Lessons Learned from the Incoming Residential Players

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by Amanda Schneider

New players have entered the contract interiors game: distributors with high-end finishes featuring a comfortable, welcoming, respitality aesthetic. Brands are taking many of the leading trends we've been talking about since NeoCon and collectively offering them through an established channel with an amazing customer buying experience — and it's not who you'd expect. We're talking about established residential brands previously exalted for their work in their own market, powerfully taking a stance in the contract interiors sector.

Experts agree the contract interiors industry has witnessed more change in the past five years than it has in the past 30. One of the most intriguing changes we're starting to witness is the growth of consumer brands into the contract interiors industry. What was once a niche market is being infiltrated by many — dare we say “household”? — brands. Perhaps this growth is a response to the increasing demand for respitality design that focuses on incorporating pieces and principles from home and hospitality spaces, or maybe it's a response to the changing market as brands across the industry, holistically, look for ways to better capture a larger piece of the market share. Regardless of the drive, these brands are paving the way for a tectonic shift in the contract interiors industry and illustrating the need to adapt to the real changes we face today.

Here's how and why.

Transitioning downturn into opportunity for growth

When Crate and Barrel recognized a rapid increase in furniture sales for corporate clients, the company turned it into an opportunity for growth. Crate and Barrel started 55 years ago as a lifestyle brand offering high-quality products with exclusive designs for the residential sector. Through the years the company, along with its sister brand, CB2, has become well-known as a go-to for corporate gifting. Corporations would select from the company's assortment of gifts and housewares as incentives, year-end or goal reaching gifts for their employees.

After growing organically for more than 20 years, the company's corporate gifting department saw a shift in purchasing activity. The company began to see an increase in corporate purchasing of furniture. “Over the past five years, we saw more furniture sales for hospitality, corporate offices and other unique spaces that demanded a different type of product,” said Michael Chaney, director of business sales for Crate and Barrel and CB2. “Customers would ask if a residential product of ours was commercially tested, and when it wasn't, they still wanted to purchase it because our furniture offered the aesthetic they couldn't find in a typical commercial piece. This realization helped us accelerate our strategy of creating products and processes better suited for the business customer.”

Viewing customers in a new light

Chaney shared that a significant shift for the company was its perspective on raising corporate awareness through traditional residential customers. “Every one of our customers has a connection to the business community, whether they work for a business or own one, so each customer has the potential to be a business sales customer,” he said. “Business sales typically require an amplified level of service. So we've created a special experience unique to the needs of that type of sale, including a single point of contact from quotation through delivery, 3-D design technology, order consolidation and a variety of delivery options. We are also rolling out a business sales program that will allow a corporate customer to go into any Crate and Barrel or CB2 location and get service for their business needs. And like a customer coming to us for their home, a customer purchasing from us for their business has the potential to become a repeat customer.”