service in several countries outside the US, including Switzerland and Belgium.

Renting may make sense for a generation that sees "life as transient," says Hana Ben-Shabat, the founder of Gen Z Planet, a research and advisory firm.

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