These days, Mecox is an iconic home decor and garden stalwart. But the brand started simply, with its founder spotting a “For Lease” sign on the highway in Southampton, New York, 20 years ago. Mac Hoak, a former investment banker, founded his first shop, an outdoor-centric garden store, in the summer 1996. Today, he walks EAL through those early years and shares where Mecox is headed next.
What was your original inspiration for opening Mecox?
It was one of those things that if you thought about it too much, you wouldn’t do or shouldn’t do! I came with no background or no experience. It was an avocation, not anything professionally driven. I’d been in the banking world. A good friend and I left our jobs and were thinking about [creating] a Home Depot big box concept for the garden world. We spent almost a year talking to people, then one investor disappeared...and we fell on our face. But I was intrigued by this business. I’ve always been a garden freak, personally; my grandfather had gotten me into that as a kid.
I remember this clearly: driving down the highway in Southampton in February 1996. There was an old garden center with a big “For Lease” sign. I had the impulsive decision to do something small-scale, by myself. By the summertime, I wanted to have something in there. I scrambled, pulled it together, hired a couple local folks. It was much more garden oriented than it is today, very plant and outdoor-object driven.
The plants looked great, but what sold were the chairs, the furniture. So we got more pieces. All of a sudden, I tried an upholstered chair. By the end of the first full year, I sort of sensed that’s [where we were headed].
How has your mission evolved or changed?
We respond to the consumer and the designers. It has truly changed—we went from garden to French country casual to more sophisticated, and now it’s really an eclectic mix of midcentury to modern to occasional antique piece mixed in. What has stayed consistent is, other than the upholstered chair, everything is indoor-outdoor or has that feel—a lot of stone tops, wood that can be used in the patio but looks great in a nice dining room. It still has that casual elegance, it’s a garden home relaxed—lots more color than we did.
If you walk into our Dallas or Houston stores, we do a lot with local artists, with very contemporary art that explodes with color. We went from beige and boring to mixed, eclectic, colorful—that’s what the younger consumers seem to be interested in.
What projects or collaborations are you most excited about over the coming months?
Kicking off this summer, for our anniversary, we’ll be doing a lot of pop-ups, internally, with artists and craftsmen. Every store works with a furniture craftsman or an artist, so we’ll do in-store events for them. We’ll also do pop-ups with Christopher Spitzmiller—he set up his kiln in the back of his store the first summer we opened, creating his first lamps and plates. We’ll do something with him in East Hampton this summer [as well as with] Madeline Weinrib, and Figue [in conjunction with Voutsa].
We’ll do that across all seven stores over the next year, using the 20th as an opportunity to do a few new things.
What’s on the horizon for this next year?
A new website, and a new private label line, launching the first part of next year, with 45 mostly case good items across the spectrum of chest, buffet, console, bedside, side tables, coffee table pieces.
How do you feel about the design community’s response to Mecox?
The design community has been so loyal. They are our bread and butter, through good years and bad years. What’s so nice about most designers is they understand the furniture world is tough; there’s delays, mistakes, damage. The retail customer doesn’t get it but designers do.