A short seven months after Wayfair acquired DwellStudio and appointed Christiane Lemieux’s executive creative director, the company is debuting Birch Lane an online retailer that aims to bring a “fresh” perspective on traditional furniture at an attainable price point. The brand debuted last week with a selection of furniture, lighting, rugs, drapery, bedding, tabletop and décor.
This reporter talked with Meredith Mahoney, General Manager of Merchandising and Lifestyle Brands for Wayfair, and Lemieux, who shared their experiences and what it was like building a brand from scratch.
Why the name Birch Lane?
Mahoney: We think the name Birch Lane perfectly captures the aesthetic and feel of the company. Birch trees are quintessentially American, and bring forth a calming feeling that’s reminiscent of relaxing in a soothing space—like the woods. “Lane” connects the brand to the home.
How did building Birch Lane compare to DwellStudio?
Lemieux: I built DwellStudio from scratch and completely on my own. With Birch Lane, I had the tremendous platform that Wayfair offers—all of the deep industry data and teams of people with expertise in every aspect of the retail experience. It was a very different situation. The creation of Birch Lane was an opportunity for me to take everything I have learned along the way and my values around quality and design to a much, much broader audience. Not everyone can afford a DwellStudio sofa yet there should be options in the marketplace where more people can access quality design and beautifully considered collections. I love setting style trends and pioneering innovative design, but if you truly believe in the importance of home furnishings and creating beautiful interiors, it feels really great to extend that reach and make design more accessible to everyone. I think this is just the beginning of what we can do at Wayfair, and I am so excited to get started.
What was it like to create an entire brand from scratch in such a short time?
Mahoney: It was fast and furious. At Wayfair, we don’t waste time getting started on anything and we have such a forward-thinking and hard-working team. This allows us to conceive, create and launch a great brand in what’s considered a very short amount of time.
What were the parameters and where did you begin?
Lemieux: My talented colleague John Mulliken, the head of Strategic Initiatives at Wayfair, had the vision for this brand. Drawing upon 10+ years of data and insight from Wayfair, we recognized a high demand for traditional design. We could see that customers who were looking at traditional furnishings spent more time on site and spent more per order. We also saw that there were very few options for shoppers seeking classic styles at attainable price points, so we knew that we wanted to address that gap in the market. Once we had identified the market and customer, I worked closely with Meredith to bring all of our customer demand, search, pins and data to life in this collection. As a team, we drove the creative execution of the product, catalog and web site.
How did you come up with the aesthetic?
Mahoney: Birch Lane addresses a unique position in the marketplace by offering classic style and design at an attainable price point. We’re presenting beautifully merchandised collections for homes in this aesthetic for the broader market. We were informed by more than a decade of customer data and feedback across our brands. We looked closely at the styles and items that are most in demand and the interiors that shoppers are pinning, liking and sharing on social media. Very often we see customers engaging heavily in social activity around items, adding them to their carts and not checking out—and when we’ve spoken with them the most common reason they don’t actually buy an item they love is because of the price.
How did you think about the "classic style" and traditional aesthetic?
Lemieux: It started with a strong understanding of our customers, what they are looking for, and what classic style means to them. Birch Lane customers know what they like. They are nesters, hosts, connectors, and friends. They are thoughtful, not impulsive. They can appreciate many styles but choose to be traditional with a twist, because it’s lasting and fresh. We wanted to create a look that evokes the comfort and joy of catching up with family and old friends by offering quality pieces that stand the test of time, but with the right amount of forward-thinking pieces.
Why was Wayfair well positioned to spin off a furniture brand?
Mahoney: Wayfair has developed a great relationship with suppliers over the past 10+ years since launching in 2002. These established relationships, combined with Wayfair’s advanced supply chain and logistics network, allowed the company to develop a very cohesive lifestyle brand in a short period of time.
What was the most challenging part?
Lemieux: It was a very worthwhile challenge to switch gears from transitional modern to a kind of twisted traditional. I happen to love all types of design. What made this an incredibly rewarding venture to me was the quality value equation we are able to meet for the price point. For $1200 dollars we are able to bring a fabulous upholstered sofa made in North Carolina to our customer. It’s beautiful, thoughtfully designed and executed, and an amazing value—and the same goes for the entire Birch Lane collection.
How will Birch Lane relate to Wayfair?
Mahoney: We’re offering the vast majority of the Birch Lane collection both on birchlane.com and on wayfair.com—because it allows us to expose the collection to a very broad audience very rapidly. We’re lucky to have the kind of distribution that most other lifestyle retailers envy, and we’ve developed it in collaboration with our best supplier partners. Behind the scenes, there is a strong connection to Wayfair through shared resources, shared suppliers and the same general supply chain and logistics network.
Can we expect other new companies to spin off of Wayfair in the future?
Mahoney: As we see unmet demand and opportunities in the home marketplace where we can deliver a unique value proposition to shoppers, we plan to roll out new lines and collections.