Some years ago, I wanted to have a really custom work desk: very long, but quite narrow in its depth. I ended up with a Berlin-based craft shop making a wonderful table for us, at a price of almost $4000 and with a four month delivery time. I am very happy with the product, but not the price I had to pay and the time I had to wait.
The furniture industry is one of the key cases of customization -- but never made the transition to mass customization. Furniture either is purchased standardized at big box retailers like IKEA or in more traditional stores where most items can be customized, but always come with a three month delivery time. I never really understood why the car industry is able to deliver an entire configured car within a few weeks, while a sofa takes three months or more. In my observation, most players in this industry never really have implemented mass customization thinking -- They stayed with craft customization: No stable processes, no toolkits for choice navigation.
There are exceptions of course, like bene, the Austrian office furniture manufacturer that has one of the world's best mass customization systems. But the general state of the industry really still lacks behind the technical possibilities. Which is strange, as CAD and design tools, parametric architectures, modularization, and flexible manufacturing cells are all well established in the furniture industry. However, in my opinion, very few people made the required connection between the back office and the customer frontend – and established stable processes.
In addition, furniture products have not been part of the recent wave of start-ups in mass customization. Woonio.de from Kempten, Germany, wants to change this. Here I would have been able to get my custom work desk for less than half the price, in a third of the time, and with a much larger selection of materials and styles. Also entirely "Made in Germany" in a very high quality.
Woonio Founder Roland Waedt opened his website earlier this year. Inspired by customization in the fashion industry, he wants to transfer the experience we know from customizing an individual garment to furniture. His company provides the product design, the website and 3D configurator, the brand name and customer service. Production is outsourced to cooperating manufacturers across Europe.
I really liked by the offering, as we saw so many food and t-shirt startups in the last year, but very little in other categories. The configurator is well done and allows one to easily explore the variety (even if I can imagine that some people would like to touch the real wood before buying -- for this, you can order material samples).
I am curious to see how this venture develops, and how people adopt the offering. I believe there are larger hurdles for adaptation for this category, as consumers have no experience in purchasing these products online. For me personally, Woonio came a bit late on the market (I am very happy with the table I finally got), but for our next home, this is something worth considering.
Context (update). Nice list with online configuration tools in the home and furniture industry