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November 16, 2022

Sabir x Gil Bar-Lev

TL; DR

In creating HomeRoots, Gil Bar-Lev set out to change the wholesale furniture industry, and while it’s still early days, he has already made some pretty substantial waves.

The wholesale furniture sector differs from other B2B industries and has its own unique challenges. But it’s also set in its ways. At times, it can seem very antiquated when compared to industries that have fully embraced the digital revolution.

Gil Bar-Lev has a lot of amazing insights into the furniture industry, including everything that’s wrong with it, everything that it gets right, and what kind of future it has. These insights include:

  • The Current State of Furniture Ecommerce: These are tough times. Rising inflation, climate change, the war in Europe, and the impending threat of a global recession have sent many entrepreneurs into a panic. The furniture industry has been hit by these issues and sales have slumped, but when you compare those sales to pre-pandemic years, they look a little less bleak. More importantly, there is still money to be made and opportunities to be grasped—every homeowner and renter needs furniture after all.
  • The Need to Adapt: The wholesale furniture industry needs to adapt and change. According to Gil Bar-Lev, if a customer needs to make a phone call, there is something wrong. In a world of one-click ecommerce, quotation forms and call-back requests may unnecessarily prolong the shopping experience.
  • Listen to Customers on Both Sides: Pay attention to what your clients are saying and don’t forget to check in with their customers as well. You can only grow and improve if you actually pay attention, heed their words, and take action as needed. Don’t just assume that your way is the right way or that traditional is always best.
  • Big Fish in Small Ponds: Oftentimes, small buyers are ignored by big wholesalers. It’s a problem that you’ll find across many sectors, and it makes life difficult for up-and-coming companies. It’s also unnecessary. Everyone should be treated with the same respect. As a company, you have no way of knowing if that seemingly obscure brand will make a huge purchase or grow into the next global powerhouse. Everyone deserves the same respect.

At the end of my discussion with Gil Bar-Lev, he offered his $100,000 piece of advice. It’s something that every inventor, innovator, and entrepreneur needs to hear. In fact, it’s one of the best insights yet, so make sure you read to the end of the guide or watch the video to see it for yourself.

Insights Into The B2B And B2C Furniture Industry With Gil Bar-Lev

As the founder of HomeRoots—a unique wholesale platform dedicated to changing the game—Gil Bar-Lev is perfectly placed to talk B2B, B2C, and upcoming changes in the furniture industry.

I asked Gil on This Week With Sabir to discuss some of the issues that this sector is facing and to highlight the areas that his company is striving to change.

He had a lot of insights to share, and in this guide, I’ll flesh out the most important of them. If you want to see the full video, you can find it on this blog or on YouTube.

A Small Fish In A Big Pond

If you walk into a major wholesaler’s showroom as a relatively small brand, there’s a good chance you’ll be ignored.

Those salespersons want to hook the biggest clients, the ones that can secure game-changing contracts for their company and life-changing commissions for them.

Gil experienced this on many occasions and noted that the salespersons would often be sat around chatting and “giggling” among themselves while he tried to get their attention.

This is something that only exists in the B2B space.

If you walk into a retail furniture store as a customer, a member of staff will approach you within a few minutes and ask if everything is okay. They will show you around, make recommendations, answer your questions, and generally serve as a guide for the time that you’re in that store.

You might find that approach a little annoying, but it’s not forced on you and those shop assistants can be dismissed with a simple, “Thank you, but I’m fine”.

This customer-first approach is beneficial and personal. It also doesn’t discriminate. Sure, you might get more attention if you’re planning on spending a lot of money and you may even elicit a sigh or an eye-roll from a tired staff member if you keep asking questions with no intention to buy.

But you’re a customer, and you’re treated as such.

That just isn’t the case in the B2B sector.

Interestingly, Gil noted that when he spoke with sales reps, many of the ones that had previously ignored him suggested that they were just following orders.

In other words, the issue is not that they themselves are seeking the biggest clients at the expense of their employer’s reputation. Rather, they are being told to focus their efforts on the clients that could potentially attract the biggest business.

It makes sense, but only if those reps are run off their feet, which is rarely the case. There’s also no way for them to know for certain which clients will spend big.

One of Gil’s motivating factors for launching HomeRoots was to create a platform for everyone and ensure that all customers are treated equally.

