Flinders

“We want to create an atmosphere online and in-store. We show that we know the stories behind the products.”

Interview with Geert-Jan Smits — founder of Flinders.

Flinders

Flinders wants to make design accessible to everyone. It’s a furniture store and one of the fastest-growing companies in the home furnishings sector. “Furniture stores are pretty traditional if not old fashioned,” explains CEO Geert-Jan Smits. “For years, the industry’s looks the same way,” he continues, “From day one, we’ve had a completely different vision: we’re disruptors. We have a multichannel approach, and that puts us where the client is. That may not sound disruptive,” he finishes, “but it is because it’s completely different from a furniture store that sits around, hoping that they get customers.”

“We have a multichannel approach, and that puts us where the client is.”

Geert-Jan Smits founder of Flinders

Flinder's store has beautiful furniture

“We’re not going to sell to you”

Before he started Flinders, Geert-Jan had an internet consultancy, Jungle Minds. But after ten years of consulting, it was time for something new. “I’m a businessman, so I went looking for things that hadn’t been revolutionised by the internet,” he says.

What this turned out to be was designer furniture. “People said I didn’t know what I was doing, but the more they did it, the more I liked it,” Geert-Jan states. This, though, doesn’t mean it was easy. “I dug into which brands had search volume, to determine which ones we would sell. I wasn’t familiar with any of them, so I called them,” he says “And the questions I got time and time again were, ‘How many square metres does your store have? Where is your store?’” and, “‘Oh, you want to sell via the internet? If that’s the case we’re not going to sell to you.’” Thus, “out of sheer necessity, we went looking for a place for a physical store, and that’s when we started the Flinders Cafes in high-traffic locations. People can come and have a coffee or beer and everything they sit on is our furniture.”

Now, the brick-and-mortar store is a central part of the Flinders concept. “I’m completely behind having physical locations now,” Geert-Jan says, “because you need to give people a chance to see and feel your stuff. Trying to sell out of a cafe isn’t all that easy,” he reflects, adding, “and the people behind the bar aren’t usually the best at giving interior design advice. So, we opened a fantastic store in Zaandam in 2015.” Flinders still hung on to their cafes. “De Bajes on Rembrandt Square in Amsterdam is ours, it’s just that people don’t know it.”

Geert-Jan Smits — founder of Flinders

“The average webshop is super boring”

What Flinders gets is that it’s not easy for their clients to buy furniture. “A lot of people I know and come into contact with are saying, ‘I want cool design stuff for my place, but I don’t know where to get it, so I’ll just head to IKEA,’” tells Geert-Jan. “The average webshop is also super boring. You only see packshots of products, which makes it hard to get a feel for the product,” he adds, “that’s why we try to create an atmosphere online and in-store. We want to show that we’re specialists and that we know the stories behind the products.” And why is this important? “Because we’re selling higher-end stuff. A chair like that (points to a Vitra fibreglass chair) isn’t cheap. People save up for these items.”

Geert-Jan bases this approach on his own experience. “When I started Flinders, I didn’t know anything about designer furniture. I hadn’t heard of any of the brands and I thought they were ridiculously expensive.” But, “then you go to the factory and get to know the story behind it all. You discover that (Fermob’s garden furniture) is made for the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. They’re made out of aluminium, which is super light and will remain beautiful. That’s how I came to appreciate this type of furniture. But I also understand what type of niche we’re serving and how expensive the items we sell are. That’s why you can read the stories behind the furniture on our website, but it also helps if you’ve come and sat on and felt our furniture.”

“The average webshop is super boring, you only see packshots of products.”

Geert-Jan Smits founder of Flinders

“We don’t see this as an expenditure”

Insights like this play an important role in Flinders’ approach to doing business. “Having a webshop sounds easy, but with us, there’s a lot of client contact that precedes every order.” This is why Flinders uses all possible channels to reach their customers. “And when I say every possible channel, I mean every single one of them,” Geert-Jan says, “We have the webshop, the cafes, the store, and we’ll also come to your house for a consultation. Practically no one does that because it costs a lot of money.” He continues, “We also sell via marketplaces, on chat, email, and over the telephone. We don’t see this as an expenditure because it’s an important part of presales.” But that’s not all, “We have a project department that deals with business clients and social media also plays an important role. We ask clients to tag their purchases with #myflinders. On Instagram, we have more than 500 messages and people are telling us some really cool stuff.”

Flinder's homepage

“What makes us different and successful is that we reach clients using all of those channels, and your average furniture store isn’t doing that,” Geert-Jan observes. “In addition to that, we’ve introduced the stock model. We’re one of the first companies that offered next day delivery in the home furnishing sector. Having to wait eight to ten weeks to get your furniture was normal, but that’s not in step with today. From day one we said that this wasn’t acceptable.”

Faster and smarter than the competition

Everything’s about customer centricity and making the customer experience as good as possible. Payments are part of this, too. “Ultimately, payments are a small part of the customer experience,” says Geert-Jan, “small, but really important and not only for the customer but for me as well. It’s such an essential part of my business, a lifeline, that I wouldn’t trust the first one we came across to be the best one.”

“It’s says something that your founder (Adriaan Mol) won the Loey Awards,” Geert-Jan explains, “I’m from the internet and online sector, so him winning that award gave me a confirmation. Your story and the fact that you’re a real tech company makes you faster and smarter than the competition. I like how you can change settings and next to everything you have a combination of tech and people who think along with you. Contact with Mollie is always pleasant, and that’s an important factor,” he adds. “Mollie’s approach will allow us to deliver our services into the future, for example, growing to other countries and fostering new possibilities.”

“It’s says something that your founder won the Loey Awards.”

Geert-Jan Smits founder of Flinders

Beautifully designed furniture makes Flinders

A totally different company

Speaking of the future, Geert-Jan spends a lot of time thinking about it. “What’s my added value over the next five years? You have to constantly keep asking yourself questions otherwise you can become obsolete in just a couple of years, that’s how quickly things can change. Flinders could be a totally different company in five years, we don’t know how it will evolve, and I think that’s really cool.”

“I think it’s one of the most interesting things to be busy with - the company’s future. It also helps that I have a lot of people around me that enjoy this and are critical and want to think along,” Geert-Jan notes. “This year, we won the ‘best furniture store in the Netherlands’ category at the Thuiswinkel Awards. We’re super proud to have earned this after nine years in the business,” he adds, finishing, “We know we’re not a startup anymore but I would like to keep that type of culture alive in the company. We’re actually just getting started. We want to take over the world, that’s how you create great stuff.”

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“I didn’t dare to put any of this in a business plan.” — Anne, Vedder & Vedder