A group of childhood friends with fortuitous timing are seeing firsthand how the shift to remote working is changing the way Australians think about the home office.
After seeing a “business for sale” ad on Gumtree in late-2019, Matthew Prince teamed up with his friends, Daniel and Anthony Faber and Mark Cosstick, to buy a business that sells standing desks from its physio founder.
That business was UpDown Desks Australia — an online-only manufacturer and retailer of adjustable desks that has seen its sales grow by 400% since the coronavirus pandemic began.
UpDown Desk sells both electronic and manual standing desks, as well as sit-stand desk converters.
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In January, when the sale of the business went through, UpDown Desks was selling between five and seven of its locally made desks a week.
Now, the business is selling between 30 and 40 desks a week, and Prince tells SmartCompany the uptick in sales is a direct result of the shift to remote work.
“Previously, 55% of our desks were being delivered to home addresses, and now, that figure is 98%,” he says.
As large sections of the Australian workforce continue to work exclusively from home, there’s a growing awareness of how suitable, or not, home working environments are to doing such activity long-term. It may no longer be feasible, or comfortable, to continue working from the kitchen table, sitting on a dining chair.
And while standing desks are not in themselves anything new — the benefits have been discussed for years — Prince and his co-owners believe this newly heightened awareness is here to stay.
“I think people are taking a much higher level of ownership of, and pride in, their home office,” Prince says.
“And because they are spending so much time there, they are more willing to invest in their long-term health.”
Prince says public health campaigns are continuing to raise awareness of potential health issues associated with sitting for long periods of time.
A learning curve
There’ll always be a period of learning the ropes with any new business, whether you’ve started it yourself or taken over from someone else. But doing so during the onset of a global pandemic brought with it a whole other set of challenges, Prince says.
The new business owners have a variety of experiences and backgrounds, with Prince also running a separate eBay store and car-rental business. Brothers Daniel and Anthony Faber work in the domain name space, with backgrounds in engineering and marketing, while Mark Cosstick works in online sales and finance.
Navigating logistics has been the primary challenge over the past months, the business owners admit. UpDown Desks stores and fulfils its orders from a Kennards Storage facility, which Prince says has given the business the flexibility to add more storage units when needed, but notes that working with couriers has presented some challenges.
“We have had issues with couriers due to the size and weight of our products,” he says, “so we have been on a learning curve about how to give them shipments in a way that serves them and also does not cost us a fortune”.
The business has also been able to employ staff to fulfil orders and deliver the desks.
The next phase of business growth will come from marketing, the team believe, as they try to position UpDown Desk as a leading standing desk business in Australia.
Word-of-mouth marketing and SEO will continue to help grow sales, Prince says, who notes the business is preparing to launch an updated website next month.
When asked if the team hopes to grow sales by selling their standing desks to employers as well as individuals, Prince says their focus is “completely on the individual user”.
“UpDown desk owners are typically extremely proud of their desk, which is very satisfying,” he says.
“It feels great to give our customers a desk they love and which will have them live longer and healthier.”
This individualised focus also gives them the ability to customise their desks to suit a variety of home uses, even outside of traditional office work.
“I had a lovely retired librarian in Tasmania come to us recently — she wanted a mobile, up-down table to sew on and catalogue her rare plants,” Prince explains.
“She wanted to be able to walk all the way around the table while using it, but then to put it against the wall when done.
“I thought that was a fantastic idea, so we found industrial castor wheels with brakes that matched our frame and sent them to her. She put a beautiful Tassie Oak top on it and is over the moon with her mobile, up-down sewing/cataloguing table.”