Mecox's Dave Benbow talks shopping
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, 8/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Last month, in preparation for summer market coverage, I had a lengthy chat with Dave Benbow, manager and buyer for the Los Angeles location of Mecox Home and Garden.
Mecox has been on my retail radar ever since they won the 2012 ARTS Award for Best Home Accent Store, Midwest/Southwest. In addition to the Los Angeles location, Mecox has seven beautiful stores, each of them operating with its own distinct personality, in Southampton (the flagship), East Hampton, Manhattan, Palm Beach, Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
Before leaving for Atlanta, I invited Dave to talk strategy - specifically, how does a manager manage, and a buyer buy, for a store when it's one of a group? And especially when the stores in that group do such a great job of reflecting, and appealing to, eight different local - and elegant - lifestyles?
Our conversation revealed a number of things, including the fact that he's a native Atlantan. "I grew up in Atlanta, right behind Oglethorpe University, so it's always so great to go back there, even though it's changed so much since I moved away 35 years ago," he said. "It always amazes me just how nice the people are in Atlanta." We also talked a little about selling, and the retail business in general.
Do you buy for just your location, or for all the Mecox stores?
On this trip (to Atlanta), there's just two of us. But there have been shows where we had six buyers. We have a core group of "head" buyers, for lack of a better word, that do most of the scouting for Mecox. With eight stores to stock, we tend to look at the overall picture, like, would this work in Dallas as well as East Hampton? This would look great in Houston, but can we sell it in New York City? Each store's manager is also encouraged to find things for their own store. One of the unique things about Mecox is that each store takes on the personality of the city it's located in. We all carry the same basic pieces, but we can interpret them as we see fit. Palm Beach, for example, is very white lacquer, Lucite, coral and hot colors. Chicago is more traditional, more Lake Forest. My store, the L.A. store, is more Malibu-meets-Big Sur. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of them all, but we manage!
What's your first stop?
I stop by and visit some of the great vendors that we carry, such as Mr. Brown or Made Goods first. I can always get a sense of what the new trends are going to be just walking to those vendors and passing the other booths.
Are you shopping for rugs?
We have only recently started to carry a limited collection of rugs and we've been amazed at how well they've been received. It was a market we had been hesitant to enter as displaying them can be so tricky. Do you hang them from the rafters or lay them on the floor where they can get dirty? Do you try the whole rug-rack routine? Ultimately, we decided to show them exactly as people use them - on the floor, in room vignettes. And it's been a big success, so we are open to new styles and patterns. But, the catch is they have to work with the Mecox aesthetic, so we look at a lot of rugs before picking just one or two.
What's on your shopping list?
I try to come with an open mind, a blank slate. To be honest, trends can be deceptive. You certainly want to know what they are, but you also don't want to look cookie-cutter. Mecox truly prides itself on not following trends, but creating them. We love a mix. Nothing makes me happier than to see a pair of modern, sleek, glass lamps on a stunning antique Chinese cabinet facing a low linen tuxedo sofa. That kind of vibe is classic and current at the same time.
We're always on the lookout for the next great thing, and sometimes you find it hiding behind an elevator bank in a tucked-away booth. I also love the passion the smaller vendors have for their lines. They have put their heart and soul and, oftentimes, their life savings, into them, and you have to appreciate and honor that. Obviously, not everything is right for us, and sometimes you have to say no, which is never fun. But when you do find that one great thing, it's just the best feeling.
How is business?
Business right now is what it always is: Those who work hard and have something amazing to offer and are willing to grow and adapt, succeed. We're finding that our clients are leaning much more into the custom arena. They figure, if they are spending the money, they want the furniture to adapt to their lifestyle, not the other way around. Luckily, new production techniques from our vendors have been able to meet the challenges of customization, and we're pretty confident that we can customize almost anything, provided we have enough time. So, while this business is never easy, it certainly is fun!
We bumped into each other recently on Twitter - is social media a big focus for Mecox right now?
We really have been ramping up our efforts in the past year and even have a full-time social media manager now. You can't underestimate the power of the internet, especially if you are a brick-and-mortar business. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, The Next, all of these platforms are where we can show a rotating array of pictures of our stores, products, even our shop dogs. The shop dog pictures always get the highest number of "Likes," by the way. It really is surprising how many followers we have, and it's such a great tool for us to reach potential clients who might not otherwise be exposed to our brand.
How do you feel heading into the second half of the year?
We are cautiously optimistic! How's that for being politically correct? People are spending money again, they are just spending it more wisely. They are researching options more online, and they have more information when they come in the door. Our decorator clients trust us and order off our website consistently, but sometimes a person wants to see the chair, touch it and sit in it. And once they decide they want to buy it, they don't want to wait 12 weeks to get it. Mecox is in the unique position of being able to sell off the floor. Particularly in L.A., our clients want it now, and being able to offer that service is just amazing.
We would love your feedback!
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