Formula for success
Jennifer Negley, editor-in-chief -- Home Textiles Today, 9/10/2001 12:00:00 AM
If you're selling a whole bunch of quilts these days, you might want to thank Pottery Barn for pointing the way.
I don't mean pointing the way for home textiles producers; I mean pointing the way for consumers.
Pottery Barn may well be the current era's great unheralded arbiter for the home in terms of taste, trends and comfort level.
It has standing among women who shop at Sears as well as women who shop at Nordstrom. Its appeal extends to urban singles, country nesters and family raisers. I popped into a local Pottery Barn store one evening last weekend to find myself cruising among an eclectic array of shoppers who ranged from early twenty-something hipsters to middle-aged couples.
The rather bizarre element in this influence is that Pottery Barn never slavishly chases The Next Hot Thing. If and where it is taking its cues from ready-to-wear, it seems to be doing so very discretely.
As a purveyor of directional merchandising, it's fairly low-key. Pottery Barn peddles sensible good taste, freshness, and, perhaps most important, products with livability.
Obviously, it's proven to be a powerful formula. Pottery Barn was the biggest revenue producer in the Williams-Sonoma stable last year, with sales up 33.8 percent. Growth in the Pottery Barn direct-to-consumer segment alone — which includes Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids launched in 1999 and Pottery Barn Bed+Bath catalogs and potterybarn.com — grew 47.2 percent.
Even during Williams-Sonoma's recently unsettled second quarter when corporate profits declined 73 percent (beating analysts estimates, by the way), the company's overall direct-to-consumer business grew 15.4 percent, driven primarily by Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids.
And it's no small trick to grow a brand franchise in the midst of a consumer spending slow-down — particularly during one that has seem consumers shift decidedly toward the discount sector.
Of course, that didn't happen by accident. Last year, the entire Williams-Sonoma company reorganized its management around a "brand-centric" model to bring better focus to merchandising development and to create more cohesive marketing across its considerable slate of business channels.
The concept is on track to open a net of 10 new Pottery Barn stores (ending the year with 146 units), and 19 Pottery Barn Kids (ending the year with 27 stores). It has already launched a gift registry in Pottery Barn stores and potterybarn.com, as well as launching a website earlier this summer for Pottery Barn Kids, along an infants and kids gift registry shortly thereafter.
That's a fair example of chugging along in the face of a less-than-welcoming spending environment.
The fact that virtually all product in the Pottery Barn assortment is proprietary may do little to warm vendors in a cold economic climate. But the model does prove that consumers will buy what they perceive to be well-developed product at a fair price, and that they won't shy from fashion that meets their taste and comfort levels.
In that sense, Pottery Barn once again points the way.
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