Dillard's Looks for A Face in the Crowd

By Allison Zisko

Dillard's has a new vision for its home department and a unique way to implement it.

It has opted to crowd-source its newest home design project, and is inviting the public to weigh in on what looks it would most like to see on shelves in the spring.

"We were looking for something that would draw people back into the Dillard's home department, to make them take another look," said Betsy Parkinson, Dillard's creative director who oversees home, accessories and apparel. The department store's home department had a one-note approach to design, according to Parkinson, and was more product-driven than lifestyle driven. In many other parts of the store, such as apparel, consumers have a wide range of design options to choose from, enabling them to easily change their look. The home department needed the same strategy, Parkinson said.

"We have the opportunity to service multiple customers in one store," she said. "We can be multiple lifestyles in one store." There is enough room under one roof to offer something for the classic customer, something for the contemporary customer, something for the young, eclectic customer, Parkinson said. "We see that as an opportunity for Dillard's."

A new partnership with Red Clay, a crowd-sourcing design firm, paves the way.

Red Clay is a one-year-old, five-person firm based in both San Francisco and Bentonville, Ark. Founder Abigail Kiefer, a former urban planner for the city of San Francisco, originally conceived of the company as a home decor supplier, but quickly switched gears after attending winter gift shows and morphed into a platform for designers and brands to work together on projects. It is a studio focused on product development and design, and whenever a project comes up it reaches out to students from Pratt Institute, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Savannah College of Art and Design and other schools, as well as established freelance designers, to submit ideas.

Red Clay's mission, Kiefer said, is to "offer designers, both students and freelancers, a new opportunity to engage with big brands and work for people who can really bring their work to the next level." A lot of designers, Kiefer said, are unable or unwilling to market themselves or network, so this gives them a platform from which to showcase their work.

Retailers and suppliers, meanwhile, get the opportunity to select from top-quality, trend-right looks. Dillard's has its own product development team, of course, yet the partnership with Red Clay is desirable, Parkinson said, because Red Clay already works with a community of designers, has an established infrastructure in place to work with those designers, and has the ability to crowd-source. "Could we do this as a company? Sure we could. But why not partner with someone who already has the infrastructure in place?" she asked rhetorically.

In meetings with Dillard's, Red Clay recommended that the retailer augment its assortment of wooden serveware to better reflect trends in the market. Dillard's readily agreed, and the two companies mapped out a farm-to-table-themed design contest to put out to the design community. The contest is featured prominently on both Red Clay's and Dillard's websites, as well as through in-store signage, where it hoped to capture customers or visitors who may also happen to be budding designers, Parkinson said. The contest was also promoted through an email campaign and Dillard's social media, including its Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter outlets.

Dillard's chose to focus on tabletop for its inaugural crowd sourcing effort, Parkinson said, because it believes that the tabletop category--the portion of it that includes serveware and items for entertaining, not dinnerware, flatware, crystal and so forth--is one it wants to expand. "That's an area we see as a great opportunity," Parkinson said. "That was a natural fit."

The farm-to-table concept was also an obvious choice because it is a strong movement that continues to grow. Parkinson said Dillard's saw it emerge as a trend at the end of 2010 and build in 2011. "This year it's been huge, pulling in restaurants. You're seeing it all over the place. Fresh, clean foods, liking that local farm feeling and taking it to the table in an elegant, refined way is not going anywhere."

Dillard's and Red Clay received more than one hundred design ideas for wood bowls, platters and other serving pieces, and then narrowed down those ideas to a select few that have been put up for vote. Voting began during the New York International Gift Fair last month and will end in early September. Ultimately Dillard's will produce between four and 10 skus that will be available in the late spring or early summer of 2013. The collection will roll-out to all doors.

Crowd-sourcing is "a great way to incorporate the customer," said Parkinson. "We're looking at it as a 'You've asked for it. You've told us what you like' initiative." Customer feedback at the front-end is important, she added. "We're very excited to look at this, move forward with this and test it in our stores," she said.

HFN Staff | News & Commentary

HFN provides detailed information on the key home classifications: Housewares, Tabletop, Floor Covering & Rugs, Furniture, Home Textiles, Lighting, Home Decor, Mattresses & Bedding, Gifts, Major Appliances and Consumer Electronics as well as Business, Finance and Retail.


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