NEW PLAYER DIVES INTO 'NEGLECTED CATEGORY' FURNITURE SELLER LIVING.COM NARROWS AGENCY SEARCH

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Living.com wants to make buying furniture as easy as clicking a mouse. The Austin, Texas-based start-up will begin selling name-brand furniture and furnishings online with the July 13 launch of its Web site.

"This is a neglected category," an executive close to the company said. "Now it's going to be jumped on with a vengeance."

The e-commerce player, positioned to compete with the likes of Furniture.com, also is expected to break its offline branding campaign next week to coincide with the site's (www.living.com) launch.

FURNITURE.COM ADS UNDER WAY

Furniture.com, in the midst of a multimillion-dollar national radio and newspaper campaign via the Donovan Group, Northborough, Mass., has completed a third round of financing. Most of the $35 million is to go into an aggressive brand-building effort.

A number of furniture retailers -- most based North Carolina, considered the center of the nation's furniture-making industry -- have been doing a brisk business of selling discounted furniture through catalogs or toll-free numbers. Living.com dipped into that pool with its April purchase of Shaw Furniture Galleries, Randleman, N.C., for an undisclosed amount. But whether Living.com can get people to buy couches without first sitting on them remains to be seen.

Living.com narrowed its first-time agency search to three shops: Leo Burnett USA, Chicago; Richards Group, Dallas; and McCann-Erickson Southwest, Houston. A decision on the $20 million account is expected later this month. The national campaign will include TV, print and radio.

Funded with $6.5 million from Austin Ventures and Benchmark Capital (Benchmark owns 22% of auction site eBay), Living.com is expected to announce an undisclosed amount of additional private financing this week.

ONLINE ASSIGNMENT UNCLEAR

The company has handled online advertising in-house; it is unclear whether the agency will assume online responsibilities after the site's launch.

Living.com, headed by Chairman-CEO and co-founder Andrew Busey, former chairman of software vendor Acuity Corp., will offer online advice from design consultants and customer service reps, in addition to an online selection of products to order and have delivered. Mr. Busey was unavailable to comment on fulfillment or the company's general strategy.

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