Home furnishings sales are on the rise—and so are design-in-a-box startups. None have yet mastered the know-how of a decorator with the business model of a furniture store. Enter Hamlet. The brainchild of a Stanford Business School grad—who also happened to have spent some time working at One Kings Lane—the service is bringing new momentum to a digital design trend initially popularized by companies like Laurel & Wolf, Decorist, Havenly and Homepolish. How it works: Potential shoppers text the company and receive personalized design advice (yes, there are humans, not robots, on the other end of the line) based on their style and budget.
Britt Caputo, the brains behind Hamlet, says the idea formed in response to questions from friends: “Do you think I need a mirror here? Where is the best place to get an ottoman under $500?” (If Havenly is, say, a certified therapist, then Hamlet would be a good friend with a listening ear and unlimited smartphone data.)
As a furniture store/design service, Hamlet doesn’t carry inventory; its vendors handle the shipping, and it earns revenue by buying at cost (wholesale or trade) and selling at retail price. According to Caputo, the company “is a super lean team of three full-time with some advisory, freelance and part-time help,” including Director of Style and Content Lora Yoon Huh, formerly of Elle Decor, who runs the blog and oversees customer experience; and a buyer, also formerly of One Kings Lane.
Is the concept a furniture/decor store, or even a broker? “We’re very much a personalized store,” says Caputo. “We’ll recommend products for your budget and style, and if you like what you see, you can purchase it directly in your SMS conversation. We’ll send a receipt and shipping confirmation over email. We know that decorating is a journey, on which people furnish item by item, and we want to be part of each leg! Customers come back to us periodically. For example, they’ll buy a headboard and come back a few weeks (or even months) later for bedding.”
“When a customer texts in, she’ll go through about 30 seconds of automated messages so we can understand what she’s looking for, her budget, and her name,” explains Caputo. “We’re experimenting with adding in more automation, but we want to be mindful of preserving an excellent customer experience. To do that, I think it’s important to start talking to a human quickly.”
There are occasional exceptions, she says. “You'll get an automated message if you text in the middle of the night, or if we’re super tied up, but for the recommendations and opinions part, you’re talking to a home decor junkie who wants you to find the right piece.” Currently Yoon Huh is responding to incoming inquiries. Says Caputo, “We think it’s really cool that customers can talk directly to the brains behind gorgeous editorial!”