Home by Eleven Crashes into Reality.

A 54 Case Study

Does the furniture industry as we know it have a future?
We seriously doubt it.

Now, this is not some upstart opinion. It derives from more than 30 years of history, beginning when our founders—Burris, Creech and Tuttle at the time—started an advertising agency in High Point, North Carolina. Since then our company has worked with dozens of manufacturers and witnessed almost everyone move its manufacturing operations off-shore to cut costs and improve dwindling margins.

Today, the same companies continue losing market size year after year to consumer-facing brands such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Williams-Sonoma and IKEA.

Triangulation

Determining the Threshold for Innovation.

Our experience and curiosity led us to a lively discussion and, ultimately, to our own fictitious brand, Home by Eleven.

Did we expect Home by Eleven to create a buzz and generate curiosity from companies interested in moonshot thinking? We did. And a major multi-brand furniture manufacturer proved us right when they reached out with a challenge: Help us revive an 85-year-old brand that’s currently on life support.

Preparing for a triangulation meeting means identifying the right questions to spark up a meaningful conversation.

Our first meeting—an orchestrated affair we internally dubbed “triangulating their threshold for innovation”—revolved around a series of questions crafted to help us pinpoint the client’s limit for risk:

What happens to your existing brand? What will define “success” for the new brand? Who are you doing this for? Is it for consumers, retailers or shareholders? Where do you plan to price the new collection? What’s your moonshot?

We left the meeting with a specific assignment: Develop an all-new brand that will ultimately replace the existing company and propel us through the next 75 years.

Let’s Rewind

If You’re Not Familiar with Furniture Manufacturing and Distribution, Here’s a Crash Course.

Most of today’s furniture is sold through retailers who own the relationship with the consumer. There’s little brand loyalty—among retailers or consumers—and price (“40% off!”) is how a retailer typically positions his offering. Retailers control how the brand is presented, sold and delivered. More importantly, retailers have a difficult time building a relationship with consumers; the consumer buys when she wants or needs to update a space in the home, a sporadic frequency, at best.

Home by Eleven was conceived to disrupt this inertia, focus on the consumer and work back to the retailer. The 11 (that’s right, 11) Home by Eleven retail locations would feature 11 home environments, each fully accessorized with the most up-to-date looks and styles. If a customer wanted a full room (bed, dresser, rug, lamps and other accessories), great! If just a rug and lamp will do for now, that’s okay, too. Home by Eleven would be the one-stop destination for your entire home, not just certain items.

Our model was to create a meaningful relationship with the consumer, transitioning the buying decision from needs-only to wants. Hey, you don’t need the new Apple Watch. But because of the experiences you’ve had with other Apple products and the trusting relationship you’ve built with the brand, you want it.

An aside: The scene is Apple’s HQ, 1998. A frustrated Steve Jobs does not want to leave the company’s fate in the hands of Best Buy, CompUSA and the other big box stores that dominated computer sales at the time. He’s thinking “online store,” but there is push-back from his team:

The allure of the Home by Eleven shopping experience happens inside, but the exterior hints at the assured experience within.

He’d always dreamed that when he finally stopped working and after the kids grew up, he’d spend the day in their sitting room amidst at least a few shelves of the library of books — real books —and just pick up and read one after another. First this one and then that one, one thing leading to another.

“Why wait ’til I ‘retire’?” he asked his wife of 31 years. “A good staycation will do.”

So for a solid week, fueled by coffee in the morning, then a soup lunch, an afternoon oatmeal raisin cookie and right on through to the nightcap, it was Eudora Welty and Reynolds Price; Big Bill Shakespeare and Death of a Salesman; Hillary Mantel’s version of Thomas Cromwell, then Capote’s In Cold Blood. And more.

From the comfy, overstuffed chair to the napping sofa. At some point each day stretched out on that new rug she bought with a big ass pillow to prop up his head, then dangle his feet … then both, probably looking like a U-shaped human imitating a sagging high-wire. “Just stretching the old back,” he said to himself.

From morning’s light to starlight, what a week. Page turners and mental footnotes.

But, wait … a slammed door. The youngest is home for Fall Break. Week’s done.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

The Narrative

Our New Brand’s Reason for Being.

The opportunity for this new brand was clear to us: Address the traditional manufacturer/retailer friction; work with the retailer to create a real relationship with the consumer; and structure an all-new furniture company to align with how today’s consumers shop and live.

Consumer frustrations—with low price guarantees, delivery delays, damage and disappointment once the product is in the home—create, we believe, the opportunity for a furniture brand to stand out. Frustrations mar relationships with retailers, too. Cure the headaches, make furniture-buying more closely resemble the high-touch, stress-free experiences from companies like Amazon, Zappos and CarMax, and our new brand will have a distinctive, profitable and lasting place in the market. Because it will be the only one fulfilling a distinct brand promise to the trade and consumer.

We used real world examples to help illustrate our ideas. Why did Toyota introduce Lexus? What makes Ralph Lauren’s store within a store successful?

“How Serious Are You about Launching a New Brand that Turns Heads?”

Great product is important, we told our client, but it is not the only thing. It’s not even the most important thing. There’s great product everywhere. Instead, let’s build our brand on not one, but three pillars: Product, Presentation and Delivery. In each category our brand will represent a new standard for the industry. And we will codify the new standard with these public promises:

Furniture shoppers looking at our promises would give enthusiastic applause and say, "Whoa! It’s about time!” But for folks trapped by the inertia of the furniture industry, to make promises that would upset business as usual, well, that sends them scurrying to their fainting couches. And so it was with our client.

expedited shippingOur furniture will arrive within two weeks.

white glove deliveryWe will arrange white glove delivery so furniture is in perfect shape when it arrives.

no-hassle return policyConsumers will love their furniture in their home, or we will take it back.

earth-friendly and sustainableOur furniture will be made of earth-friendly finishes and sustainable materials sourced from all over the world.

lifetime warrantyOur furniture will offer the best warranty in the industry.

The Work

The Brands You Might Have Seen ... But Won’t.

Hanging a personality on a new brand is one of the more enjoyable parts of our job. We conceived dozens, presented five and had deep affection for two such brand personalities, offered here for your review. Had this particular client made the leap with us, you might have been falling in love with this brand next fall.

Hudson Harper

Furniture for modern living.

We come from a small town where furniture has been a way of life for generations. In a place like this, there will be people who etch themselves into local history for who they are or how they’ve lived. Hudson Harper is remembered for both. He was the most fair and ethical man many of us never knew, an uncompromising craftsman in his work, always stylish, yet always forward-thinking.

We believe these are values worth building a new furniture brand around.

Revolution Home

A modern approach to living.

What if a furniture company crafted products that exceeded consumers’ demand for quality, value and style?

What if a furniture company vowed to change the industry, buff out the burred edges that cause friction between manufacturers and retailers?

What if the weakest links in the distribution chain—shipping, delivery, customer service—became unique selling points?

It would be revolutionary.

The Epilogue

It Takes Courage to Change an Industry.

Apple could've left its fate in the hands of retailers. Or it could own the process—from manufacturing to distribution to support. We all know what happened ... Steve Jobs created the largest, most well-known brand in the world.

At some point the furniture industry is going to have to muster the nerve to recognize the change they fear is the very thing that is causing their slow demise.

Hey, are we disappointed we couldn't convince this particular client to take the leap? Of course we are. But that won't stop us from finding one who will.