When good furniture marries the digital world
A few weeks ago we received a very interesting email, it was from Carola, the co-owner of a new online furniture shop, she introduced her business with an enthusiastic and involving description, so we got convinced to look at the website www.lartdevivreonline.com, and we were so impressed that we did not hesitate to invite Carola and her husband Andrea for an interview with us, to know better about their e-commerce selling good quality Italian furniture, through an accessible and digital system, the way we like.
It was a cold spring afternoon when we popped in the showroom of Andrea e Carola, the owners of L’Art de Vivre in Seregno (MB), an online furniture shop selling Italian homeware products, which offer all the design experience and innovation of manufacture centres of Brianza and Triveneto to its customers. Looking at the website you immediately notice a great e-commerce service through which you can custom your own products, including an extra one to one design support service from the showroom in Seregno (we personally tried it buying one of their sofas the same day!). Here below all the story, revealing all the behind the scenes of a sales activity that offers good quality and affordable furniture to those who look for something unique and long lasting, far away from what the big distribution companies offer today (ex. IKEA).
Can you tell us how the online idea of L’Art de Vivre started?
The idea comes from our historical identity as Brianza based manufacturers, since we come from generations of carpenters. Working with a traditional furniture shop started to feel not so right anymore, we were realising how our competitors were evolving, reducing the area of their point of sales (we had 3000 meters of space to renovate) keeping everything tidy, reducing the number of items on display, and including a sample room with a collection of materials to consult for design projects. In the past the customer was buying the products as they were.. instead today people look for something customised. For example, if you look at this kitchen here now it does not say anything to you, because maybe you do no have 50 meters free to fit it in your home, but starting from this model I can design your customised kitchen with no problems, we dedicated an important design workspace area here in the showroom. My role as architect gives me the possibility to take care of complete renovations, as well as of burocratic paperworks, therefore we can develop an interior design project starting from the piece of furniture, up to wall finishes and plants.
On your portal do you have collections by L’Art de Vivre as a brand?
No, we are retailers, we do no design anything, we sell, we select manufacturers with which we collaborate, and we purchase from them to resell. We do not sell anything finished, because everything is re-designed on customer’s needs.
How is the working relationship between you, the customer and the manufacturer when you have to sell a specific furniture piece?
We design, and the companies we are in partnership with produce the piece. Our projects are heavily influenced by the manufacturing constrains given by the furniture companies (for example a series of modules to use or colour range), we can say we start from the structure of products in catalogue and we re-model them for the customer. For example, if we were to design this kitchen here, our constrain would have been the shutter, because it is made on a fenix frame, and it is the hallmark of this kitchen. I mean, when you design something on a white paper you will hardly draw a straight line, instead having already a guide (like squared paper) clearly helps a lot in getting a better result and a good balance between quality and price. Designing a product like this kitchen from scratch is not easy at all, the experience of the manufacture company help the resolution of technical issues (ex. test on hinges, runners, materials resistance), because the manufacture company takes care of it in first person, and puts in all the technical experience it has, instead we, as designers, work on the development of proportions and we focus on satisfying the necessities of those who buy.
How do you manage your work between your physical point of sale and the e-commerce? We are a single identity which uses different tools to reach the customer. If you see a sofa you like on our website you can directly buy it, or call to come and see it, in case it is not on display we can show you catalogue photographs and materials selection, or bring you to the manufacturer’s company to see it. We have got more then 60.000 products on our website, with different materials and complete of technical description and drop down menu to personalise the dimensions for production. We had customers who bought a whole wall system for their living room on our website, or others who came only for information and then decided to design all their interiors.
Do you work mainly in Italy or abroad? We are developing our market abroad, that is starting to have an important role since what we sell is made in Italy and that has an impact on foreigner customers. Here we lost that kind of mid-range client we had before, because now it got a bit lost being attracted by the big furniture distribution. Italy is very small compared to the world, we week a lot through word of mouth for our physical point of sale, but we see the e-commerce is attracting many people as well. For example we have recently been reached by an English developer who was looking for a furniture retailer for its building company, and he came in out shop in Seregno to know us and start a collaboration.
Did you work a lot on marketing to arise and be well known as online e-commerce? We started partnership with about 60 companies, and this helped us a lot to get a good online presence. They offer us the material to put on the web, we use, enhance and highlight the image of the company as retailers. When the private looks for a specific brand it means he wants that kind of
What are the best selling products? The best sold items are complements, like tables, chairs etch.. that’s because they have simpler configurations. We distinguish from the traditional e-commerce, such as Ebay and Amazon, because, with us, you get your products in 30 days from the purchase date considering the production and delivery time. We offer a free delivery at street level as a standard service, and in extra we offer the installation at floor level. I think that those who buy an online furniture piece have got a bit of design vocation, because they buy expensive objects and need to get an idea of proportions beyond putting in something of themselves.
You did not find any obstacle in the evolution of you business towards the digital world, comparing it to the traditional retail channel to which furniture brands are used to? Very often retailers are very scared of web distribution, because they always think you could cut off the legs to their physical point of sale since the customer could exploit them only to see/try the product, but after he would go to finalise the purchase online because it is cheaper. We believe the way is to find the right balance. We believe internet is a parallel system, and not conflicting. Who buys online is never going to hang around for days in shops, because he does not want to. We are talking of two different market sectors. The web is faster, and today it has not exploded in the furniture market yet because it has got very long delivery times compared to the standard online portals, since in this sector you produce everything on order.
Hoe does the configuration of products work on your website? We speak to a very wide public: from the guy used to new technology, to the boom generations between 50, and 60 years old who are not so much confident with new tools of online sales. We therefore set a sale tool which was tested with a wide range of people, proposing simple and immediate solutions through a drop down menu with design options: swing doors, sliding, shutters, materials, length and height. The manufacturer usually has got a price list on its catalogue with pre-configured wardrobes which we take and put online, these are the best sold groups of dimensions, tested by companies themselves. In a wardrobe, after the length, you can filter the height and choose typologies of the internal equipment. Each kind of product has got a specific selection of configurations.