I didn’t first see Restoration Hardware’s new 616-page fall catalog. I heard it. In the form of my 6-year-old, groaning as he tried to yank it out of our mailbox. It wasn’t cooperating. I had to pull it out for him, it was so heavy. And my God, I thought, what on Earth??
One can’t casually flip through this catalog. It takes a commitment. It sat on our kitchen counter for the weekend, goading me. I kept looking over my shoulder at it as I walked by. Because there’s no way I could ever live with any of this stuff as they have it styled.
It’s like the set of a music video, or Dr. Jekyl’s castle. It gives me the creeps.
I mean, besides the fact that I could never own any of it because it’s all too big for my 1939 colonial, and I don’t have 20-foot ceilings, and there’s no room in Arlington (or most near-DC neighborhoods) for a castle on a hill (cue the lightning).
And really, do I want a desk made from airplane wings?
Now, there is probably a place for this in some of the new two-story loft condos being built around here, but this all-metal-and-leather thing really leaves me cold.
But it does make sense, I guess, in the “Lunatic Fringe” context of Restoration Hardware’s CEO, Gary Friedman, whose opening letter is titled just that. He invokes Teddy Roosevelt, of all people, to sell furniture.
“Are we a part of the lunatic fringe?” he asks. “If it means, as President Roosevelt said … that ‘our place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat,’ then put us in that arena.”
And here we see Gary’s beauty shot, not as a Rough Rider going into battle, but as some sort of rebel figure standing in front of his wares.
And here is precisely where he’s got us. Even as most online commentary of this catalog has trended negative, none of that matters. He had literally printed the textbook on why Restoration Hardware’s appallingly huge catalog of gray, beige and brown will be a hit, according to Creative Direct Marketing Group:
“Catalog marketing presents tremendous profit opportunities right now. Huge growth and new launches in both B2B and consumer catalog sectors are creating soaring profits for manufacturers, retailers and mail order marketers,” the group says.
The story goes on to cite Restoration Hardware’s winning strategy: “Restoration Hardware says direct sales through their multichannel catalog/internet strategy grew 59% last year.”
And as you read the catalog’s dreamy stories about the artisans who craft metalwork, reproduction antiques, rugs, and linen for the RH line, touted proudly as written “by independent journalists,” just know it’s all part of the plan:
“Describe your products in detail and draw your prospects into the product descriptions. Long copy will help you to create a mouthwatering desire for the product…whereas short copy just looks like a boring, uninvolving list of products,” the Creative Direct Marketing Group says. “A great strategy is to give your catalog added-value. Your catalog should be more than a laundry list of the products you offer. Use a theme and compelling copy to carry the reader through the catalog instead of random flipping.”
The company filed to go public on Friday, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, with a goal of raising up to $150 million. It hopes to reposition itself “from a niche brand into a leading home furnishings company, with plans to lure wealthy customers from designer showrooms and smaller, independent competitors,” the story says.
Hence, the Vogue-like catalog, and the six-page ad in the latest issue of Architectural Digest.
Can you even imagine the millions it’s paid for this direct mail effort? And a six-page ad in AD? Hmm, $50 grand might be on the low end if I were to take a guess, and you know that there will be more ads to come, so you can put a multiplier on that 50k.
And how do they pay for it? They have to build it into the price of their furniture, of course.
But as you heave this behemoth out of your mailbox, think of all the amazing independent furniture makers in our own area, who don’t advertise beyond word of mouth, where what you pay for is strictly in the quality and craftsmanship of the furniture, not some fancy marketing campaign.
Folks like Caleb Woodard, who built a chest for us and delivered it himself — and then took it back for a week because he had to make the finish more perfect. Or the artisans represented by Well Built on 14th Street, or the incredible Keith Fritz, who moved to Ohio for lower-priced real estate and labor but continues to drive to DC to deliver his award-winning pieces to clients. Or Art Woodstone Studio, where the husband-and-wife owners are also artists, or Modern Rust, which produces sustainable furniture from reclaimed wood. I could go on and on, and I’m missing dozens of talented artisans in the DC region from this paragraph, but you get my point.
“Depressing” and “sad” were frequent adjectives I’ve seen used online to describe the latest look at Restoration Hardware. But more depressing is just knowing that this big thing staring back at me from the kitchen counter is designed to turn me into their “prospect.”
But Gary, as sexy as you clearly are, I’m just not that into you.