When father and son entrepreneurs, David and Adam Light began their furniture company IconByDesign in 2015, it began as an online store.

In 2016, the first store was opened in Sydney followed by a second store in Melbourne in 2017. However, unlike many Australian-owned family businesses that grow their local business before expanding overseas, David and Adam made the decision to expand into the US, the world’s largest furniture market.

“My son, Adam had previously started an online business using a dropship model in the home category in 2011. I helped him with the technical, financial, and marketing aspects. In early 2014, we identified that a pureplay online retailer using a dropship model was unsustainable unless scaled substantially,” David told Retailbiz.

“We decided that we needed to be in control of our design and supply chain to create a sustainable business. Our family has been in the furniture business for five generations and we had a strong understanding of the industry.

“We trialled Scandinavian design furniture manufactured to our specifications in Adam’s prior business, which received an immediate and incredibly positive response. Based on this trial, we established the supply chain and infrastructure to create IconByDesign.

“There were four key characteristics, which differentiated us from our key competitors.

  • All furniture pieces have a Scandinavian and mid-century design based on a clean, minimal, timeless, and elegant aesthetic.
  • A focus on sustainable manufacturing, supply chain, and materials with artisanship as a key component of the design and manufacturing process.
  • A celebration of the authenticity of materials, such as solid wood and sustainable materials.
  • Product is sold at a price point that overcomes the challenges of Australian manufacturing and global brand distribution infrastructures by optimising the supply chain and manufacturing offshore to a high-quality standard with the support of sophisticated systems and processes.

“We also identified an opportunity to offer a two-price model to customers, with the option to order at a 20% discount. Our supply chain model allows us to run a pre-order model with lead times in the range of three to five weeks,” David explained.

“While the execution is challenging, it provides customers with a distinct price advantage. Many of our competitors either don’t sell items when they are out of stock, or they run an indent model, where a customer can pre-order and then wait up to six months to get their product. In either case, the customer is charged full price for the item. By contrast, our pre-order model provides economic benefits to us and we pass this benefit onto our customers who save 20% on their item.”

Advice for navigating the challenges and advantages of working with family

“Running a family business is highly rewarding. One of the most rewarding aspects is the fact that my son Adam and I started the business together; it wasn’t a son joining his father’s company,” David said.

“This has allowed us to act as peers in our working relationship. The family dynamic in the workplace has also allowed us to create a clear company culture and is a core part of the way we engage with customers.

“There are distinct challenges in terms of clarity of roles and which business challenges we choose to focus on. The normal company hierarchy is challenged by family relationships, and we have worked to overcome this challenge by creating a clear demarcation of roles and a consensus approach to decision-making.”

Factors to consider when expanding into international markets

“The following key criteria was considered to inform the decision to expand into the US:

  • Whether we had a unique market offering
  • Whether we had the ability and capability to execute our business plan in a foreign market
  • Whether we could apply the required technology in a local market to support local requirements
  • Whether we had the financial strength to embrace the challenges that come with opening a business in a foreign market
  • Whether we had a proper understanding of global markets and the uniqueness of the different challenges we would face in those markets
  • Whether we had the ability to design and operate marketing programs in each country that embraced and catered to the specific requirements of each market

“Most importantly, as entrepreneurs, what would be the bigger failure? Launching into the US and not succeeding or not attempting this launch? Ultimately we decided to try and it has paid off significantly with the business experiencing over 200% growth year over year.”

The future of IconByDesign

The main focus over the next 12 months is to entrench IconByDesign’s position in the Australian market with consideration of opening a third Australian store in 2025.

“In the US, our focus is to further establish our presence in the key California market and then consider expanding with more stores as the market recovers. The timing of this will depend on conditions in that market,” David said.

“We’re also focusing on supply chain efficiency and cost control of marketing, which is challenging at present. We’re working with a highly focused team within a clear supportive culture and we have a continuous focus on technology enablement and brand consistency. We are also focusing on growing our product range and the depth of our offering.”