American businessman Brody Shores' furniture business in China grew on a model that leaned heavily on the promise of an enduring property boom and homebuyers desperate for fully furnished new apartments.

Soon after launching in 2019, his company began selling directly to developers who decked out their units with furniture, a marketing trick that sold flats like hotcakes.

Then came the pandemic and a property crisis, and with them, clear evidence of the limits of the debt-fueled, investment-driven model that had propelled China's economy and businesses like Shores'.