The first day the official Lulu and Georgia website launched in 2012, selling products like woven rugs and boucle chairs, it crashed from too much traffic. Although the direct-to-consumer e-commerce home decor brand built up demand before the launch through influencers and designers, CEO and founder Sara Sugarman was still surprised by the deluge. “I felt really helpless, and there was no one to turn to because I had no partners or employees,” Sugarman tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “It was such a metaphor of things to come, of just being thrown into the business and realizing that you have to persevere and figure it out—that’s how it still feels today sometimes.”
Sugarman wasn’t exactly “thrown” into the design industry; she was born into it. In 1955, her grandfather started Decorative Carpets, a to-the-trade rug showroom in West Hollywood that was eventually passed down to her father. After a brief detour in publishing as a post-college graduate in New York, Sugarman returned to her hometown of Los Angeles to join the family firm. By day, she managed the showroom and salespeople; by night, she pursued an e-commerce side hustle that would later become Lulu and Georgia.
The company, named after Sugarman’s father and grandfather, was born out of the demand for online shopping after the 2008 recession. Sugarman noticed that the industry was changing and used the opportunity as an experiment to see how an internet-based brand would perform. It was a success, and Sugarman turned her side hustle into a booming business, with around 110 employees today. She wants to keep growing it, but not into a fleet of stores. “The focus for us has always been online, and there’s so much growth potential there,” says Sugarman. “When you start dipping into this omnichannel approach, the e-commerce focus becomes watered down, and it’s challenging to make a store inspiring.”
As she scales Lulu and Georgia, Sugarman is hoping to keep up the entrepreneurial energy of the early days. “I still feel like the small underdog even though I know we are far away from that moment,” she says. “I’d love to maintain that scrappiness as we get larger, because that scrappiness is perseverance—it’s an entrepreneurial mindset. It’s a passion that I think that you lose in these large corporations.”
Elsewhere on the podcast, Sugarman discusses how having children helped her develop a clear business strategy and solidify her role as a CEO, and why Lulu and Georgia’s biggest challenge is keeping up with the ever-changing e-commerce landscape.
The Thursday Show
Meanwhile, on the latest episode of The Thursday Show, Scully and BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus break down the latest news in the design industry, from Tiffany and Co.’s new headquarters to the AI interior design gold rush. Later, former House Beautiful editor in chief Sophie Donelson chats about her new book, Uncommon Kitchens.