Building your own tech smarts: BROSA's digital journey

Australian furniture maker details its software development trajectory and why it was key to the brand's ethos and marketing approach

Any new brand with ambitions for rapid growth quickly faces a plethora of choices when it comes to acquiring the digital marketing platforms that will support that growth.

However, when Melbourne-born furniture maker, BROSA, was confronted with these choices, it opted to do something few other brands in its category have done – develop its own software.

BROSA is the brainchild of co-founder, Ivan Lim, although some of the credit should go to his mother, an interior designer whose disdain for fast furniture saw him exploring the joys of weekend furniture shopping when furnishing his own home.

“I thought it would take one weekend and we’d be done. It became four weekends of salespeople and showrooms,” Lim tells CMO. “I came out of the experience almost with my soul destroyed because I was so exhausted.”

The experience did, however, lead Lim to two conclusions. The first was that there was a gap in the market for anyone who wanted stylish furniture but wasn't prepared to pay $15,000 for a sofa. The second was that buying furniture is an incredibly high cognitive load, high friction process.

Ivan LimCredit: BROSA
Ivan Lim

“I was buying all of these other product categories, such as pants, glasses and so on, through digital-first retailers that were delivering seamless experiences, and I thought why couldn't we do this with sofas?” he says.

The result is BROSA (the name comes from the Icelandic word for smile), and a business model that relies heavily on vertical integration, from the design process through to manufacturing in different locations around the world, all the way down to warehousing and delivery. What makes BROSA unusual within its category is the decision to not rely on industry-standard technology for many of its processes, in favour of hiring its own software developers.

“We built our own order management system from the ground up that optimises and automates that supply chain,” Lim says. “We wanted to give customers full visibility and transparency, and customers with us can see at any point where the item is in the supply chain.

“We also built our own ecommerce technology from the ground up as well.”

Lim says the goal has been to create a holistic, digital-first approach that ensures BROSA can manage customers’ experiences from discovery and purchase through to delivery.

“The way we think about digital is that it is not so much as a channel, but as very much the rails of the entire business,” Lim says. “It is the infrastructure you build a business on, and it is what connects the entire customer experience.”

However, while BROSA is a digital-first company, Lim is taking a hybrid approach to its marketing, with physical experience showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney.

“We think of our experience showrooms quite differently to other retailers,” Lim says. “Most think of them as sales channels, but for us we think of them as experience centres. They are much smaller, at 400 square metres or so, and we don’t have the full range there. But the whole idea is for customers to come in and touch and feel the product. And every single person in our studio is a qualified interior stylist.

“Out of all the customers that come into our showrooms, 80 per cent of them don’t even buy on the spot - they go home and make that purchase online.”

Lim says the opportunity for BROSA now is to continue finding ways for its digital platform to enhance its in-person environment, including through events such as its recent sponsorship of a lounge area at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

“We thought there was a great overlap between food and having great spaces and hosting people, and that correlated with furniture and lifestyle,” Lim says. “In terms of gaining exposure and getting more awareness for the brand, we do many of the digital-first disciplines well - social communities have really been a big part of what we are doing, and collaborations with partners.

“But we think about also building brands. As the brand strength grows, that really supports us in converting more customers, building trust, and so on.”

Data and tech ownership

From a digital perspective, Lim’s next challenge is to take the vast troves of data it is accumulating, which he says is currently sitting in different areas of the business and requires stitching together for personalisation.

“The opportunity for us is how we bring together all the touchpoints that we have in a more centralised useful sort of way to deliver a great experience,” Lim says. “That is the next frontier.”

Whether BROSA acquires tools for that purpose of develops its own will come down to the same process of evaluation used when building out its original operations and ecommerce systems.

“This was a big philosophical debate that we had internally in our engineering and leadership team, which was build or buy,” Lim says. “Where we have landed is that the first decision to be made is, is this component of the technology stack critical for our strategic advantage against incumbents? If it is, and it can deliver that value, then it definitely makes sense for us to own, to build, and to iterate. However, if there are some things that are less critical, maybe we can customise an existing toolset to support the business.”

Whatever Lim and his team end up building, it will have to adhere to the company’s mission to be the number one direct to consumer home and living brand in Australia.

“We are still very early in that journey,” Lim says. “We have started in furniture, which is one of the hardest categories to fulfill and to sell and to give that experience in.

“So we are really continuing to chase our mission, which is to make it simple to create a home you love, and to continue to be known as the brand that customers can come to for beautiful designs that are on trend, relevant for the contemporary Australian home, and delivered with a really customer-first sort of approach.”

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