TL;DR

  • Industry West sells furniture—online. Few furniture companies are digitally native, let alone bootstrapped.
  • Photography is a critical tool to helping the customer understand what they are getting.
  • Product descriptions are written by someone who lives and breathes furniture—and that’s obvious. Actually, the entire company is comprised of this type of person.

Meet Ian Leslie

  • CMO at Industry West (connect on LinkedIn and Twitter).
  • Industry West is now 10 years old. However, they run the business like a startup.
  • Ian does pretty much everything when it comes to marketing: digital marketing, owned media, working with the PR team (and the website fits in there too).
  • You know what’s inspiring? It’s seeing your furniture in public. Industry West’s furniture is everywhere. Oh, and he gets to work with some really cool people every day.
  • He’s guided the marketing arm of a company through a global pandemic (COVID-19, as we are all-to-familiar with). He did a great post about this on Medium. At the time of recording, Industry West was working with a group in Buffalo to make masks.

What sets Industry West apart?

In the furniture vertical, there are a literal bazillion brands. From manufacturers like Thomasville to retailers like Nebraska Furniture Mart all the way to the small-town furniture dealers, finding furniture is not a difficult task.

Industry West is different. Yes, it sounds cliche to say. Most of the participants in this category are focused on brick and mortar. Industry West is digitally native and just recently opened a store in SoHo. They are one of the first (if not the first) in this category to start online.

We are so meticulous about how pieces are presented to the customer.

Ian Leslie

Online furniture retailing is unique in that you have pay close attention to how products are presented. Photography takes center stage. Industry West has been meticulous showing products in a way that resonate with their customers.

Industry West also carries a large selection of inventory. This means that they can fulfill rush orders faster. If a restaurant needs new chairs quickly—they won’t have to wait for weeks. Yet, this carries the problem that inventory is money (but not in the bank). This is possible because Industry West is bootstrapped. Those that take venture capital are beholden to the investors and investors usually want quick profitable turn-arounds. Inventory on the shelf is not liquidity.

Industry West lives out a long-term vision for their company—and that is one reason they continue to see steady growth after 10 years in business.

The founders, Jordan and Anne, curate the Industry West catalog. Each piece has an incredible story.

It’s safe to agree that Industry West is different, so we are able to get an inside look as to how they approach marketing, their website and content development in a different way.

May I introduce to you… the furniture:

This furniture is for a specific segment of the market (we talked about this in Episode #10, regarding who is this product for?). Oftentimes, a number of furniture brands will co-exist under the same roof. Industry West has fortified their position with how the product is presented. They also describe the product in intricate detail: type of wood, finish, fabric, etc.

It’s hard to understate how important the photography is.

Ian Leslie

They also work to get the pieces into their applicable context. This represents more money as locations need to be scouted, product shipped, photographers scheduled, etc. One thing that Industry West has been successful with is crowdsourcing pictures. This allows them to make use of the value that others are generating.

This is why they launched a store in SoHo so that customers can come and touch and feel the product.

How COVID-19 is affecting the furniture market.

Ian quotes an influencer: “a successful startup in 2019 is all about having a great PR team and all the influencer marketing.” But, in 2020 “is all about being profitable.” At the end of the day, being profitable is the key word as businesses must make money to survive.

Industry West is bootstrapped—they are their own shareholders. While some could view this as taking the pressure off and no motivation to grow, this couldn’t be further from the truth. They don’t have external negative pressure from investors. Instead, they have the natural and intrinsic positive motivation to do better and to help their customers in the right way. (I’m not saying that venture capital is all bad, but it does carry strings with it that are often not realized until it is too late)

We put daily, weekly, monthly pressures on ourselves for sustainable growth with profitability.

Ian Leslie

We find many examples (Peleton, Uber, WeWork) of amazing unicorns that are burning money faster than almost anyone can imagine.

Ian makes the good point that having $5,000,000 to spend on marketing might help them to make more sales, but this would not be profitable.

Instead, they focus on what is the ROI for this dollar that we spend? Ian is dead-set on ensuring that the money is spent is attributable to revenue back in the door.

This type of attitude makes you more cautious with how you spend. This is, like most things in business, a constant balancing act.

In this type of a company, everyone has to be in a startup mode. Everyone has to be capable of doing everything. Everything is customer facing—even the founder is on the website’s chat when needed. Everyone is focused on making the customer happy.

The furniture vertical as a whole.

Selling shirts, watches or shoes is a lot easier than selling furniture.

Think shipping.

