As 2020 dawned, Rob Royer, the founder of the six-year old digitally-native custom furniture company Interior Define, had set his company for the next phase of growth.
With business tripling year-over-year for the past three years, his scrappy little company was ready to go corporate after opening seven physical Guideshop retail locations with more planned.
Guideshops proved essential to the company’s stunning growth since many customers needed handholding through the custom design process, despite the many online tools available to guide them through the process.
So in 2019, Royer assumed the chairman’s role and brought in three new senior executives, including Antonio Nieves as CEO from ModCloth.
Plans were set to grow even faster in 2020, then everything went sideways with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Guideshops, which were vital to its growth, were forced to close.
Not about to let this stand in the way, the resilient company pivoted to offering even more personalized customer services, bringing the Guideshop virtual furniture design experience into customers’ homes.
What started as a quick-fix to tide the business over until things could get back to normal has turned into a new dynamic selling strategy that is here to stay.
“We’re democratizing the traditional interior design business,” says Jill John, chief customer officer, another senior executive hire who came over from Williams Sonoma. Now the company offers personalized in-home interior design services without the traditional interior design price tag.
BC (before Covid) customers had three ways to customize their furniture: do it online, be guided by a Design Specialist working remotely or visit a Guideshop to work side-by-side with one. Now they’ve added a fourth – in-home design services – which wouldn’t have happened without the disruption caused by the pandemic.
Throughout its short life, Interior Define learned early that while customers craved customized furniture, the process wasn’t as easy as one-two-three. A whole lot of decisions go into designing just the right sofa or chair that works perfectly in a person’s home. They needed the help of a specialist to guide them through the process.
Guideshops filled the billed, being strategically positioned where its online customers were located, first in hometown Chicago then onto Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Austin.
Without Covid, continued retail expansion was the plan, then suddenly it wasn’t.
When corporate plans go off the rails
Tasked with how to bridge the gap during the forced Guideshop closures when demand for its furniture was going through the roof, John turned to the results of a consumer survey to find the answer.
Customers wanted even more personalized design services that reflected their local design aesthetic. Taking the Guideshop’s personal design service into customers’ homes was the natural transition and what the company calls its E-Guideshop concept was born.
“We’ve always been first and foremost a digitally-native brand; that was our ‘MO,’” John shares. “Then we realized we needed to couple the online experience with the offline one, so we opened stores. We already had a team of design specialists to support our online customers, since nearly 50% of our customers aren’t in physical locations. With Covid we saw demand for local personalized service was growing and growing. We found an easy transition with our E-Guideshop model.”
As the existing Guideshop design specialists began to offer in-home visits, along with scheduled in-store appointments during the closures, the company selected three cities – Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver – to test offering personalized design services unbound to a retail location.
These local E-Guideshop design specialists work out of their home office and virtually take the Guideshop into customers’ homes. “Our survey found people were actually more comfortable with us coming into their homes, then coming back into the stores,” John relates. “Our customers liked what we were doing virtually. They just wanted more of it on a local basis.”
Currently Interior Defines has 30 design specialists on board, some working out of Guideshops and others working from their home offices.
The new E-Guideshop staffers without the physical store locations where people can come in and touch, see and sit in the furniture have an extra burden to overcome, but by carefully hiring the right people and training them properly to use the many available online tools, they have been able successful.
Four more cities are slated to offer E-Guideshop services before years’ end – Seattle, Raleigh, Minneapolis and Miami.
Turning lemons into lemonade
Without the pandemic disruption, the company likely would have continued on its established growth plan based upon physical locations. Forced to find another path, bringing the Guideshop experience into the home offers even greater opportunities for the company.
Once a customer’s door is open to a trained interior designer with strong selling skills, the company is well on its way to selling more than a sofa or chair. It can own the whole living room, which is the goal that founder Royer and new CEO Nieves have set.
By the end of the year, Interior Define will have as many E-Guideshop cities offering in-home services as it has physical locations, doubling its reach, but more than doubling its growth potential, with minimal investment or capital expenditure.
Already, it’s seen average order value up 40% and conversions 20% higher when a design specialist works directly with the customer. With the added team of E-Guideshop specialists visiting people’s homes, those results are bound to be even better and corporate profitability along with it.
“This new model gives us the opportunity to assess the viability of a local market,” John concludes. “So if we eventually open brick-and-mortar stores in those areas, we will already have created buzz with a clienteling base, so the velocity with which we are able to open will be that much greater.”