Before co-founding high-end vintage furniture marketplace Chairish with her husband Gregg in 2013, Anna Brockway wouldn’t think twice about earmarking millions of dollars for a Super Bowl commercial.
That’s because Brockway was a top marketing executive at Levi’s for seven years.
But as a startup entrepreneur, she said that performance marketing felt like the “the more responsible approach” because it’s targeted and attributable.
After closing a $33 million Series B fund raise last year, though, Chairish conducted its first extensive brand study – and the findings made clear that it was time to re-embrace branding.
“The people who know us, love us – and have off-the-charts affinity,” Brockway said. “But our awareness was low.”
In March, Chairish, which does roughly $130 million in sales a year, launched a mass marketing campaign across streaming TV and display, and even created its own Chairish branded print magazine.
“We realized that we had the beginnings of a great brand,” Brockway said. “But we needed to scale beyond our cult status.”
Brockway spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: How does Chairish compete with the likes of Wayfair or West Elm?
ANNA BROCKWAY: One thing that’s been favorable to us but that we couldn’t have predicted, is that vintage has been an appealing solution to people during the pandemic because of disruptions in the supply chain for newly-made furniture and backups at ports. What happened at the Suez Canal in March is a great example. Vintage, by definition, already exists and is immediately ready to ship.
Younger customers are also increasingly comfortable upcycling and buying repurposed stuff. They appreciate the style and that it’s gentler on the planet.
Who is the target audience for Chairish and how are you expanding it?
Our customer is 35 to 55 and it’s 80% women, which is unsurprising. We operate at a premium price point, so our customers are mostly quite affluent with household income of over $250,000 a year. They often own multiple homes, like a summer home and a mountain house in addition to their primary residence, and so they have a lot of space to decorate.
For our gal – that’s what we call our customer – shopping for furniture and home decorating is a hobby and a form of creative expression for her life. It reminds me a lot of the fashion business, actually. She wants the style of her home to reflect her personal sensibilities and character in the same way that her clothing does.
But our most important shopper is interested in high-end furniture because it’s their job. Professional interior designers are key for us. They’re usually decorating more than one house at a time and they drive the lion’s share of buying on our site.
How do you vary your marketing to appeal to these different groups?
We spend a lot of time thinking about how to work with designers through discrete B2B marketing programs. But an interesting thing happened during the pandemic. We saw our general buyer [purchases] start to match and in some cases exceed what we typically see coming from the trade.
People with second homes had fewer other places to spend their money. That provided us with a unique opportunity to go more direct-to-consumer, and it’s part of what motivated us to launch our brand campaign.
What channels did you choose and why?
In terms of media consumption, our gal is a huge consumer of select print titles, particularly home magazines. She also watches real estate shows, like HGTV or Million Dollar Decorator. That’s like her ESPN.
But over the past year, we’ve gotten pretty excited about streaming television, because it gives us the opportunity to be highly targeted in terms of the programming we want to focus on and get a high level of attribution. You can’t get that with TV.
We’re also layering in paid social on Instagram and some Facebook, as well as a direct mail campaign. We launched our own branded print magazine in March.
Why create your magazine rather than advertise in existing home decor pubs?
It was actually cheaper and, we found, more effective to create our own thing rather than buy ads in other people’s magazines. What’s lucky about the interior design category is that there’s so much to explore and the appetite is there. I mean, there are whole TV networks dedicated to it. We have tons of amazing inventory, so why not use it to tell our own story? We see our magazine as a differentiating play.
How do you use data to help with product discovery?
One of the things we did right when we launched this business – and I give full credit to my CTO – is that we marked every single item on the site with style, price, color, material, location, you name it. Now we’re in a position to apply this highly structured data to our growing catalog of inventory and match it with our 4.5 million monthly shoppers. When you do that, you start to see some interesting style trends.
What sort of trends?
We see individual trends by customer, like this person seems to be interested in art deco, for example, or is looking for seating at this or that price point. This allows us to create personalized experiences. We have 550,000 one-of-a-kind items on the site, so we have to be careful to create an experience that’s customized without being overwhelming.
But we also see trends happening at a regional level. In LA, for example, we’re seeing an emerging interest in art deco and a move away from boho and California casual.
What did you observe about shopping behavior since the start of the pandemic?
Even before the pandemic, furniture was the fastest-growing ecommerce category in the US. The formal data is still coming out, but I’d say that in 2020 we probably saw five years of share growth in one year.
As people were forced to spend more time at home, they realized how much they care about how it looks and feels. People are using their homes as offices and schools, they’re entertaining outdoors – and people are moving. There’s major wealth migration happening around the country as people seek more space and more affordable housing. And with every move there’s at least some associated spending on home furnishings.
This interview has been edited and condensed.