For proof of how fast the business of design is changing, look no further than Fab. The site launched in 2010 as a TripAdvisor-Foursquare-Yelp social-networking hybrid called Fabulis was aimed at gay men. But having burned through most of its start-up cash, it regrouped in February 2011 with just three employees and a new mission to be an online design store.
“We started selling underwear. We sold Emeco chairs. We sold random stuff,” said Bradford Shellhammer, the company's co-founder and chief design officer. “I remember going through my house and taking every single book and every single glass and inventorying it, writing down the designers' names. The first 1,700 targets, I called every one. I emailed every one. I was aggressively cold-calling, begging people to let me sell their stuff.”
Less than two years after the new Fab.com opened for business, the company has 650 employees, including 200 at the company's European headquarters in Berlin, and 70 buyers who scour the world looking for cool stuff to sell: a limited-edition Andy Warhol Brillo box pouf, perhaps, or a hoodie for your Chihuahua, or maybe that Hella Jongerius ottoman.
We talked with New York-based Shellhammer during his recent swing through L.A., and for this edited Q&A we asked about how Fab has evolved and what changes shoppers can expect this year.
How has Fab been able to emerge from a crowded field?
When we said we're going to focus on design, Jason [Goldberg, Fab's co-founder and chief executive] recounts it as he looked across the room and said: “We're going to take your personality and turn it into a store.” So that's how I looked at things: cheap things and expensive things, high and low. The core mission is: Expose design in a friendly and fun, engaging way so more people feel included, not excluded.
Did you get lucky with timing, breaking out just as the country was emerging from recession and it became OK to have fun shopping again?
That's the core of it: Reinvent shopping and make it fun. No one does that online. Amazon is great, but it's not fun. Gilt is very serious, a lot of beige, too much brown. Lighten up, world. We sell chairs, we're not saving people's lives.
So now that Fab has grown — grown enough to have Fab ads on TV — what changes are ahead?
Our big push this year is to get to 1,500 designed-by-Fab, in-house products. We have our own line of luggage coming out in June that is Fab-branded. I have a furniture collection with Blu Dot coming out. I have a furniture collection with Gus coming out. I have a whole textile collection with the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation coming out. I did this Brillo box pouf with Quinze & Milan and the Andy Warhol Foundation. Fab is a brand.
We don't want to be Ikea, where it's all our own line. In my head, the mixture is always going to be really special things from our design partners and some more basic stuff from us.
The other thing is our evolution away from being a flash sales website. Eighty percent of everything sold on Fab is sitting in our new warehouse. That allows us to say, “Hey, Kii Arens on Hollywood Boulevard, you make posters, and we know we're going to sell this many, so we will buy them in advance. Make them.” So we don't have this crunch of small businesses scrambling to fulfill orders.
We're doing this thing called Core Assortment that launches in April. It's our transition from being these event-based sales to having a permanent collection of product always available. If you order a wine glass today, it will be there three weeks from now. It will be there three months from now. You always can buy that wine glass on Fab.
How will that change the site?
It's going to change dramastically. [Laughs.] Dramastically — that's a good word. The search functionality will be thrown out and rebooted. The subnavigation will be stripped down to what we're calling five houses: men's, women's, home (which includes furniture, lighting, home accessories, all that stuff), fun (skateboards, bikes, toys, weird crazy stuff which we're known for) and boutique (pets, vintage, art, jewelry, food). We're viewing the new Fab like a department store. It will launch in April.
Department store? Would you want to open a Fab brick-and-mortar store someday?
Here's why it would make sense. You could justify the rent in L.A. and New York just on the marketing and branding alone. You're the wholesaler and the retailer; you get paid twice with every sale. And you get to tell your story better than any retailer. No one is ever going to display your product the way you want to.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times