Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, January 1, 2014
Porte-cochère is a new virtual selling channel where high-end home furnishings brands and interior design firms can network and conduct business. Membership in the Porte-cochère network is offered through an application and vetting process designed to ensure product quality, integrity, optimum business practices and a high level of customer service - on both sides of the table.
Backed by nearly 40 years of combined experience in interior design, branding and supply chain management, co-founders Ann Shriver Sargent and Anna Beck Bimba say their company's mission is to increase efficiency and profits for its members through direct designer-supplier relationships, and to promote the stature of professional full-service interior design.
Sargent, who spent 28 years leading design teams, said launching the business was a natural progression. "Being a full service designer requires a large bag of talents and the financial reward for the effort is often hard to come by. To inform a great design, a designer has to procure a lot of products across multiple categories and is expected to be an expert about them all."
Bimba came to the venture with 10 years of industry experience as a brand manager and luxury furniture importer, and a track record that includes several international design projects.
About three years ago, Sargent shared her vision for Porte-cochère with Bimba, who had interned years earlier at Sargent's Vermont-based design firm. "Anna was visiting Vermont and we went to lunch," Sargent said. "I mentioned this idea and immediately - and for months after - she barraged me with articles, data and ideas."
In October 2012, the pair co-founded Porte-cochère, combining their industry experience with a dynamic web platform and a shared commitment to adhere to "high standards for all affiliated brands and designers."
"We had some enthusiastic early adopters who were key to getting started," Sargent said. "Our live log-in search and link web tool launched in June 2013, and we are rapidly gaining traction with our membership."
Home Accents Today met the Porte-cochère team at the October High Point Market, where they were scouting product and networking with new and prospective members.
What makes Porte-cochère's business model unique? Porte-cochère's business model embraces what is great about the 21st century - information technology and networks without geographic borders. We know from experience that when items are procured through the design firm's standard process and arrive in the warehouse ready for installation they are part of the profit stream. I (Sargent) am always looking for ways to improve systems and increase profits and job satisfaction. We are in a new era, and technology allows us to scale some solutions for our community and build meaningful relationships with our peers and vendors.
Can you share a little more on your backgrounds? Ann received a bachelor of arts from Boston University, Anna received a bachelor of arts from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and we're both Executive Education alumni of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Ann led four successful design firms in the residential, retail and hospitality sector. Her design commissions span from Canada to Virginia and include the outposts of Nevis and Alaska. Anna interned with DPF Design in Vermont and Slifer Designs in Colorado, then went to work as a designer in the Washington, D.C. metro area. She eventually co-founded the brand agency DeMorais International and was instrumental in launching European luxury furniture brands in the U.S. market.
Simultaneously, the high-net-worth Porte-cochère client has never been more plentiful and more primed to seek design services and unique and well-made products. Growth in consumption of luxury goods is projected to outpace consumer spending by nearly double in the next five years, and the housing market for properties over $1 million has rebounded from the 2008 slump.
Your members are design firms, not individual designers? Yes. The full service designer is a visionary with the resources to manage projects, and procure and deliver everything that is visible in a building as well as much of what is buried in the walls.
This is a powerful sales force and reaching them can be costly for vendors. The design firms we are focused on have the trust of the high-net-worth consumer, and the talent to be on the cutting edge of creativity while running a profitable business.
How does membership work? Design firm members are invited or apply through referral. They must demonstrate they are a creditworthy full-service firm with clients that expect premium, luxury and bespoke products. They must also have the back office systems to support direct accounts with vendor members and be able to provide references from subcontractors and clients.
The vendor members - we call them product brand members - all have premium or luxury products, value the designer as a partner in placing their product on projects, and have endorsements from top design firms. When a design firm is approved for membership, they are awarded immediate account status and direct access to all the member vendors. They receive privileged discounts and order terms, a listing in our visual web rolodex tool, and the confidence they're procuring from brands that have been screened and selected for quality and service.
Vendor members are introduced to, and given the opportunity to stay front of mind with, our high-volume, professional full service interior design firm members who place clean orders and are proficient at selling high-quality products.
Membership is free and is a privilege that can be terminated by either party at any time.
What are your prospects for the coming year? We believe the most scalable piece of a business is profitable product sales for the manufacturer and designer. We work hard to build lasting and strong relationships. We have some exciting plans in the works that involve getting our members together for meaningful learning and networking events at factories and tradeshows, as well as building in virtual opportunities to support business growth.
Uttermost and Surya at the Dallas Market Center