Pottery Barn heads down under
US home and kitchenwear retailer Williams-Sonoma has arrived. Last week it opened Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and West Elm stores adjacent to Westfield's Bondi Junction shopping centre. Jason Prowd joined the throng a couple of days after opening to see what it had to offer.
$5bn US home and kitchenwear retailer Williams-Sonoma has arrived. Friends' Rachel would be happy. Last week it opened Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma and West Elm stores adjacent to Westfield's Bondi Junction shopping centre, no doubt sneakily saving on rent.
These are the company's first stores outside North America. I joined the throng a couple of days after opening to see what it had to offer. Here's what I learned.
1. Service matters
As I entered homewear retailer Pottery Barn I was greeted by a cheery gent who offered me a basket and a catalogue. The store was packed but I was easily able to find a helpful staff member who was able to point me towards glasswear. Again at the counter, staff were friendly and engaging, and quickly jotted down my details for future marketing purposes. They also offer a free in-home style consultancy service.
US staff are currently on hand to train up locals. This meant customer service was sharp on day one.
It's a smart strategy. If you're going to compete in a heavily saturated retail market you have to offer something different and better than your competitors. And if the US does one thing better than us Aussies, it's service.
2. Add a bit of theatre
Kitchenwear retailer Williams-Sonoma adds theatre to service. It has a fully functioning kitchen where an in-house chef offers cooking demonstrations and classes. Again it's a smart idea to make Williams-Sonoma something more than just another kitchenwear store and it encourages repeat visits.
3. Stay on message
Brands work when they remain focused. This helps consumers know what to expect. That's why I've criticised brand extensions before. Take a brand into too many new categories and it can leave customers confused. Williams-Sonoma (the corporation) circumvented this issue by buying and launching separate brands. Pottery Barn and West Elm effectively sell the same stock but targeted at a different audience. Williams-Sonoma is clearly focused on the kitchen. The company is more successful because of this approach.
4. Wow, it's expensive in Oz
We all know retail prices in Oz are high. Here's proof. Williams-Sonoma Bondi Junction sells a five-piece Wusthof knife set for $529.95, the same product sells for US$149.95 via Williams-Sonoma in the US. There are legitimate reasons for part of the price difference: Australian wages are higher, as are rents. But it highlights how tough it is to run a traditional bricks and mortar store in this country against online and overseas operators.
5. What's missing?
For all that I liked, I was surprised by a few omissions.
For a business that generates ~45% of its sales from catalogues or online there was surprisingly little integration with online channels instore. There wasn't a QR code or interactive screen to be seen.
I wonder how much of that is designed to make you focus on the store, the service and the ambiance while you're in there, rather than the money you could be saving if you shopped online. To be honest, I'm not sure. What do others think?
All up William-Sonoma, West Elm and Pottery Barn look to be formidable competitors for local incumbents. Pottery Barn in particular is a much loved brand that offers equal or better service than the local competitors. They will, of course, face the same general threats that worry all Aussie retailers but in an industry where only the strong survive Williams-Somona is better placed that most.
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