HOW AN INTERIOR SHOP SETS NEW STANDARDS FOR ONLINE SHOPPING
Philippe Chainieux, the CEO of MADE.com, talks disrupting the interior industry, burning stocks and the ways millennials will dwell in the future
There was vintage, there were flea markets, there was Ikea. Now there’s MADE – the most innovative thing happening to the interior market in centuries. An online shop, that doesn’t set the trends, that doesn’t produce en masse, that doesn’t move in designer’s price ranges. MADE is different, it’s consumer-focused and therefore taps into the realms of sustainability without taking press-pride in it. The online page of the shop could look really different, maybe green with buzzwords like “no waste” or “no middle-men” all over it. But it doesn’t. Because it’s not about marketing messages, but about the product and the end consumer. Which means longer delivery times, but also better quality and a lower ecological footprint. And this is why the company doesn’t stop innovating: They just introduced some new projects: TalentLAB and Hubstairs. But the charge of their pipeline hasn’t finished, yet. Read about what’s to come in our interview with Philippe Chainieux, the CEO of MADE:
Nele Tüch You initially started out with the idea that it should be affordable for the people, by skipping the middlemen, doing production on request and not having a lot of warehouse time. All with the goal to bring the product to the people. The whole concept came along with an approach to sustainability. Was that a mere byproduct or intentional?
Philippe Chainieux Overall we want to do things right. There’s a gap in the market between the low- end and the high-end, the low-end typically being the big boxes in the suburbs, everything looks the same and the high-end, which is not affordable. So from the beginning, we were saying, that we needed to have control over everything. We need to design our own product, develop the product and we find the right sourcing. We search for the factories, we talk to the businesses and we make sure that they do business in the way we would like them to do business. With respect to the workforce, the employees and the environment. We want to work with people that have the same values. But that is not enough, it’s also about making sure that we have the capacity to look at what is happening every day. Since day one we have people in Asia and across Europe, visiting the factories, every week, making sure that they respect the processes on which we agreed – we control the raw materials, where it’s coming from and what quality they are. We have this power, which is very unique in this industry. And the second thing we’re doing is to order only what we think we’re going sell.
NT It kind of goes hand in hand, the ethics behind it and the quality approach…
PC Exactly, it works only if you control the manufacturing processes. Alors, sometimes we don’t order enough and sometimes our delivery time can vary a lot because we haven’t produced enough. But the idea is to make sure that we don’t have any waste. It’s a better way, but it’s also a cost.
NT You’re originally from France, no? They now introduced a new law to regulate waste and the burnings of stocks. Especially in the fashion industry, which I’m usually working in.
PC Yes, because it’s not accepted by the consumers anymore.
When the fashion industry does things, they are not doing it right, so they need to discount, which leads to the burning of stocks. In a sense, we’re a little bit lucky because our products are not seasonal products. We have more capacity to invest in our product to get it right and this investment pays off over a longer period of time. What is a real disruption for us, is that we’re not working in seasonal collections, as fashion does. We are thinking in a very different way, we are working with capsule
collections, and we are asking our customers “Do you like it or not?” And if they like it, it’s great, if not, it’s not a problem – we’ll start from the beginning. To the point where, and I’m super proud of it, we’ve launched a platform which is called TalentLAB.
NT Yes, I love it.
PC I’m super proud, it’s something we had in mind for a long time. We have a lot of collaborations with existing designers but we wanted to go a step further. What if we open the capacity for everybody? Everybody can have a good idea. What if we ask our consumer base to give their opinion? It’s very disruptive in the sense that everybody can be a designer, and it’s disruptive in the sense that the customers have a say about what will be the future collection. It’s a great way for us, to bring much more daring products to the market, that we usually wouldn’t have done, not without this process. It’s really up to date.
NT The TalentLAB is really smart. On the one hand, the marketing is already included, because you’re helping small and young designers, additionally, you have trend- forecasting, because people are deciding what they actually want to buy…
PC …which is what changes right now. I don’t think we’re talking about trends anymore, it’s more about how to collect votes from your customers and combine this with people who are edgy and avant-garde. The authority has changed. Previously the authority was coming from above, now the authority has been moved to the crowd.
NT It’s customer-centred now.
PC Exactly, we could also use the phrase “influencer”, it’s exactly that. People, you can relate to, that are like you, who have a point of view and they have some authority. It’s much more spread and shared. Intelligent in a way. We embrace that movement.
NT I didn’t think about it this way, I was saying trend forecasting and didn’t really grasp that it’s not about the trends anymore, but about the needs and wishes.
PC That’s exactly how the industry used to work. So they were predicting the trend for the next few years and on the back of that, they built two collections a year. There was a lot at stake, also financially. So by definition, the capacity to take some risks, in terms of product innovation and style is lower. But we can take the risk because we have a different model. We can ask customers what they think.
NT You’re saying it now and you said it in a couple of articles: “We want to take the risk” and you were always saying that you can afford to make mistakes and learn from them. But doesn’t the whole concept minimize the risk, asking the customers what they actually want to buy?
PC I think that’s the idea. The next step of the TalentLAB is to ask the customers to co-create the range. So before we move into the product development cycle, we have a kind of scoring and see if people like it or not. It gives us an indication about things we thought could never work.
NT Your customers are basically living online, they have an affinity to online shopping, a lot of them are millennials and they are a growing part of the population. So now you already reacted to their needs, but what do you think will be the next big thing you will have to react upon?
PC We like to have open doors, to have some fresh air, ideas and great people. It’s a good guarantee that you’ll keep a challenger-mindset. To deliver the best value to consumers, but also to be a bit on the front of what is happening.
But coming back to your question about millennials, looking at the next 5 years, what we will have to consider is that the financial capacity of this generation is lower than the one of my generation and most of it is translated into the access of property. There’s a lot of stress about this generation. The world has changed and the values of this generation have changed. Overall the access to property will be more difficult because the rental market will develop. A lot of new concepts are already developing around the world, like communities. There’s a higher concentration in the cities. How can we adapt to that? I’m not sure, in the end, it’s about smaller space, which is more expensive paired with a generation, which has the need for self-expression.
NT Do you have something else for the future, which is in the making? What will happen with MADE?
PC We’re trying a lot of cool stuff. Some of the stuff will not work, but that’s part of the deal. One new thing in terms of interior design service is this: You can send a photo of your living room and two days later you’ll get a 3d rendered proposition of how to use it, based on your personal style (editor’s note: It’s called Hubstairs). I think that’s pretty cool. I’m shocked about the quality, still shocked how good it is. The next phase is to have different views and different angles, and the next phase will be to test different combinations of products. Will it transform the industry? No, but I think it will help people to be more confident with their choices
NT Especially because it’s still online shopping…
PC To overcome the difficulty of online by definition, there is another thing we’re trying, but it hasn’t been tested, yet. Imagine: We have seven showrooms across Europe, but we don’t have a lot of products in the showrooms. If you see a product online that you like and you come to visit us, the likelihood that you’ll find the product you want to buy is really limited. So the idea is if you are in Berlin and this product is available in Leeds, in the North of England, we can connect you with a show- manager in Leeds, who has a steadicam. You can have a conversation with him and he can demonstrate the mechanism. If you want to have measurements, they can measure. You totally blur online with the real world.
Interview and Words NELE TÜCH