West Elm sees opportunity to sell local experiences outside its stores

Discussion
Image: West Elm
Mar 19, 2018
Tom Ryan

West Elm, the home furnishings chain, has launched a program that invites customers to experiences outside the store to learn from local craftsmen about woodwork, metalwork, indigo dying and other skills.

Customers can purchase a West Elm LOCAL Experience with one of five local makers in Austin, Brooklyn, Charleston, Detroit and Savannah on WestElm.com. The sessions start at $130 and are scheduled to run in each market from April through May 2018.

The workshops include:

  • Art welding lessons in a metal work studio in Austin with campfire happy hour and live music.
  • A natural fiber indigo dyeing workshop session in a Brooklyn studio.
  • An artist-led sketch session and hidden gems walk in historic Charleston.
  • A furniture design workshop at a fire station turned studio in Detroit that includes making a tasting tray.
  • A workshop in the technique of punch needle embroidery to create a hand-tufted textile composition in Savannah.

The initiative builds on the success on the five-year-old West Elm LOCAL program, which enables more than 1,000 makers, designers and artists to sell their wares at West Elm stores in their communities. A limited assortment of the “Best of LOCAL” is available on WestElm.com/LOCAL.

West Elm said the West Elm LOCAL Experience program underscores its commitment to investing in creative communities and local economies while meeting its customers’ interest in engaging experiences.

“As a retailer, we’re transforming how we’re interacting with our customers, interacting with them outside the four walls of our store,” Mo Mullen, director of West Elm Local, told USA Today. “Customers want experiences, and this is an opportunity for us to help create those experiences for them in a very authentic way.”

Most learning experiences offered by retailers — whether yoga classes at Lululemon, tech workshops at Apple or cooking classes at William Sonoma — are conducted by stores on premise and are free. REI and Cabela’s are among those offering trip packages, but they are typically exotic, remote adventures — not local.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your assessment of the West Elm LOCAL Experience? What does it do for West Elm? What other types of retailers might benefit from such a program?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"LOCAL represents the evolution of West Elm away from its positioning as a mass merchandise retailer into a brand focused on local artisan products."
"Helping people learn and being a part of projects positions West Elm as a partner instead of a store. It’s a win-win!"
"As long as customers feel that these paid experiences are valuable, they will not detract from the brand."

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12 Comments on "West Elm sees opportunity to sell local experiences outside its stores"


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Max Goldberg
Guest

West Elm joins a number of retailers that are offering experiences that complement their brand proposition. These experiences help build a bond between customers and retailers, increasing brand loyalty and long-term sales. As long as customers feel that these paid experiences are valuable, they will not detract from the brand.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

The LOCAL West Elm strategy sounds outstanding. There are nothing but positive outcomes for retailers that focus on their local communities, build partnerships with local makers, and offer a transporting experience that consumers enjoy beyond simply the retail transaction. This platform also enables local makers to have a presence in a national chain.

What more compelling reasons do consumers need to go to a physical store than a chance to have a wonderful experience, learn a new skill and potentially network with other like minded consumers? This will be a win-win for West Elm and their consumers, as the LOCAL approach will help establish and reinforce a trusting relationship between the brand and their followers.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

We already have many retailers providing free in-store experiences whether it be with a facial makeover, cooking classes or a group music lesson. But West Elm takes an old idea and reinvents it, giving them an opportunity to generate local awareness and brand loyalty.

At $130 a pop, the workshop will have to be sensational, but if done well, will inspire more to attend in the future. For now, the company is too small to attain national recognition, but locally it will be well received and should get tremendous support from the community if appropriately promoted. If so, there is no doubt other local retailers will follow with their own concepts.

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

Home Depot, Lowes and other DIY retailers have benefitted from such programs. This kind of push out to the community, pull people into the store tactic has been working for decades with independent toy retailers and it’s a great way to increase your store’s top of mind appeal.

Jeff Hall
BrainTrust

The LOCAL Experience offering represents the continued evolution of West Elm away from its positioning as a mass merchandise retailer into a brand focused on local artisan products. Although LOCAL is limited in scale and reach, the positive longer-term outcome is in leveraging the platform to create greater customer awareness around West Elm’s commitment to selling local artisan works in their stores. It’s a bit of an “Etsyfying” of West Elm and should benefit the brand through the unique differentiation and goodwill it will generate.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Bravo West Elm! Purchase decisions always have a basis in information exchange and relationship marketing goes a long way to instilling consumer confidence on the path to purchase. Retailers are truly missing out on attracting customers to their store with events and education. Michaels does an excellent job of this in the craft vertical and make-overs have been a long-standing mainstay of cosmetic marketing. Home Depot focuses on contractors (their main market) for demos and the tours offered by beer and confection companies help to anchor brand affinity. These are all experience-based retailing, and many more should take a page for this songbook. Polaris is trialling an excellent program (i.e. getting high results) of in-store lifestyle and product information video to sell recreational vehicles. Importantly, it brings the sales associate and potential buyer together.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

This has all the hallmarks of a passing fad. It’s very loosely related to brand and West Elm would do better by spending that effort ensuring that there are products people want to buy in their stores.

In advertising, we continually make the mistake that ad agencies think they can create videos with the viewer power of a sitcom. And they end up creating boring long videos that nobody watches. The agencies ignore the fact that a sitcom is built on relationships built over time and that a great sitcom is generally years in development to get it right.

The current fad of retail being about “experience” disconnected from product and shopping is similar. Retailers are at high risk of becoming C or D grade amusement parks if they follow this fad too long.

Anne Howe
Guest

West Elm appeals to a large shopper cohort that has not had a lot of opportunity to acquire skills around the home. Helping people learn and being a part of projects positions West Elm as a partner instead of a store. It’s a win-win!

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Another great example of a retailer finding creative ways to personalize their brand relationship with their customers via localization. After years and years of retailers finding ways to generalize their relationship across all stores to a generic customer persona, we are now seeing retailers return to an approach where they know their local customers and react and respond accordingly, offering them unique experiences and/or merchandise that will appeal to them. This requires understanding your customer and learning from the data you have on them. This is a great move by West Elm to better embed their brand in their local customers’ lives as a way to establish differentiation!

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

The LOCAL Experience is a great step in building closer relationships with customers and a deeper bond with partners. I don’t think the money will be much of a barrier for the right crowd; having an opportunity to connect people around something meaningful will have lasting results that other retailers can learn from.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 10 months ago

The West Elm LOCAL Experience is a smart strategy. Consumers love the theater of shopping and often choose to invest more in experiences rather than products.

The interactive LOCAL Experience helps create an emotional connection with customers, which helps enhance brand loyalty. Offering unique, personalized experiences is one of the best tools to elevate the shopping journey and differentiate your brand. Interactive, experience-based activates or events can be an effective strategy for virtually every type of retailer. The key is to offer compelling experiences that appeal to the interests of your customers.

Min-Jee Hwang
Guest

Furniture is not typically something that shoppers buy all that frequently. This is a smart addition to West Elm’s product offerings because it keeps the conversation going. Retailers that give shoppers a reason (outside of limited time discounts) to return to the store or engage with the brand will experience the positive benefits of word of mouth marketing and increased loyalty. These experience-based classes and events make sense for a large group of retailers. For example, cooking classes at Williams Sonoma or exclusive designer chats at Bloomingdale’s.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"LOCAL represents the evolution of West Elm away from its positioning as a mass merchandise retailer into a brand focused on local artisan products."
"Helping people learn and being a part of projects positions West Elm as a partner instead of a store. It’s a win-win!"
"As long as customers feel that these paid experiences are valuable, they will not detract from the brand."

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