Skip the Middleman

Direct-to-consumer bedding sellers strive for a niche in the textiles retail world
December 5, 2016David Gill

By David Gill

BohemianRoom bed ensembleThe Bohemian Room bed ensemble from Flaneur. hiflaneur.com
They are small, they are young and they may also offer a glimpse into an important part of the future of textiles retailing.

They are a group of online retailers primarily of high-end top-of-the-bed products and sheets. Their names are Boll & Branch, Parachute Home, Flaneur, Hill House Home, Brooklinen, Authenticity 50 and Lime and Leaf.

They have established what they describe as a direct-to-consumer, no-middleman model in which they have established contracts with cotton growers and small manufacturers who produce the merchandise under their brand names—thus giving them virtual ownership of the supply chain. They then serve as the direct channel of these products to consumers.

“We believe that by selling directly we create more value for consumers,” said Kari LePage, co-founder of Lime and Leaf. “We don’t carry the expenses that brick-and-mortar stores have, so we can pass those savings on to the consumer.”

decorativepillows LimeandLeafAn assortment of decorative pillows from Lime and Leaf. limeandleaf.com
Aside from price, these companies have individual selling propositions that set them apart from each other. Flaneur’s revolves around the advantages of e-commerce over brick-and-mortar. “We are able to offer infinite color options without having to worry about the rental of a physical store,” said Tianjiao Yu, who co-founded the site with Lu Xiong. The current version of the Flaneur site uses Pantone’s application programming interface, which allows browsers to pick any shade they desire.

Lime and Leaf’s proposition is to offer 100 percent American made bedding with 100 percent Supima cotton grown in California. The products are manufactured in a number of factories in the South. “These are people with a lot of pride in their work,” LePage said. “In a small way, we are giving something back to the U.S. economy, and we [take] a lot of pride in that.”

Boll & Branch offers what it described as premium top-of-the-bed products while striving to eliminate unethical practices and inhumane treatment of factory workers from its supply chain. Made in the USA is also part of the selling point for both Hill House Home and Authenticity 50. Both companies offer bedding and bath products made from domestically sourced cotton.

Parachute and Brooklinen have centered their positioning on offering affordable, high-quality bedding manufactured responsibly and made from raw materials that meet or exceed world environmental standards.

Aside from offering them selling space, the Internet—especially its ability to connect businesses with consumers—also plays a major role in their marketing initiatives. “We set up a live chat service online,” Yu said. “We learned that a good number of our customers would like to have some casual conversations with our teammates when they are exploring.” This has helped Flaneur achieve what any young business strives for—repeat customers. “It’s not very usual that customers buy a number of sheet sets within a few months,” Yu said.

Social media is a major part of Lime and Leaf’s marketing. “Our products lend themselves to social media because they’re visual,” said Lori Morris, the company’s co-founder and LePage’s sister. “We’re on Facebook and now looking to launch on Pinterest, which will be important because with Pinterest, you can build your own room and play with it online.”

How far and how fast the direct-to-consumer sites can advance in the textiles retailing Pantheon is open to question. “They don’t offer any brands other than theirs, and they have limited assortments,” said Richard Roman, president and CEO of Revman International. “There is also the question of how much traffic they will do. Being online may give them an advantage by giving them the power of the visual, which is important to their marketing, and because fewer and fewer people shop in physical stores. But I don’t think they’ll be a major force in retailing in the foreseeable future.”

Obviously, the sites do not entirely agree with Roman’s assessment. “There are tremendous opportunities to interact with customers and further build the brand,” Yu said “We get the traffic to the store, but customers don’t have to commute.”

“We offer a lot of flexibility and we are a part of what’s becoming an on-demand economy,” LePage said. “We feel passionately that this will be part of the future of selling textiles.”

 

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