There is much investment in this market to the last mile fulfillment. Industry West’s primary distribution center is in Florida. How do they balance additional costs with getting product to their customers faster?

Think customer research.

People research products they buy online—especially big-ticket items like… furniture! The idea of buying a piece of furniture online, sight-unseen, is still pretty new.

Think old school.

In the furniture arena, there are still procurement teams who will go to the website, and all but place the order—then emailing a screenshot to one of Industry West’s sales reps. The reason, here, is that these home and commercial designers are sitting down with their clients and want to show them the pictures.

But what about the latest + greatest: augmented reality?

Ian says that few people are using it (I, Joseph, certainly don’t). It’s still too much of an abstraction from the real world as we try to visualize this beautiful piece of furniture in our living room—but on our iPhone screen.

Instead, Industry West photographs all of their products on white backgrounds and this allows for their customers to visualize what this will look like. They strive to photograph products authentically instead of dropping them into varying scenes where they “cut and paste” in the piece of furniture. For some reason, our minds quickly spot things that are not genuine.

If I had a choice of augmented reality or adding two more pay gateways, adding Amazon Pay and Apple Pay, I’m going to go with the thing that makes conversion easier.

Ian Leslie

This is not to say that augmented reality is less than ideal in all markets. But, for some, it is better to focus on customer experience and less on flashy widgets that may have little attributable effect on conversion rates. At the end of the day, better conversion rates lead to better profit and that is a sign of a healthy business. Remember, no one has unlimited money, so we must spend our money wisely.

Product descriptions

Industry West has outstanding product descriptions. Here’s one:

As a celebration of his life's work, The Prouvé Standard Chair serves as a humble nod to the iconographic French modernist Jean Prouvé. The community surrounding modern furniture design frequently pays homage to the pioneers that have come before, helping shape the world we now live in. When it comes to significant figures in design who's influences are still felt today, Industry West acknowledges the impact of people such as Jean Prouvé. A sleek and sophisticated dining chair that fits right in at home or an upscale restaurant, The Prouvé Standard Chair, just like its namesake, has a particular je ne sais quoi making it a contemporary solution for any space. This Jean Prouvé style chair features a sleek steel frame and veneer seating surfaces which are scuff and scratch resistant for high traffic usage.

This dining chair is available in many finishes and color combinations including black on walnut, indigo on white, oak on gunmetal, peppermint on walnut, gunmetal on walnut, white on walnut, blue pastel, white, or black. For the finest selection of mid-century, modern, and industrial style furniture, be sure to peruse our line of dining chairslounge chairsoutdoor chairs, and much, much more. 

Source: Prouve Standard Chair

One thing to notice is their strong intra-site linking (dining chairs, lounge chairs and outdoor chairs). This guides customers into other areas of the website instead of seeing this product and then bouncing to another website if this isn’t exactly perfect.

Emily, at Industry West, creates the descriptions. She lives and loves and breathes the pieces (actual quote). This is evident and shines through. This is not a limited example of Industry West—in fact all of Industry West’s employees speak this way about the furniture in general as they are passionate about beautiful pieces of furniture making spaces beautiful. It’s the Peterman Catalog effect.

Yotpo for reviews

Industry West is on Magento 2. While Magento does have native review functionality built-in, it’s not necessarily full-featured. Their Yotpo integration is custom-built. The content that this implementation generates on their site is helpful.

Ian says that Yotpo has been a great partner for Industry West.

They have a gallery on the home page, and galleries on the product display pages (PDPs). Reviews are also shown on the PDPs and the PLPs (product list pages).

Content strategy

Ad revenues have been shifting away from Google and toward Facebook + Instagram (key point: don’t always assume that every channel remains as effective as it used to be). They are starting on a… wait for it… podcast!

Affiliate marketing has grown quite a little. They have seen that instead of paying Google the “commission” in the form of Adwords, affiliate marketing pays the commissions to content creators all over the world.

How Industry West has worked through COVID-19

Even though sales have dropped (as with for most online retailers), the cost for acquisition has been in sync. This has been a compensating factor, albeit in the grand scheme of things, still small.

Yet, through this, Industry West remains strong and is faithful to their brand.

On the other side of things, Favor, Industry West’s sister brand, is up significantly. People are refocusing their discretionary dollars on smaller expenditures that still brighten up their space. In fact, to demonstrate how Industry West + Favor still act like a startup: they ran out of boxes; but that wasn’t a problem because their people hand-painted watercolors on the boxes.

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