“Sustainability is an increasingly important criteria in the decision-making process by customers”: Interview with Tylko’s co-founder Benjamin Kuna

With people spending more time at home during the last couple of months, home refurbishment projects moved up on the to-do lists.

Benjamin Kuna, co-founder of Tylko, a Polish next-generation furniture company can certainly testify to that. In the first eight months of this year, the number of their customers doubled and further growth is on the radar. Under the motto ‘design your own furniture’, Tylko (founded in 2015) combines personalised design with cutting-edge technology, allowing customers to create their perfect piece of furniture conveniently via the brand’s online configurator and AR App.

We decided to talk to Benjamin and hear more about why personalized furniture means people hold on to their pieces for longer, sustainability approaches, the use of AR in retail and the next tech trends in home retail. Enjoy the interview!

Tylko is offering a new approach to furniture design. In one sentence, what is the new approach?

We improve customers’ quality of life by providing high-quality storage furniture that they can design down to the last detail, catered exactly to their individual needs, through the use of our intuitive online configurator and augmented reality Tylko App.

So Tylko turns consumers into furniture designers. Tell us how you do it?

We do believe that people should be free to create their space according to personal needs, without compromising function or style. But it would be overstating it to say that we turn consumers into furniture designers. Rather, we let everyone co-create their individual storage furniture based on a multitude of curated options, making sure that customers never face difficult choices that could compromise the final design. Our online configurator and Tylko AR App enables customers to intuitively create their own Tylko product from approved options, all based on parametric design principles, whilst making sure that the final product is ergonomically and visually sound. No experience is needed from the customer to create a perfectly fitting shelf, sideboard or chest of drawers.

Today’s consumers are less concerned about fitting in, and more concerned about standing out. It’s more about owning things that reflect your personality, values, and tastes. Personalization is the new norm, but can it be translated into the furniture design market?

We all know that the space we live in has an impact on our life. This is why it is so important that your home is personalized and tailored to your individual needs. And we shouldn’t forget that a long time ago, our ancestors lived with customized furniture, before the furniture industry even came into being. Our latest numbers speak for the relevance of personalized furniture and homes: since our founding in 2015, we’ve served over 40,000 satisfied customers, and sold over 50,000 shelves across the world. So yes, personalization can be translated into the furniture design market today. And although it is not the norm in the industry yet, we believe that including customers in the design process, and ultimately democratizing the design industry, is the future. Personalization ensures that homes are better suited to their owners, making them hold onto pieces for longer. This benefits the environment, and sustainability is an increasingly important criteria in the decision-making process by customers. Our business model caters to that, being lean, efficient, and direct.

Let’s say I have used the app to create my shelf design and I make an order. What happens next?

It’s very simple actually: we have developed our own production software that translates the data of every individual design into production files that can be accessed from the factories that we collaborate within Poland. We only produce furniture to order, which can be shipped in just a few weeks directly from the factory to the customer – often using freight exchange to reduce its footprint. Since our supply is strongly correlated with the demand, we don’t have nor need storage facilities. Our direct process cuts out unnecessary costs and makes our supply chain a lot more transparent and sustainable.

Augmented reality is increasingly being used to enhance retail experiences. In your case, it enables us to visualize the final design in its future place in the room. Why is this technology the best choice for Tylko?

For the very reason that you mentioned: AR is the technology that allows customers to test and fit their design in their space. We know that buying furniture online – especially custom-made ones – can be stressful. But also, during the lockdown, lots of shopping shifted online, with people unable to or feeling unsafe about leaving the comfort of their homes. We want people to feel comfortable and certain about the choice they make. Thanks to AR, they can see their product in their space before they order anything. They can also adjust it in real-time and see how different designs appear in the same interior. This is not only the best choice for us but the best that we can offer to our customers.

Making use of the most commonly available technological invention – a smartphone – to help people design the furniture they need is only a logical evolution for the furniture industry in our opinion. Additionally, for those who would still like to touch and feel their future shelf – unfortunately, AR cannot offer that yet – we can send material and colour samples to customer’s doorsteps within a few days.

We want to make sure that what a customer sees on the app screen, becomes a reality in just a few weeks. We also have a 100-days return policy – but of course, we do all we can to spare the customer any extra hassle.

Tell us more about your product portfolio. What is currently on offer and what’s next in the pipeline?

First and foremost, we offer made-to-measure storage furniture for private and public spaces. A customer can self-design a personalized shelf for all kinds of purposes, like a media unit, bookshelf or chest of drawers. To date, we have launched two product lines, Type01 and Type02. The Type01 is the original one, known for its timeless style and natural materials, and is available in plywood with two fresh finishes of veneer: oak or ash. Designed with the modern home in mind, the Type02 places focus on a selection of contemporary colors. It’s the bolder and more experimental product. Both lines share the same personalization options. We have also just started to expand our portfolio towards more specific categories. Earlier in September, we launched the Type02 Sideboard – a reinvented furniture classic.

We will certainly continue our journey, offering personal and smart storage solutions combining innovation, style, and functionality. Besides, we keep challenging ourselves in the mission to reduce our negative impact on the planet and provide solutions that answer and foresee future needs.

From day one, Tylko has held nature at its heart. What’s the company’s view on sustainable furniture?

Our goal to revolutionize the furniture industry means taking a holistic approach. From employee to customer to the planet at large, our day-to-day practices are founded on values of transparency, care, and long-term thinking. It’s a process. We’ve set our personal targets high and while there’s a long way to go, we hope that, by rethinking the traditional business model, we can be a part of the new standard-setting generation, committed to doing better.

We are proud of the progress we made in the last five years. Our mission is to reject a fast, throwaway furniture culture and create long-lasting, durable pieces that will remain parts of people’s homes for years. For us, acting responsibly is manufacturing our products in Europe to keep our carbon footprint low and our local economies in good health. It’s using solar panels at our factories, avoiding wasteful plastics, and using recyclable packaging wherever possible. It’s ensuring that each and every shelf we create has a specific owner, so we make only what’s needed. We understand that our actions have an effect on our customers, the industry, and the planet, and with that in mind, we’re determined to make our impact a positive one, on all fronts. And since we want to always better understand the impact of our choices and actions, and base our decision-making on scientific findings, we are in the process of recruiting sustainability experts to help us go the next steps in this mission strategically and efficiently.

In your opinion, what is the most important trend in home retail for the next decade?

Over the last months, we have all spent a lot of time at home. Our private spaces have become our offices, gyms, schools and universities. Remote is now the ‘new normal’ and has turned out not only to be a necessity but a good alternative to traditional ways of living, meeting and working. Our homes now get our full attention, and solutions that make it possible for people to design, test, and shop furniture without having to venture out to physical stores have proven successful – our revenue has almost tripled compared to the year before.

The lockdown has sped up the shift towards online shopping mostly for home retail. Previously, customers were hesitant to shop for bigger pieces – like a shelf – online. But tools that give customers control over the process – such as our online configurator, AR-enhanced Tylko App or our free return policy – limit both the associated fears and risks.

We also believe that tech-empowered models in the furniture industry are a trend that will stay with us for a long time, mostly because they benefit the efficiency of the process, the usability of the product as well as the sustainability of the industry at large. Conscious consumerism needs to be mentioned in this context too. Identification with brands on an emotional level is becoming central in the decision-making process of consumers, including when buying furniture. I don’t want to say that sustainability is a trend. It’s more. But it impacts the furniture industry massively. All of us, active in the field, need to take responsibility and rethink the lifecycle of a product, from design down to recycling, reuse and remanufacturing, to remain relevant in the future and to make sure we do our best to bring the planet back to better health for future generations.