Houstr allows guests to bring piece of vacation home

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

Nick Koenen knows the value of a good night’s sleep.

The Racine-based mortgage lender is also an Airbnb SuperHost and was once the owner of a local mattress store.

He noticed that he would often get feedback from his guests on the mattresses in his highly rated short- term rental property. When Koenen gave his guests the opportunity to purchase the mattress they were sleeping on from his mattress store, he saw sales dramatically increase.

The success he had selling mattresses to his guests made him realize the selling advantage of allowing customers to experience a product before they even consider making a purchase.

This is the idea behind his new business, Houstr.

CEO Koenen and Co-Founder and CTO, Denis Ouspenski, are in the midst of launching the company, which Koenen describes as an “experiential marketplace.” Short- term rental units are stocked with carefully selected products for the renters to use. Everything from towels, to frying pans, and, of course, mattresses, will be available for the renters to purchase at the end of their stay and continue to use in their own home. Unit owners will receive a commission on the sale of any products purchased during the guest’s stay.

Houstr sees the online marketplace they are creating as a win for all: companies will have the opportunity to get their products into the hands of consumers, rental hosts will be able to earn additional income from their properties while providing guests with well-appointed units, and consumers will know exactly what the product is like before making the purchase.

Koenen calls the concept “touch marketing.”’ 

“People who use a product need just the simple act of touching a product,” he said. “It (the touch) creates psychological ownership in consumers’ minds and that really translates to the best, most effective type of marketing.”

He cites Apple Stores, with their rows of devices waiting to be used by customers, as a successful example of this concept.

The data suggests a “try before you buy” approach may cut transaction costs. Koenen stated, “Last year, over 30% of all goods purchased online were returned, and that’s versus only 8% of brick-and-mortar purchases.” 

After a successful round of pre-seed funding, the company is currently working with a Milwaukee-based software development firm to create their online marketplace. While Houstr has a growing list of product vendors and rental hosts who are using a current version of the marketplace, the team will wait to launch the marketplace to a wider audience. Koenen is planning for a third- quarter release of the software.

To follow the development of this soon- to- be- launched company, connect with Houstr here.

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