The result is that smaller retailers aren’t overlooked, which is the way that it should be.

It harks back to a discussion that I had with Sasha Der Avanessian in an earlier episode of This Week With Sabir.

Sasha spoke about the importance of building relationships with your B2B clients, treating them with respect, and using your affability and honesty as a USP.

A small client might not make you rich, but it’s another client, another sale, and another opportunity to grow.

What’s more, in the future, that client could become the next big furniture retailer, and if you support them on that journey, they won’t forget what you’ve done for them.

Issues Specific To Furniture

During our discussion, Gil briefly mentioned some of the issues that were specific to the furniture sector. These included the fact that “small” orders usually consist of just one or two pieces, even on a B2B level.

After all, we’re not dealing with postable items purchased for a few bucks. Furniture can sell for thousands of dollars and it’s big, bulky, and hard to transport.

This makes it difficult for distributors to operate within the sector.

Customers are also keen to see and touch the items that they buy, so retailers need to think carefully about how they list, describe, and market their products, while also paying special consideration to returns.

Listening To Customers On Both Sides

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. They can tell you what’s right, what’s wrong, and what needs to change.

So, why do some entrepreneurs insist on ignoring those customers and assuming they know best?

It’s a trend you will see in many sectors and one that has led to countless failed product launches and ridiculous ideas.

History is littered with stories of people who created or invented something that was critically panned, only to achieve massive success.

If you have a direct line to your customers, use it. Talk to them, ask them what they think about your products and get their opinions on future product launches. If you don’t have a direct line, create one.

Forget about marketing experts, research and development teams, and even critics. Some of the most valuable advice you can get comes directly from your customers.

To learn more about acquiring customer opinions, check out this guide to qualitative research, a type of research that focuses on opinions and concepts.

As a B2B brand, your customers are the retailers that buy and stock your products. But that’s not all, as you should also be speaking with the customers that buy from those retailers.

If the end user is happy, the retailer will be happy, and that’s something you can take to the bank.

An Antiquated Industry

The B2B furniture sector is a little antiquated according to Gil.

We’re living in a one-click world. Everything is fast and effortless. Customers can order with the click of a button, get their products within a day or two, and track them on their journey.

But that isn’t true when it comes to B2B.

Wholesaler websites never show their prices and when you click “buy”, you’re greeted with a contact form or a phone number. The idea is that you tell them who you are and what you’re looking for, and they reply with prices and further details.

It works because that’s what people have come to expect, but when you think about it, this process wouldn’t be acceptable in any other industry.

Would you be happy buying from Amazon if you had to send them a message expressing interest, wait for a phone call, and then arrange a price?

Probably not.

Of course, things have to work a little differently with B2B, as these manufacturers don’t appeal to everyone. But there are still ways of making purchasing and distribution easier.

Wholesale sites can still adopt ecommerce functionality. If not, they can showcase their products, let customers add them to their shopping cart, and then request a call back to complete the order.

According to Gil, if you have to make a phone call then there’s something wrong with the process and it needs to be fine-tuned.

This is one of the reasons that HomeRoots was developed. Gil envisioned a different world that would combine B2B and B2C, making the industry better for all.

Relationships are still key, so a personal connection is required, but it doesn’t need to be an “either/or” situation.

You can have a connection with a client while still offering some kind of ecommerce functionality.

Convenience and efficiency should be prioritized. And if you make life easier for your clients, all of the other benefits will follow.

How The Furniture Industry Is Dealing With The Chaos

The last few years have been difficult for everyone, and the furniture sector hasn’t escaped the chaos. Wildfires impacted the timber sector, the pandemic made trade and transport difficult, and then we had the war in Europe.

The icing on the cake is the rise in inflation, the great resignation, and the uncertainty that it all triggered.

However, while times are bleak, Gil notes that ecommerce is merely returning to the way it was before the pandemic.

In fact, it’s up in general compared with 2019, and only looks poor when you compare it to 2020 and 2021, when more people were forced to stay at home and had no choice but to shop online.

It’s not like the skies are falling and the markets are collapsing, it’s that things are going back to normal, at least for now.

There is still opportunity here and there’s plenty of money to be made. It might not be the time to throw your cash at new stock and create rapid expansion, but people still need furniture.

