Moving into a new apartment, or helping a friend move into theirs, is almost a rite of passage for many McGill students. The hardest part is almost invariably the struggle to maneuver a heavy couch around tight corners and up steep staircases.
“The McGill Ghetto [has many] small stairways and hallways; it was always a hassle,” says Frédéric Aubé, BA’21. The CEO and founder of Cozey, Canada’s first sofa-in-a-box e-commerce company, took part in his fair share of moving days. Dealing with the couches was never fun.
“I just thought there must be a better solution. That’s one of the reasons why Cozey was started.”
Cozey’s sofas are affordably priced and easy to assemble – no tools required. They’re easy to disassemble too – which makes moving them far less of a challenge.
Cozey customers have nine colours to choose from (you can request free swatches if you want a closer look at your options). Delivery is free and quick – typically between three and seven days.
Customers select the type of sofa they want – a loveseat, a four-seater and different types of sectionals are among the choices. The bigger the sofa, the more boxes you’ll receive – each one contains a portion of the couch that’s been ordered.
The young, Montreal-based company is off to a good start. Cozey sold 2,400 sofas in its first year, and last summer it raised $2 million from private investors. Cozey controls the design and sales of its products, while outsourcing the manufacturing – primarily in China.
Earlier this year, Cozey launched a new, made-in-Canada brand, called Nook. Cozey’s production partner for Nook is a Quebec manufacturer based just outside Montreal.
“It was important for us to offer the alternative of local production to customers,” Aubé says. “Our focus with Nook will always be to choose the highest quality materials," such as Canadian wood and leather from Italy, to offer “a high-end product that’s still at a very reasonable price.”
Before Aubé became an entrepreneur, he was a hockey player. A defenceman for four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he played alongside teammates like Alex Barre-Boulet and Nico Hischier, both of whom are now in the NHL.
Aubé was realistic about his own future prospects in hockey. “I knew my chances of going pro were slim.” While playing hockey, he developed an interest in finance. “I read a few books on the subject and it just clicked. And then I wanted to learn more. It’s a very competitive field and it reminded me of sports in some way, which I really enjoyed.” He decided to pursue university studies. “McGill was my top pick.” He did a joint major, in finance and economics.
The right questions
He says his time at McGill played an important role in the initial thinking that helped make Cozey possible.
“Studying finance opened me up to the world: I met a lot of smart people that I [was] exchanging with for my idea for Cozey… I got the idea in my fourth semester, and then in my last year and a half I started planning Cozey.
“Thinking back to the Economics Department – how [the professors] thought, how they approached problems on a daily basis… I learned to always go deeper and not take any answers for granted, but to always ask: ‘Why?’ Asking the right questions and trying to think ahead is what my professors and my friends at McGill taught me.”
While Aubé was confident that the idea behind Cozey was solid, he confesses that he had some anxious moments in his company’s early days – especially about launching a new business during a pandemic.
“I was three months graduated out of university, no experience in working whatsoever, and we were raising two million dollars at a pretty hefty evaluation,” says Aubé.
“After the first round [of raising investment dollars], I was pretty nervous in terms of how we were going meet those expectations. There was so much uncertainty around COVID.”
Launched during a pandemic
In some ways, the pandemic actually provided a boost. People were spending a lot more time at home – and, perhaps, taking a closer, more critical look at their furniture as a consequence. Going out to stores became much more complicated. Buying things online, even bigger items, became more the norm.
“I launched an online furniture business in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when [stores were hard to visit] and everybody was looking for furniture,” says Aubé.
It hasn’t all been easy.
“Talk to anybody about the international supply chain and logistics,” says Aubé. The costs associated with shipping containers, for instance, skyrocketed. And recent COVID-related restrictions in China, where Cozey’s original line of sofas are made, have hampered product development.
One thing that Aubé believes he and the Cozey team did right in the company’s initial months was to resist the temptation to be too ambitious.
“I think our execution, in terms of marketing, logistics, and how we managed our growth, was really good. We didn’t try to go everywhere or to do everything. The focus was on our customers and on our product.”
Since the company started up during the pandemic, it didn’t have to shift operating modes in the way more established companies did. “We were born in a pandemic,” he says. “For us, everything is hybrid, and it’s just normal for everybody. You come into the office whenever you want; you stay home whenever you want.”
Up next: the U.S. market
Most of Cozey’s 35 employees are based at its head office and distribution centre in Montreal. The company also has a distribution centre in Vancouver.
Cozey recently began offering a line of accessories, such as pillows and throws, to go with its sofas. Later this year, it plans to begin selling its products in the U.S. And longer term, it may broaden its offerings to include furniture for other parts of the home.
“There’s so much left to do for us, and I think investors are excited,” Aubé says.
“And so are we.
(Update: Institutional fund manager CDPQ announced on June 21, 2022, a $10 million investment in Cozey, in part to support the company in its strategic development plan for the U.S. market.)
Chris Chipello contributed to this article.