Meet HipVan, the Singapore startup that lets you furnish your living space with affordable, design-led furniture and homeware — without ever actually having to leave your home.
Established in 2013 with the belief that furniture doesn’t have to cost a fortune, HipVan prides itself in being a technology and online-first company that offers a shopping experience designed to target the sector’s increasingly active millennial market.
When HipVan’s co-founder and CEO Danny Tan faced the task of furnishing his own apartment six years ago, he discovered that market options were very limited, with most products either of poor quality or extremely overpriced. Together with three partners, he set out to disrupt the status quo. “We started HipVan to bring well-designed, well-made furniture and homewares to young homeowners in Singapore, with the goal of helping them create their own inspiring homes at a fair price,” he tells us.
Today, HipVan carries thousands of designs ranging from sofas to dining table sets, decorative centrepieces to bedding and mattresses – all targeting a market segment that’s cost-conscious. “Making great designs accessible makes sense to us because good design and products should be enjoyed by as many people as possible,” says Danny. He cites sofas, one of their best-selling categories that starts from SGD 399, as an example of furniture that fits within most budgets.
The secret sauce behind HipVan’s affordability lies in having an e-commerce platform that lets them cut retail overheads from prices, saving customers a good 20% to 30%. New products are introduced weekly to create an unlimited shelf space, something traditional retailers can’t do. “We believe this will become an increasingly important differentiator for us as the next generation of homeowners focus on creating unique homes that are true to their personalities,” Danny explains. That’s not to say that physical stores are out of the question. The rise of the experiential economy led HipVan to open an experience store in downtown Singapore, where select furniture are showcased for visitors to get up close and personal with.
As millennials continue to show strong support for locally made products and in-house designs, HipVan too has been quick to adapt. A scroll through their website shows a healthy mix of local and imported brands. The assortment is also driven by themes and trends that define this generation of homeowners — just this year alone, HipVan introduced eight new collections of solid wood furniture, as well as many home decorations with plant and nature motifs, both hits with new homeowners. Millennials living in shoebox apartments need not worry either, as one of HipVan’s product development principles is to “right-size” to apartment dimensions. Other considerations include having products that serve multiple functions, such as storage sofa beds, and also being thoughtful about having clean and straight lines whenever possible.
For Danny and his team, seeing their intended demographic form the core of the future furniture market is proof that the enterprise is on the right track. “When we started HipVan, we believed that furniture and homeware would come online in a big way when millennials start maturing into their 30s and beyond,” he states. “Five years on, we’re seeing online furniture and homeware stores grow rapidly across the world, and we’re obviously benefiting from this trend.” Danny estimates that those who grew up shopping online are only reaching the age of around 35 years old at the moment. In addition, South East Asia has more than 70% of its population below the age of 40 years old, which makes him particularly excited at the potential to thrive in this region.
Just as this young demographic looks set to stay, so does the startup that’s made scalability a priority for the long haul. “There was definitely a period of time when we grew a little too fast, and, as a result, our customer experience suffered a little as internal processes were not able to keep up with the increase in sales,” Danny admitted. “How we overcame it was by doubling down on technology so that we can automate as much of our process as possible, and in doing so improve the efficiency of our team.”
With 2019 upon them, the team is ramping up its plans for the new year and beyond. Not divulging too much, all Danny will say is, “from as early as January, you’ll start to see significant additions to our product selections with more styles, more colours and most importantly, more personality!”