podcast | Jun 3, 2024 |
Verellen’s secret weapon? Treating customers like guests

Growing up in Antwerp, Tom Verellen wanted to be a firefighter. Little did he know that his future furniture company’s first location would be inside an old fire station. After Verellen left college during his second year, his uncle offered him a position at his wallpaper company, Arte. The job was in Belgium, but he eventually convinced his uncle to open up a U.S. branch of the company—a job that took him to Ohio to set up a distribution system, including a network of sales reps and showrooms. Still, the entrepreneur was restless. “It got a little bit stale and boring for my taste, and it felt like a small sandbox. I was like, ‘I want to do something else. I want to apply this beautiful fabric,’” he tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “My uncle and his partner owned Arte USA together with me, and since they didn’t want to venture out and start adding a lot of furniture and accessories, I asked him to buy me out.”

Seeking fertile ground for a new furniture venture, Verellen headed to High Point, North Carolina, in the summer of 1999. There, he stumbled upon an old firehouse, rented it and started his company—then called The Home Collection, now known as Verellen. From the beginning, atmosphere was essential to the ethos: “We had fires going inside and out, and people stopped in and hung out, and we shared a great Belgian beer and a glass of wine with them and just made it very hospitable,” he says.

A lot has changed in the industry since the business launched, and now designers, who used to be scarce at High Point, are key to the future of the company. Verellen even started a concierge service to help walk designers through the large line during their first few orders, as well as developing more digital configurations of the customizable furniture possibilities. “You have to think outside the box, right? You have to make it exciting for when your crew has time for an appointment and somebody’s willing to give you an hour or two at a time—you better wow them and have them at hello,” says Verellen. “Everybody’s so busy, and nobody really wants to see anybody unless you have something really exciting to share, and I think that’s what we aim for and try to do better every time.”

Crucial insight: When beginning his company, Verellen didn’t know the first thing about making furniture. Surrounding himself with people who knew better and could teach him was the key to his success. “Don’t be the smartest guy in the room, because you’re not. You’re just not,” he says. “That’s an innate thing about people—they want to teach and share knowledge. So I looked, learned and applied.”

Key quote: “You make people feel comfortable when you make them feel they’re a part of something they didn’t think they would be part of. It becomes a jovial bond, and you kind of become brothers and sisters from day one. You gain a friend before you gain a customer.”

This episode is sponsored by Loloi. Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The Thursday Show

BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus and host Dennis Scully discuss the biggest news in the design industry, including a deep dive into the world of design newsletters, a cyberattack on Christie’s, and Elle Decor’s new A-List. Later, upholsterer Grant Trick joins the show to discuss a new partnership.

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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