After a three-year effort to rebuild its collection of authentic modern design, furniture retailer Design Within Reach is enjoying a new, pristine reputation amongst designers and consumers alike thanks to the leadership of CEO and President John Edelman.
Edelman took over the ailing company in January 2009 and gave it a makeover, complete with lifestyle storytelling catalogs and stores with room environments. But most importantly, he brought authenticity to the forefront.
As a passionate collector of Midcentury modern furniture, it’s no surprise that Edelman’s first order of business at DWR was to eliminate knock-offs and reinstate original designs. His approach was to champion authenticity, and then find a way to make money. “The secret for us was to keep promoting the classics, then create the next classics,“ he said.
Another strategic move Edelman implemented was to embrace interior designers—a group which now represents over a quarter of DWR’s business. DWR’s new website includes behind-the-scenes videos and interviews with iconic designers.
For the first eight months on the job, Edelman commuted from Stamford, CT, to San Francisco, CA, before moving the company’s headquarters and 50% of the staff to Stamford. He also closed underperforming stores, taking the number from 72 down to 45. Currently, the company's strongest markets are the coasts, Texas, Chicago, and urban markets, though Edelman has his sights set on Canada and China for future store locations.
DWR's featured designers
Editor at Large chatted with Edelman about the changes he's made, his biggest challenges, and his personal passion for design.
EAL: You're a major collector of Milo Baughman and modern furniture design. Where did your passion begin?
JE: When I met my future wife, we started going to flea markets together in New York and that's where it started. We have made Milo Baughman a household name, in addition to new guys like Jeffrey Bernett.
EAL: How does DWR define modern?
JE: Modern for us is clean design without vanity. It is a timeless quality; it is not design for design’s sake. Everything is made to fit and function well. You can drop a true modern piece into almost any environment and it holds its own.
EAL: Is what’s old new again?
JE: We are making iconic design known and loved. It never went away, but people appreciate it now. People live in an eclectic manner. We do not deal in trend-driven concepts.
EAL: How do you market to DWR consumers?
JE: We educate and inspire them through our videos and descriptions, and hopefully they come to appreciate the craftsmanship and quality in what we offer. It is cheating the consumer to not educate them about a piece they are buying. It stops great design from moving forward. Invest in the real.
People are always drawn to the product, and then they are romanced by the story—and that creates value and longevity. It captivates the consumer. The investment is realized. Video and web go together to educate in a more immediate way. It is a nice connection to create.
DWR's recently added designers
EAL: How do you find new designers?
JE: It is the most difficult part of the job. When someone brings you a design, they love it. We have to love it too. You know right away if you love it or not. It has to work in tandem with the classics. It has to be at the same level of quality design and function.
EAL: What are some best sellers?
JE: Charles & Ray Eames, Milo Baughman, Nathan Yong, upholstery collections by Jeffery Bernett, and the Matera collection by Sean Yoo are all great sellers.
EAL: Do you market to the trade?
JE: We specifically market to the trade. Every designer who works in a store visits one residential design office a week. They are a huge portion of our business; we bring our ipads and educate them on what we can offer. We offer a pricing program as well. It has been a huge success. They support us and we support them.
EAL: What should people know about DWR that they might not?
JE: We do 3D renderings to show consumers what furnishings work where in their homes. We can sell a whole room of furniture or an entire house.
Written by Marisa Marcantonio