When Whitney Frances Falk started ZZ Driggs in 2015, she not only invented a memorable name for the company, but she also invented an entirely new business model that really didn’t exist before in the home furnishings retail business. Equal parts furniture rental, design service, antiques resource, selling platform and showcase for maker, designers and emerging artists, ZZ Driggs seems to have found a niche in the bigger home goods market – and it is now running with it.
In its short existence it has become a go-to resource for commercial real estate companies looking to furnish model spaces and lobbies, homeowners and renters who need to decorate their spaces quickly and for a limited amount of time, studios looking for furnishings’ props and just about anyone who wants that unusual piece of furniture they can’t find anyplace else. We recently caught up with Falk who told us, “We have furniture for as little and as long as you want it. Our goal is to create, to be a solution.”
Positioned firmly in the circular economy, Falk says her business is a next-gen alternative for people who move (alleviates the headaches of schlepping things across the country or across town); is less expensive than costly storage; gives people the experience of an elevated quality furniture they might otherwise be out of reach to buy; and supports the creative community of emerging design talent.
Positioned firmly in the circular economy, Falk says her business is a next-gen alternative for people who move (alleviates the headaches of schlepping things across the country or across town); is less expensive than costly storage; gives people the experience of an elevated quality furniture they might otherwise be out of reach to buy; and supports the creative community of emerging design talent. She is also on trend for buying less but buying well to shrink the disposable footprint on the planet.
From A to ZZ
ZZ – Falk usually refers to her creation by its first name — derived from a long-living tropical perennial plant native to eastern Africa, rather than its surname, Driggs, a street in her Brooklyn neighborhood. We came “out of a need,” she says, for a company that both rented and sold collectible, contemporary and one-of-a-kind pieces. Coming out of Wall Street, where she was a vice president at the investment firm Jeffries, she always has had a passion for home furnishings – she calls herself a “furniture pundit” — and kept coming back to the idea of a different business model than was out there at the time.
Her timing was right as consumers were starting to understand the importance of sustainability and the damage to the planet being caused by throwaway and disposable furniture. A focus on locally and domestic-made product was part of the plan too. “We based our business on the idea of home goods lasting as long as possible and being able to offer high-quality goods that people can keep for as long as they need. It’s vastly different than what the big boxes do.” Ergo, ZZ. So, connecting with makers and looking for one-of-a-kind and collectible furnishings became part of the plan. “We are reimagining how we furnish our homes, offices and the places we dwell for a new economy,” she says.
“Of course, the big elephant in the room is sustainability,” she said in a recent Robin Report online forum on new retail business models. “And it’s not just external sustainability either, it has to include internal sustainability. There’s an old phrase for this, ‘the harmonious curve,’ that means you have to create a symbiotic relationship,” she said, with both your customers and your employees, as well as the designers you work with.
She said too many legacy retailers don’t do that and “need to treat their employees right as well as create an experience for the end user. Experience,” she said, “it’s the new luxury and you need to create an experience that is something the customer looks forward to.”
The company first targeted the commercial real estate market, which needed well-designed furnishings for short-term periods for model apartments and longer term for lobbies and amenity spaces. The local New York City marketplace became its sweet spot for business, she says.
Collectibles soon entered the mix. “If you had asked me three years ago if we would be in antiques, I would have said definitely not,” Falk said, but it seemed to fit the product assortment. ZZ focuses on mid-century modern including Eames furniture and Thonet chairs as well as old farm tables and butcher block items.
Last year, slowed down as many things were by the pandemic, the company opened up to the consumer market, which it sells from its website and, once conditions improve, from its warehouse home. Again, for all these products rental is the business model, but Falk says the vast majority of products are eventually bought through a lease-to-own plan.
They are in the process of becoming a certified B Corp, Falk says “We live in an era of accountability for people, products and the planet.” She takes that responsibility seriously in embedding the tenets of sustainability into everything ZZ Driggs does. Since the company is private, it doesn’t disclose revenue numbers, but she said month-over-month growth is in mid-double digits and it expects to expand its rental programs beyond the New York marketplace next. The purchase business is national. She also wants to expand its product offerings to more studios and makers as well. With a hoped-for reopening of its warehouse, ZZ Driggs stores are also a possibility down the road. “We’ll consider anything,” Falk says, and given the many moving parts of its current business and how it has evolved one has to believe her. “It’s an exciting time for the furniture business,” she says, and her model adds some needed heart and soul into the business.