HACKENSACK, N.J. — Modern-style furniture retailer Inmod survived the recession that closed many furniture stores by letting the customer self-design pillows and bed linens and by adding lower-cost items.
Another reason it persevered, said co-founder and president Alan Finkelstein, is that the business, based in Harrington Park, N.J., never sold one of its ball chairs or sputnik chandeliers in a showroom.
"I believe fundamentally the investment you put into marketing on the Internet is a better investment (than into real estate) because you have far more eyes on your marketing efforts than a local brick-and-mortar store would have," Finkelstein said. "I have no limit to where I can sell."
Inmod has no retail space; it sells its modern-style furniture and home decor online to consumers, hotel chains, clothing designers, television stations and restaurants at www.inmod.com.
Last year, as the cascading downturn claimed other stores, Inmod sales rose almost 8 percent from 2008, to $3.5 million. By mid-May this year, sales had increased 58 percent over the same time last year, and Finkelstein said revenue could reach $5 million by the end of the year.
Inmod began as a Web site development business that Finkelstein founded in the early 2000s with friend Casey Choron. Both had Web development education and graphic-design skills, and they built fan Web sites for musicians and designed concert promotional materials.
After developing a Web site for a family friend to help lift sales at his office furniture supply company, the pair discovered that developing Web sites was not profitable enough to continue.
"We spent more time educating clients than anything else," Finkelstein said. "It was still new, and a hard sell back then."
Their brief time with furniture design left Finkelstein and Choron intrigued with the field — specifically the mid-century modern style — and they founded Evofurniture LLC in 2003, which does business as Inmod, to sell reproductions of pieces from that period.
They found a U.S.-based manufacturer and sold five products — including the iconic ball and egg chairs — on a Web site they built and designed.
"We understood the Internet and knew how to market there and knew how to drive traffic," Finkelstein said. "Anyone looking for these products found us pretty quickly."
The two found more manufacturers at trade shows, but they also found challenges convincing the often 100-year-old companies that furniture could be sold online, Finkelstein said.
That also meant there was little competition for Inmod and its flashy, trendy, colorful Web site, created by a growing team of programmers and developers with art backgrounds.
Inmod focused on the mid-century modern style before the style appeared in department stores, clothing designers, television stations and hotels. As a result, Inmod's biggest customers are Macy's Inc., Nordstrom Inc. and the Golden Nugget Hotels and Casinos in Las Vegas.
A key relationship has been with a textile designer producing handmade items in India, Finkelstein said. A real-time Web site feature lets consumers choose patterns, colors and materials for pillows and bed linens.
Sales of duvets and pillows account for 10 percent of overall sales, Finkelstein said. Customers will soon be able to design rugs, drapery, kitchen cabinets and fixtures.
When the recession began in 2007, Inmod brought in 500 new items for less than $200. The average-order amounts dropped to $700 from $1,000, Finkelstein said, but volume climbed 20 percent.
Inmod now includes current modern and contemporary furniture and decor at mid-level prices.
"We're definitely the middle ground right now," said Finkelstein. "It's become a strategy."