Mary Beth West has been on the retailer’s board for 10 years.
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Once upon a time a newly married couple looked for, but couldn’t find, beautiful antiques and decorative objects to furnish their first home-at least, not at a price they could afford. So they got the idea of starting a catalog to offer such merchandise, which became a web site, and, in classic Internet start-up style from its earliest origins at a kitchen table, Wisteria.com was born.
Two year-old Wisteria.com marries high-touch sensibilities that distinguish its catalog to the high-tech sales medium of the web. Behind both are president Andrew Newsom and wife and co-founder Shannon. Newsom, who writes most of the catalog copy that also goes on the site, brings a distinctive first-person voice to the company that offers a tip of the hat to the early Banana Republic and J. Peterman catalogs in its ability to not just sell, but romance a product.
Inventory is sourced from around the world. By finding small, local suppliers in Third World countries, Newsom has found a way to keep prices lower than for comparable goods produced elsewhere, while offering the unusual and unique in a spare, clean-looking and easy to navigate site.
“Pottery Barn sells great products, but given the measure of their business, they have to be standardized in what they sell,” he says. “We are small enough that we can find and sell 200 to 400 units. A huge company couldn’t do that.”
The artful photography that characterizes the catalog loses nothing in its translation to the web site, and the web medium makes contributes of its own: incremental sales and a younger customer. Market research had determined that Wisteria’s core customer contains a large group of those in their 50s. “That catalog buyer has both disposable income and time,” says Newsom. “My sense is our Internet audience has disposable income, is decorating their first home, but doesn’t have a lot of time. They get online at night after they put their kids to bed and they shop then, because it’s more convenient.”
Internet sales are increasing in dollar volume and as a percentage of overall sales, Newsom says. “There’s an opportunity here to go deeper than our catalog in telling more about the products and the story of the brand.”