Haute Springs Eternal
Hautelook.com takes it outside
Susan Dickenson & Nicole Crews -- Casual Living, 7/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Online private-sale site hautelook.com now has more than 8 million members. The company, purchased by Nordstrom in 2011 (in a deal valued at $180 million), sells home, fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands and is followed by more than a half million fans on Facebook.
Kecia Hielscher, VP of Hautelook.com's Home division, estimates that home décor makes up about 60% of the site's total sales. Hielscher sat down with us at the High Point Market to talk about Hautelook, the "flash sale" concept and how this new channel is shaking up the home furnishings business.
CL: How is Hautelook.com doing?
KH: The vendor feedback that we've been getting, my whole team and myself, has been very positive. The business keeps growing and is projected to continue doing so. So that's all very exciting for us, and pretty wonderful!
CL: How did you get involved with the whole flash sale concept?
KH: I was at Williams-Sonoma for about 10 years, and Hautelook recruited me from there. At that time, about three and a half years ago, the concept was very new. So I talked to a few of my brands and asked what they thought of the idea - would they shop it, is it a viable business, etc. - and all of them were very positive. So I made the jump and was hired to start Home, the fourth category to come on as a vertical (in addition to Ready To Wear, Accessories and Kids). Basically, we went from 77 brand partners in 2009 to over 500 at this point, and are still counting. The fact that everyone wants to continue working with us because they see the potential in the growth of the business - as well as all these new vendors - is a wonderful testament to the business we've grown. I come from the direct-to consumer world, brick and mortar ... I've done all the channels. And this is one that is truly a new viable channel for retail.
CL: Who is your customer?
KH: We know that she's 35 years old, she's affluent, she likes great style and she wants great value. Now it's on us to create events that are exciting and fun to shop, and that she can't find at a great value anywhere else. It's also about finding those brands that layer into that matrix now, instead of just finding the brands like other sites do.
CL: How do you shop the market, and what kinds of things are you looking for?
KH: I'm looking for fresh, new and exciting. I don't want last year's items. Ready To Wear is a little bit of a different world - you want last season's first. Home is different. We're looking for the new stuff - the new cool thing, elaborate prints. We want to host events that can target those things, but also want them in shapes and styles that visually look good online. Color does very well, pops off the screen, is exciting to look at, even across sheeting in bedding and duvets. And some of the more impulse buys where I don't have to think about it as much and it's easy to ship. But, then, we also have an armoire that's going to obviously go white glove and be a little tougher to ship. Again, we offer great style at a great value, along with the excitement of the hunt.
CL: What percentage of HLK's business is outdoor?
KH: In 2011 outdoor was about 6% of the home business and YTD we have already doubled that number and expect outdoor to be about 19% of the home business this year.
CL: When did you get into the outdoor biz and how has it been for you?
KH: We got into the outdoor business in early 2011 and immediately saw our members respond to it, which clearly illustrated that we needed to expand the offering across the category and it continues to do very well for us given our California casual chic aesthetic and strong base in the South.
CL: What are your bestselling outdoor items in terms of category? Rugs? Outdoor Lighting? Deep Seating? Chaises? Grills? Dining?
KH: Furniture/deep seating is the bestselling category followed by tables and chairs.
CL: How do outdoor items differ from ready to wear and indoor furniture in terms of how you buy it, market it and sell it?
KH: Outdoor living items are a luxury and a considered purchase which requires space to house and store them versus smaller, more impulse items. We work diligently to make outdoor easy to shop on the site and educate our members about the quality they are getting at excellent values.
HAT: Have you had any supply, shipping or technical nightmares yet?
KH: Actually, it's all been pretty smooth. We do a lot of due diligence ahead of time and we communicate extremely well with our brands and buyers, before the event, during the event and after the event. We're in full communication with them so if there's any kind of last-minute change that could affect us, they tell us immediately. And we have an extremely strong operations team. They know what they're doing. They affect things in real time, so if we find out about an issue we address it right away. Our biggest thing is customer satisfaction, and we aren't going to let her down.
HAT: How much more do you discount your retail prices?
KH: It varies with the category. With home décor, we work hard on price and push our vendors pretty deep. We really want to offer the best value to our members. Personally, I buy things from our site because it really is good value. And I tell my friends that - if you're going to buy it, you can know that we worked hard to get you a good price.
HAT: Content marketing has become a big deal for some of your competitors. Is Hautelook building up an editorial component with any style writers or bloggers?
KH: Right now, we're focused on the customer experience. We want to stay true to who we are and what we started out being. Certainly we'll evolve to stay competitive, but with where we're headed, we want to make sure we stay laser-focused on: What are we picking? Are the styles fantastic? Are the values great? We do, however, provide great content in terms of full disclosure to make sure our customer is filled in 100% about the product.
HAT: Is there one vendor or category that sells out immediately?
KH: We definitely have our Top 10 vendors, actually it's Top 20 now, who we're very focused on. We can't share the names for obvious reasons, but we'll continue to develop those relationships.
HAT: How many buyers are with you?
KH: There are four of us here. We also shop Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York and a handful of small shows.
HAT: What do you like here in High Point so far?
KH: I love all the color. I just got back from one of our Top 10 guys and picked out some fabrics that were fantastic - fresh, new, different, fun and bright! It's nice to see people branching out with color - that they aren't afraid to pop in a hot pink ottoman. That's been the most fun so far.
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