Photo courtesy of Anita Curry
Anita Curry is the self-proclaimed Queen of Craigslist. After losing everything in the financial crash of 2008, she and her family relocated from London, England to Vancouver, British Columbia. With a budget of only $5,000, she was able to furnish her entire home using the online marketplace. It was a lightbulb moment for Curry, who previously spent 25 years working in tech.
She put up her own ad on Craigslist, offering to furnish other people’s homes for a nominal fee. The business grew quickly from there, expanding to its own online platform with a network of interior designers and furniture manufacturers. Today it’s known as Avenue Spaces, a service that curates high-quality furnishings according to the client’s taste. With wholesale pricing and no designer fees, users are able to save thousands of dollars styling their spaces.
BuzzBuzzNews caught up with founder Anita Curry to learn more about Avenue Spaces.
BuzzBuzzNews: Could you tell us a bit about your background?
Anita Curry: I've been in technology for about 25 years — started off at Dell Canada, then moved to London, England, and worked around the world in logistics, procurement technology and internet. I then started my own business, which was sort of like Facebook for larger corporations. It was similar to Yammer, which sold for $1.2 billion. We sold our product to Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs… but when the banking system collapsed, we lost everything. So we just kind of picked up and moved to Vancouver, and started again.
BBN: What sort of reaction did you get after listing your first ad on Craigslist?
AC: I put up a work site saying, ‘I will furnish your house, just pick one of these six styles,’ and I had a client within two weeks who gave me a budget of $20,000. He said, “I'm too busy, I’m sick and tired of IKEA, and I can't afford an interior designer — could you make my house look like this photo?”
Another week later I had another client in the same situation, he forked over $25,000. It kind of just snowballed from there — we wrote a business plan, opened a shop in Gastown [Vancouver], and subsequently closed it to go online, and I've completed 200 projects since!
Photo: Avenue Spaces
BBN: How did you advance Avenue Spaces beyond Craigslist?
AC: To improve our quality, we knew we needed to get into the wholesale trade, so we actually hung out in some of the dumpsters of the bigger furniture retailers, and looked at their boxes to find out where they were getting their products from. Then we called the wholesaler directly, set up trade agreements, and now we've got contracts with most of the wholesalers that are supplying the major furniture retailers. We don't have the overhead they do, so we can be a little more competitive with pricing, and we're not limited by floor space, so we have more products. The quality is exceptional, unlike a lot of online retailers, because it’s the same as what you’d find in a retail shop.
BBN: The first step of the design process on Avenue Spaces is filling out a style quiz and a lifestyle questionnaire. What sorts of questions do you ask your clients?
AC: Style is a given, it needs to look good, but we also believe that your space needs to work for you. Every individual is different, so we'll ask where you like to eat, what you do in the evening, where you like to shop, how you get around. Listing your favorite colors will obviously help us dictate the style aspect, but on the functional component of the questionnaire, we ask if you've got kids, or if you’ve got dogs and if they shed, what color hair they have. We ask if you work from home, if you like to read, how often you entertain — we tend to look for a lot of multi-functional design solutions. We want to ensure that the space not only looks good, but that it works for the individual, and what they do in their space.
BBN: The next step, the onsite design consultation, is recommended but not mandatory. What goes on during the appointment?
AC: The one-on-one consultation is seeing, but also feeling what the space is like. The building itself will have some unique characteristics, whether it’s a modern building or a heritage property. We also dig a bit deeper into some of those questions we ask during the questionnaire process. It’s funny actually, before the consultation we send out a request saying don't put anything away for us! When we first started doing this, people would tidy their house and make it look super nice, but now we're like please don't do that unless it’s something you do every single day. We want to see your place as is because there are a lot of creative design solutions that can help make it better. The consultation is really to get a better idea of how that individual lives, in addition to taking measurements and getting inspirational ideas on what the client wants the space to look like.
Photo: Avenue Spaces
BBN: From there, your team begins to curate the products and decor. How are you able to guarantee lower prices?
AC: Our business model operates the same as the retailer, so we buy wholesale and sell our products for slightly less than what the retail would be. Not every single piece will be cheaper than what the individual would pay on their own, but when you factor in the cost of driving around to different stores, delivery, assembly, returns...the whole process is incredibly expensive, which consumers don’t typically think about. They just go, “Okay, what’s the price on that couch?” but the actual cost includes a lot more than that. Overall, Avenue Spaces is between 20 and 30 percent cheaper than what an individual would pay on their own.
BBN: What comes after the product curation?
AC: After all the products have been approved by the client and then delivered, we would send a designer out to the site to stage it — they make sure the rug is positioned where it should be, that all the pieces are proportional in scale. As a courtesy, we usually add some of those designer touches, like the accent pillows, vases and other decor items to really elevate the space. That way it feels finished and looks great.
BBN: In terms of clients, who is your target audience?
AC: Our target is audience is typically someone going through some sort of transition — either moving in with a new partner, having a baby, downsizing, relocating, getting married, getting divorced, moving into a new home. Basically, they're going through some sort of change in their life that is completely brand new and they don't really know what they need. A lot of them don’t have the time or a massive budget to work with an interior designer, but they’ve got a little bit of money to make this their own space. It's quite nice actually, we've been doing this since 2009 and our clients continue to re-engage with us as they go through these transitions.
Photo: Avenue Spaces
BBN: What is the budget range for the types of services you offer?
AC: We charge per furniture piece with a $5,000 minimum. Typically, a project would range from a one bedroom home to a four bedroom home. The smallest we've done is 250 square feet, and the largest we've done was more than 6,000 square feet. It can range from $5,000 to $100,000 — it all depends on how many pieces you need in the space.
BBN: You’re an advocate of gender equality and providing work spaces that are flexible for women and mothers. What are some of the things you’ve done to create a more inclusive workplace culture?
AC: I'm a mother of four, and I genuinely believe in creating opportunities for women to manage their work/life balance. Everything we do is online, and can be done in and around the other commitments that our employees have. We offer a lot of flexibility, so they can actually do both and have it all. They also make a decent income, which is super important to me. We’re getting women out of the service sector and into these male-dominated industries, such as the furniture business. Here we're selling furniture, which is more lucrative, so women can actually make a decent income by doing what they do best, which is the buying element.
I'm quite passionate about building a community where women can work together. Our site has a back-end component for designers, where they can get support from one another — ask questions, get responses, find out what opportunities are out there. It's kind of fuelled this culture within Avenue Spaces that is quite community-focused. We provide flexibility and freedom, but there’s still this network of support to help our employees grow and build up their own businesses.
Photo courtesy of Anita Curry
BBN: What are your plans for Avenue Spaces in 2018? The next five years?
AC: We want to be Canada-wide by 2018. Right now we're just in Vancouver, but the technology has been built now so we're ready to deploy it across Canada, and then hopefully expand into the US. As for the next five years, we definitely want to be across North America, if not worldwide.