Sofa e-retailer Interior Define shares how it turned its first struggling store into a success at IRCE.

When custom couch e-retailer Interior Define opened its first retail location in 2014, it wasn’t the successful venture the retailer was hoping for, said Rob Royer, chief executive officer at furniture reatiler Interior Define.

“We made some missteps in the early days,” Royer told attendees at the 2017 Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition last week.

Interior Define always knew it wanted to incorporate physical stores into its retail channels, but it took some trial and error to find a successful model for the e-retailer. Because each piece is custom and built for each shopper, the retailer doesn’t have a warehouse of products. Therefore, the retailer uses a Bonobos-style store, in which shoppers can view merchandise and order it online in the store, but can’t actually take the product home from the store. Most of the time, consumers don’t order in store, but go home and think before making a purchase, Royer said.

Turns out, store location is important. Although the Chicago neighborhood Interior Define initially chose was hip, opening under the elevated train tracks and next to a doggy day care was loud, Royer said.

Royer also realized that having his store set up in living room vignettes, with sofas, rugs, coffee tables, and other items, was confusing for shoppers because it only sold the large upholstered pieces and not the other accessories.

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“If you do launch a physical experience to augment online, it needs to make sense,” Royer said.

After receiving feedback from store shoppers and its sales team, in 2015 Interior Define decided to close its under-the-train location, and it opened a store in a different Chicago neighborhood on a street near other digital-first brands such as Bonobos (No. 232 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 1000), The Tie Bar (820), and Warby Parker (No. 189).

Besides the location and set-up of the store—Interior Define now only showcases products it sells—how the store incorporates technology and how the sales team works with it is also important, Royer said.

For example, on the website, a shopper can order free fabric swatches. At the end of ordering, the website connects the shopper with a sales team member. The pair can communicate online, or if the consumer is nearby to a store, the shopper is invited to come in to look at samples. Store associates also have tablets that they use to collect shopper information and get consumers familiar with shopping on the website.

This time around, things are going much better, Royer said—to the tune of total sales tripling year over year, Royer told Internet Retailer at IRCE. Royer couldn’t attribute a certain amount or percentage that a physical store boosts sales, but he is confident it’s working.

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The retailer launched another store, which it calls a “guide shop” in New York City last month, and it plans to open two more, one in Texas and one in California, by the end of the year, he said.

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