CSN Stores, Amid Rebranding and Financing Rumors, Looks to Become “Amazon for the Home”

4/18/11Follow @gthuang

It’s pretty impressive what a couple of engineers have built here in the Back Bay. But truth be told, the engineers themselves aren’t all that impressed yet. That’s because they have their eyes on a bigger goal: running a billion-dollar e-commerce company.

I’m talking about Niraj Shah and Steve Conine, the co-founders of Boston-based CSN Stores, which just might be the world’s biggest online-only retailer focused on home goods. The company, which owns more than 200 websites including Cookware.com, Strollers.com, BedroomFurniture.com, Luggage.com, and EveryFaucet.com, is New England’s largest e-commerce firm, not counting big retail brands like Staples.

CSN Stores has gotten a fair bit of press lately—after years of no press—because of its strong revenue growth and bootstrapped culture. (The company has taken zero venture financing to date.) But its story also holds important lessons about navigating a very competitive market, using technology as a unique tool, and maintaining its culture through its growth. There are also a few rumors swirling around this company—about how it plans to rebrand itself with a more consumer-friendly name, and how it might be raising a growth financing round to go really big (more on those below).

The company started in 2002 and has been profitable basically since its inception. CSN Stores had $380 million in revenue in 2010—an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous year—and it is on pace to grow by about 50 percent again this year, Shah says. The firm just opened a new distribution and customer care center in Utah that will employ about 300 people, adding to the company’s headcount of some 750 worldwide. Shah, the firm’s CEO, says the firm will have more than 1,000 employees by year’s end.

An obvious parallel in terms of growth would be Amazon.com, the Seattle e-retail giant that started out as a bookseller. In fact, Shah says, “We’re Amazon for the home.” He notes that CSN has watched what Amazon has done in the areas of customer focus and user interfaces. But he’s also careful to point out the differences between the companies—a key one being CSN’s focus on home products and its “specialized supply chain” for items like furniture. By shipping directly from manufacturers, CSN has managed to offer a large selection without having to stock its own warehouses (at least up to now).

“We’re at a point in our life cycle, if we do it right, we should be able to grow consistently over the next [few] years,” says Conine, CSN’s chairman. “Look at how fast Amazon grew in the early years. We have the potential to do something similar, and to emerge as a new e-commerce brand.”

Indeed, if CSN gets really big, its main competition will come from … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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