Empower Mentor: Christiane Lemieux, founder of Dwell Studio, on how she bootstrapped her home furnishings company into a multi-million dollar lifestyle brand

3 years ago by in How She Built A $1M+ Brand, Mentors Unplugged, Retail Tagged: ,
Christiane Lemieux, Founder of Dwell StudioMeet Empower Mentor Christiane Lemieux - Founder of Dwell Studio and recently named Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs. She’s also author of a book that looks perfect for those who get anxiety about decorating: Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Shine - briefly tell us about the company you’ve built.

Over the last decade I have built Dwell Studio into a lifestyle brand in the Home Furnishings Space. The company started with a wholesale model but has evolved into a multi-channel wholesale and direct business. We opened our first retail store in June of 2012 and plan to open more in 2013.

Bootstrap and/or raise money – how did you get started and would you do anything differently?

I bootstrapped and was totally self- funded until 2011 when we took in minority strategic investors to help grow retail. Fun fact – I started the company with 17K.

I think there are real pros and cons to both bootstrapping and raising money but in this industry because of inventory – if I had to do it over again – I would raise money because I think piecing it all together has ultimately compromised and slowed growth.

Big clients – how did you land your first big client?

We landed all of our biggest and best clients/accounts because of design and the growth has beed fueled by design and execution. It is our philosophy that product is always king. If you deliver the best design, quality, execution, customer service, marketing etc you will attract the best partners.

Breaking the $1M mark - looking back, what helped drive this growth?

We got our first million dollar PO year two. This growth was driven by design and innovation. People in our industry look to us to set trends and to push design forward. It is with this mantra that we approach every season and every category.

Low cost marketing strategies – what has been the most successful for helping you drive awareness for Dwell?

Email campaigns for existing customers and social media – Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook have also become very effective low cost tools for new customer contact. {EL: With 11k followers on Pinterest, they are doing something right so make sure to check out the execution!}

Best ways to connect in your industry - which national and local networking organizations, conferences have you found most valuable?

In our industry most of the networking is done at the big National and International trade shows like High Point, Maison & Object and New York Gift.

Share your secret weapons – what business apps, products and tools help you run your business/life efficiently?

It’s pretty basic for me personally. I rely on my iphone/ipad for everything from my camera and work/home schedule to social media dashboard and inspiration catalog. I also use them for shopping everything from groceries to clothing to kids sporting equipment. Thanks to the FreshDirect phone app, I have not stepped into a grocery store in New York in over two years.

At the office we have indispensable systems for everything from POS, Web e-commerce, inventory management to project tracking and image databases. For inventory and accounting, we use GreatPlains and have modified it to pull live for our e-commerce. I always say find systems or apps that can grow with you because they are expensive and laborious to learn.

Any advice you have for women entering or growing their retail and home furnishing business?

Know your market, know your customer, stay focused and produce or sell the best product in your price point/category and service your customer flawlessly. It takes a significant amount of capital to scale a retail concept/brand. Know that going into the fashion/home furnishings industry.

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