retail watch | Oct 5, 2023 |
Wisteria gets its groove back—and its catalog too

Building a retail brand is hard enough. Trying to rebuild one is even tougher.

So, the reemergence of Wisteria, the fan-favorite furniture, decor and decorative accessories direct-to-consumer brand that had fallen on hard times is, while still a work in progress, an encouraging one. This fall, Wisteria, now under new ownership and management, dropped its first new catalog since the Atlanta-based brand was revived in March 2021 as it seeks to regain its position as a go-to resource for its global-inspired “timeless living” approach to decorating.

In launching the catalog—still considered a test, but the first of several drops planned for the fourth quarter—“we wanted people who remembered us to look at it and say nothing has changed,” says CEO Shelley Nandkeolyar, who co-owns and runs the brand with Dominic Rispoli. (Nandkeolyar is focused on merchandising, while Rispoli oversees operations and finance.) “We wanted to be true to what made the brand thrive in the past.”

The returning catalog does just that. At 28 pages, it mixes in stalwarts from Wisteria’s past life—including classic and vintage-inspired upholstery and case goods, stylish bedroom textiles and lighting—along with new additions including burl-wood accent furniture and a Wisteria Blue collection of occasional pieces. Although furniture-centric for the initial book, catalogs closer to the holiday season will feature more home decor and accessories.

Anyone picking up the new catalog who remembers Wisteria will find a familiar assortment. Founded in 2001 by design industry couple Shannon and Andrew Newsom, the brand began as a successful direct-to-consumer business that eventually included three stores in the Newsoms’ native Texas. In 2018, they sold the company to U.K.–based furnishings brand Oka, which itself had started on the catalog side but was slowly building out its physical store network, including one in Dallas. Oka had big plans for the Wisteria brand, but Covid changed everything: In 2020, just as the pandemic was creating havoc for retailing, Oka shut it down.

Enter Rispoli and Nandkeolyar, who knew each other through an earlier non-design-related business venture but were on the lookout for something new. Rispoli came from the investment banking world and had worked with furniture brands like Baker and McGuire, while Nandkeolyar had held senior positions with several big retailers, including Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma and Martha Stewart. Wisteria seemed to be a good fit for the duo, and they bought the assets in late 2020 and relaunched it the following spring.

There was much to be done, including reviving the company’s design portfolio while layering in new merchandise, reestablishing its sourcing network and building out a fulfillment system, which is now handled by a third party. Stores, they agreed, would have to wait, and as of now there are no solid plans to get back into physical retail. The two also wanted to add a to-the-trade interior designer program, which was launched a year ago and now represents a mid- to high-teen percentage of its overall business.

And how big is that business? Neither partner will say, but they will tell you business in 2022 tripled over the year before, and if things continue as they have, they see double-digit growth over that for 2023. Eventually, Rispoli says, “We think the brand has the potential to be in the $100 million range.”

That goal is still somewhat in the distance, and for now, they are pleased with their progress. “One of the first things we said when we took over was that we didn’t want to veer too far from what made Wisteria successful,” adds Rispoli.

With Wisteria’s mix of signature pieces and new additions, it’s safe to say the business partners wrote the opening page of the catalog themselves: “From the classic to the bohemian, Wisteria’s latest catalog heralds a new chapter.”

Homepage image: An outdoor vignette from Wisteria’s latest collection | Courtesy of Wisteria

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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