Bombay Brands' Wil Hollands discusses strategy and his new role as Chief Merchant
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, January 6, 2010
JAN. 5, 2010 -- Last month, Otto International President Mitchell Smiles announced the appointment of Wil Hollands as chief merchant to oversee the corporation’s U.S. licensing agreement with Bombay Brands LLC. For Hollands, a 20-year industry veteran, the new role marks a welcome return to a brand he helped grow during its key era of expansion.
When he left the Bombay Company in 2007, Hollands was vice president of merchandising. As chief merchant of Bombay Brands, he plans to segment the brand in the U.S. as three distinct sub-brands, each to be retailed through a separate channel with a distinct target market. The three divisions will offer a range of furnishings including furniture, home accents, bed and bath, outdoor living, tabletop products, gifts and holiday, and will be sold at high-end department stores and specialty gift stores, mid-tier home retailers and mass/discount chains.
Over the past year and a half, Home Accents Today’s online coverage of the Bombay Company’s disappearance and announcements of the brand’s U.S. re-emergence has produced some of our most heavily visited articles and blog posts, complete with numerous comments by dedicated fans and former employees.
In response to their ongoing requests for more information, Hollands graciously agreed to take time over the holidays to provide us with a few more details on his plans and his new role.
HAT: First of all, how happy are you to be back at The Bombay Company?
Hollands: Thank you for asking; I am very happy to be back -- for two reasons: (1) I have a real passion for the Bombay product and know it so well, and (2) there is a real void in the marketplace and consumers are looking for Bombay products. We get hundreds of hits a day on our static website.
HAT: How did you get into the home accessories business?
Hollands: I’ve been in decorative home/furniture retail for over 20 years. I live it and breathe it. I started my merchant career with Pier 1 Imports; it was a fantastic education for understanding product assortments, developing and manufacturing product importing and, of course, traveling the world to find the best there is.
HAT: We’re not familiar with the term “Chief Merchant” – is this title unique to The Bombay Co.? Would it be comparable to Chief Operating Officer?
Hollands: I think the term is a relatively new term that many retailers are starting to adopt. It represents an all-encompassing role, similar to that of a COO but more of a blend of left- and right-brain thinking. It means that I have the vision for Bombay from a style, branding, assortment, managerial and business point of view.
HAT: Where will the new Bombay home office (U.S.) be located?
Hollands: I work out of our beautiful Bombay Brands showroom in NYC.
HAT: How different or similar will the new Bombay be from the old Bombay?
Hollands: The product assortment will have a foundation of best-selling items and/or collections that are timeless and classic, but the design continues so it will be complemented by a whole new range of products. I will update the collections each season and, as always, Bombay will be trend-right but in a uniquely Bombay way. With regard to operations, Bombay will be offered as a brand to be sold to select retailers so the operations will be a bit different than a specialty retail chain but will offer that same style savvy.
HAT: Will the products continue to be offered as private label?
Hollands: All Bombay products will carry the Bombay name and logo. True Bombay customers can’t be fooled, there is just something different and very special about a Bombay item.
HAT: Any plans to open your own production facilities?
Hollands: You never know what the future may bring. Otto International is one of the largest sourcing networks with 23 offices worldwide and over 40 years of experience -- so we are in great shape.
HAT: The retail strategy sounds like a good-better-best pricing strategy for three quality tiers… is that a pretty accurate statement?
Hollands: Yes, basically the assortment will be broken into four segments: (1) Core - detailed furniture collections, luxury lines, embellished accessories and wall décor & layered tabletop; (2) Gift/Seasonal - holiday décor and special occasions; (3) Novelty - those unique and special items that Bombay is famous for; and (4) Bombay-to-Go - ready-to-assemble furniture, packaged gifts, boxed traffic items.
HAT: How have you seen The Bombay Company change over the years?
Hollands: Bombay is known for classically-designed products that are inspired by exotic, romantic and exotic destinations, but Bombay is also very innovative. We’ve introduced many design ideas that have become trends, like three-dimensional wall décor with mixed media and patterns, reverse-painted accessories and furniture, the solid wood charging station, to name a few.
HAT: Will the new Bombay products retain the same styling and “look” of the old Bombay products?
Hollands: All Bombay products will be true to the brand promise and deliver style, quality and value with integrity.
HAT: We’ve enjoyed watching an open marketplace evolve on our Home Accents Today Web site – fans of Bombay Company products buying, selling and trading with one another. Will you consider making some of their favorite Bombay products available again?
Hollands: Absolutely! The demand truly lives on and is still one of the top recognized names in home furnishings. You can’t buy support like that.
HAT: Also, some of the visitor comments on our Web site are from former employees. Most of them express real loyalty to the company and say they miss working there. Do you think they will say the same of the new Bombay?
Hollands: I think I may have already heard from just about all of them… Yes, we were a big family and I’m happy to say that I have received many kind words of support and praise.
HAT: Can you give an estimate of the number of products you’ll bring to market?
Hollands: I like to look at the assortments as collections because Bombay is very much a lifestyle brand. I will be introducing quite a few collections.
HAT: When and where will the first new Bombay products be available?
Hollands: We are in talks with several retailers. There is a lot of interest in the market… so stay tuned.
HAT: Will the full catalog of products be available for purchase on a Web site?
Hollands: E-commerce is something I am very interested in launching and it’s high on our priority list. It will not launch with the product introduction but the legwork is in progress.
HAT: Will you be rehiring former Bombay employees?
Hollands: I certainly hope and plan to as opportunities arise. I am currently working with some fantastic former Bombay folks.
HAT: Since the Bombay Company has such a loyal customer following, do you plan to use social networking (Facebook, Twitter) to promote Bombay’s products, promotions, etc.?
Hollands: Good question, absolutely! Social networking is a great way to get the word out -- and as you know, Bombay people are social!
HAT: Where did you grow up?
Hollands: I was born in a suburb of NYC in a big Italian family, then moved to South Florida where I attended high school and college.
HAT: Where do you live now?
Hollands: My office is on 5th Avenue in New York City and I live in Columbus Ohio. I commute and I work from home each week -- and I love the blend.
HAT: Highlight of your career thus far?
Hollands: I have had so many wonderful experiences in a career that I love and each one has offered me a chance to learn and grow… but I have to say that “Bombay part 1” and, now, “Bombay part 2” are definite highlights!
Uttermost and Surya at the Dallas Market Center