No one knows what the future will hold, of course, and these are tough times, but it’s not as bleak as you might think.

If you’re thinking about selling furniture online, I wouldn’t let the current state of things deter you. Of course, you should still do your research and make sure there is a gap in whatever market you are trying to enter, but don’t give up on the assumption that no one is buying.

After all, furniture is still being made and it’s still being shipped. If everyone stops buying, the prices will fall, and the market will pick up again. But that’s not happening, and it’s not happening because people are still buying.

New renters, new homeowners, landlords, business owners—there’s always a need.

The pandemic has also created unique advertising opportunities. During 2020 and 2021, ROAS was higher than ever as it seemed that most customers were ready to buy. Those numbers have fallen, but we’re still seeing good returns across multiple industries.

The $100,000 Question

I spoke with Gil Bar-Lev for over an hour and he provided a number of insights during that time. At the end of our discussion, I pushed him for one more, the $100,000 question.

I named it that because if you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner in the furniture or B2B space, this advice could generate over 6-figures in income.

Gil’s advice was simple, but it will be eye-opening and inspirational to many…

Don’t break.

Essentially, his advice is to never give up and to get in early.

If you are launching a new initiative—business, product, service—you have to clear the obstacles that come your way, fight through the difficult times, embrace the failures and the lessons, and keep going until you get to where you want to be.

Every new business and initiative has early adopters and late adopters.

The early adopters are the ones who get in from the ground floor. They take the risks, do all of the work, and lay everything on the line. If it succeeds, they become the market leaders and visionaries.

As for the late adopters, they take a more considered and methodical approach. They have seen others succeed and fail before them, so they have an idea of what needs to be done. As a result, they can take fewer risks.

But it also means that they are less likely to succeed.

Think of it like the early days of the gold rush.

You could be one of the risk-takers who grabs their gold pan, packs some basic supplies, and heads west not knowing what perils you will encounter. If so, you’d have a lot of issues to deal with—heat, drought, snakes, bandits, storms—but there would be a wealth of gold waiting for you.

Alternatively, you could be one of the last ones to go. By that time, you’ll have roads to traverse, traders to buy from, and even settlements where you can rest. But you’d be left with the dregs of the gold.  

There is an important caveat here, though.

I have known many entrepreneurs who insisted they were onto a good thing and then backed it with every fiber of their being and every cent in their bank account. They heard advice like “never give up” and took it at face value, persisting at all costs.

In the end, they failed, because if your idea or execution is terrible, you will fail regardless of how persistent you are.

So, while it’s important to work hard and keep pushing, you also need to be open to criticism and change.

If you’re launching a product that everyone seems to hate, don’t just dig your heels in, insist that they are wrong, and carry on regardless. Make changes, pivot, and evolve.

Some of the best products in the world began as inferior or completely different prototypes. They weren’t successful because the creators nailed it first time and then followed it through to the end. They were successful because the inventors listened, made changes, and grew.

Criticism, setbacks, and even failure can teach you more about yourself, your product, and the industry than success ever can.

About Gil Bar-Lev

Gil founded HomeRoots combining his passion for furniture, eCommerce, and technology to disrupt the way selling and buying furniture is done with a novel wholesale platform. HomeRoots leverages “community buying power” by uniting sellers of furniture, lighting, home décor, and retailers and licensed trade in one place, making the B2B shopping experience in this vertical as easy as the B2C shopping experience. They help sellers and buyers increase profit margins and reduce overhead.

Gil began his career as a software developer and moved quickly into senior leadership for the startup he worked for in the early 2000s. Recognized as a technology innovator, he was invited by multiple software development groups and corporations around Europe to train CTOs and IT managers in best practices on web development.

He moved to New Jersey in late 2002 and led a major financial project for Toys-R-Us, networking their physical stores around the globe with their headquarters. Witnessing the development of online commerce in real time, Gil was tasked by Toys-R-Us to strategize and lead their technical integration with Amazon.com.

Since he departed from Toys-R-Us, Gil has launched other online businesses and consulted with various companies in the wholesale, retail, eCommerce, and logistics verticals. Gil has BSc in Computer Science from HIT Israel and MBA in Marketing & Finance from Rutgers University News Jersey. He lives with his wife, Dafna, three children, and their dog in New Jersey.

Visit Gil on the Web at https://homeroots.co.

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