Di­rect-to-con­sumer brands shak­ing things up

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ES­TATE -

also of­fers a paint cal­cu­la­tor and blog with plenty of how-to ad­vice.

For Back­drop’s hus­band-and-wife co­founders, Caleb and Natalie Ebel, the goal was to to­tally re­think the way peo­ple look at paint.

“It’s not a hard­ware store pur­chase; it’s an art project on your wall,” Natalie Ebel said.

The Ebels say they spent years reimag­in­ing ev­ery­thing from the straight­for­ward names of their paints to the twist-top, stain­less-steel con­tain­ers. Caleb, a vet­eran of Warby Parker, and Natalie, a for­mer non­profit ex­ec­u­tive, said they thought it was im­por­tant to build so­cial im­pact into their startup, with a por­tion of ev­ery sale go­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee.

“We’re a con­sumer-ori­ented com­pany built by con­sumers,” Caleb Ebel said. “One of the most ex­cit­ing things we see is peo­ple are paint­ing be­cause they’re be­ing in­spired to paint.”

For El­iz­a­beth Rishel, founder of the DIY home life­style blog Within the Grove, ren­o­vat­ing with­out hav­ing to set foot in a hard­ware store is an an­swered prayer. As the mother of a 2-year-old and some­one who shops for home goods on­line via Way­fair and Joss & Main, Rishel says she fre­quently rec­om­mends di­rect-to-con­sumer com­pa­nies to her read­ers.

“The im­por­tance of com­pa­nies like this is they are sim­pli­fy­ing the process, which is giv­ing the home­own­ers the con­fi­dence to do it on their own,” Rishel said.

Rishel says any­one who is squea­mish about shop­ping this way should browse so­cial me­dia posts to see what kind of out­comes peo­ple have had with the prod­ucts. She also sug­gests tak­ing ad­van­tage of the com­pa­nies’ at­ten­tive cus­tomer ser­vice. She says that’s one of the ma­jor draws of di­rect-to-con­sumer brands, es­pe­cially those with savvy so­cial mar­ket­ing strate­gies.

“Be­sides the con­ve­nience, you’re reach­ing peo­ple on a more per­sonal level,” she said. “It’s more or­ganic — a true opin­ion, a true voice.”

Nicki Clen­den­ing, owner of Scout De­signs in New York City, says the di­rect-to­con­sumer shift in the home space rep­re­sents con­ve­nience, but also con­sumer em­pow­er­ment. When in­dus­tries that pre­vi­ously catered more to con­trac­tors and de­sign­ers ad­just their strate­gies to tar­get con­sumers, the re­sult is a more stream­lined and user-friendly sales process.

“As a de­signer, my job is to find the right thing for my client, but hir­ing an in­te­rior de­signer is a lux­ury that not every­one has,” Clen­den­ing said. “It’s the way the de­sign in­dus­try is go­ing: the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of hav­ing ac­cess to things a de­signer only had ac­cess to.”

She says she sees this change es­pe­cially in the fur­ni­ture mar­ket and points to ecom­merce sites such as One Kings Lane, which of­fers in-per­son or re­mote de­signer ser­vices.

De­signer Jes­sica Wil­liams of Hend­ley & Co. says in her ex­pe­ri­ence, di­rect-to-con­sumer home brands ap­peal es­pe­cially to de­sign-savvy con­sumers who ap­pre­ci­ate these brands’ con­tem­po­rary aes­thetic. One of her cur­rent fa­vorites, the In­side, of­fers a ser­vice sim­i­lar to Clare and Back­drop for up­hol­stery.

“I re­cently pur­chased a di­vider screen for my liv­ing room. I knew I wanted some­thing vel­vet,” Wil­liams said. “I could choose the struc­ture and fab­ric swatches from their li­brary.”

The on-de­mand fur­ni­ture com­pany started by DwellS­tu­dio founder Chris­tiane Lemieux de­liv­ers cus­tom-made prod­ucts to con­sumers within four weeks. Stay­ing nim­ble with in­ven­tory gives free­dom to re­act more quickly, pro­vid­ing cus­tomers with the lat­est looks at a lower cost — tak­ing a page from the “fast fash­ion” play­book.

“The pat­terns are speak­ing to trends,” Wil­liams said. “They un­der­stand the pulse, and the price points are fan­tas­tic.”

Wil­liams also serves as a brand am­bas­sador for the di­rect-to-con­sumer fur­ni­ture brand In­te­rior De­fine. She says the sleek, cus­tom-made fur­ni­ture has a dozen dif­fer­ent sofa and chair styles that can be cus­tom­ized by size, leg fin­ish and fab­ric. The com­pany has show­rooms in six cities, but the site is de­signed so you never have to visit one in per­son.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that most of these com­pa­nies are churn­ing out beau­ti­ful images to their In­sta­gram feeds faster than Ar­chi­tec­tural Di­gest can share its lat­est celebrity home spread. The In­side has racked up al­most 24,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, while In­te­rior De­fine boasts 122,000.

“These brands with big in­flu­ences of­fer trust for a cus­tomer,” Wil­liams said. “If your brand isn’t ac­tive and push­ing out beau­ti­ful im­agery, you al­most don’t ex­ist. We live in a cul­ture where we’re so ob­sessed with cre­at­ing con­tent and re­act­ing to it. Every­one’s a dec­o­ra­tor in their own right.”

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