With a showroom that carries over 100,000 products for the home and a physical space laid out over 125,000 square feet, Dolley Frearson knows a thing or two about interior design. She has parlayed her passion into one of the top home retail brands that also includes online where you can source unique finds from furniture (lusting after this outdoor day bed!) to perfect pillows and beyond. Dolley comes from a family of design enthusiasts (her parents were in the textile business) and she is now hoping to pass her knowledge to her two kids. We caught up with Dolley to learn more about her growing business and how she manages the juggle of it all. Read on…
Dolley, it’s such a pleasure to meet you! We’re big fans of your site, High Fashion Home (HFH), tell us how you got started?
I grew up in the textile retail business. When an opportunity came to expand our family business into a new space, we decided to create a new retail concept that combines eclectic home furnishings along with decorative fabrics. At that time, the Houston market was very traditional. We had a few transitional furniture store brands, but not enough fashion-forward, eclectic, fun and modern styles in the marketplace. You could find them in NY or LA but not in Houston, but even then, the price points were unattainable. Through a lot of research and by partnering up with our incredible vendors, we sought out to build a brand (both brick & mortar and website) that offered a great selection of furniture, fabrics and accessories for the eclectic modern home. At first we were worried about being too edgy or colorful but our customers loved it and slowly but surely, we grew into a business with over 100 employees and we ship our products nationwide.
That’s amazing! There are a number of online resources for the home. What makes HFH different than the competition?
I think it’s our curated collection. We search high and low to find amazing products that are unique and at a great value. I think people also love how we pull our pieces together to create inspiring room ideas. Many of our sofas, sectionals, beds and chairs are private-label products bench-made in North Carolina and can be customized in over 400 fabric options. They are so incredibly well built with the environment in mind too. We really stand behind our products because our manufacturers stand behind the quality of their work. And with our low-price guarantee, our customers can truly buy with confidence.
Your e-commerce site has grown 400% in the past 2 years (wow!). What has been the hardest part about this incredible growth? What has brought you the most joy?
Logistics and shipping. With everyone used to getting Amazon Prime/Now, people are expecting items faster. Furniture is a very large item that usually needs to ship via a trucking company which can take up to 2-3 weeks. There is a high-damage risk to shipping larger items too, so this becomes quite costly for us. We’ve had our share of growing pains, but it has definitely brought us more joy than pain. Nothing makes me happier than hearing about customers across the country sharing how much they love their new sofa or chair or art! When someone tells me that they are always on our website and can spend hours obsessing over our products…that brings a huge smile to my face!
How would you describe the company culture at HFH? What kind of climate do you set and how do you motivate your team?
The culture at HFH is a combination of employees who are high-energy, humble and know how to hustle. Because we have a 125,000 square feet showroom (4 floors!), sell online and stock most of our products, we have a lot of moving parts to deal with.
That store is HUGE! Tell us more about it and do you plan to expand to more locations?
For now, we want to focus on perfecting our one store and have no plans to expand to other locations. One hundred and twenty-five thousand square-feet is not really a store size; it’s an emporium and a lot of work. The store is like a candy land for designers and design-loves and we get a lot of requests to open in other locations, but we want to keep our costs down so that we can expand and improve our online business which will serve more people in the end. It’s a lot more competitive but it’s the future of retailing. I also think we can inspire our customers through our online content, room ideas, and social media and serve them without touching and feeling our products. Comfort and quality is incredibly important to us, so it’s really a matter of buying what you love…and of course measuring the item before purchasing it .
We can only imagine managing all that inventory! What 3 things are big for Spring this year on the home front?
We love the shoppable “Room Ideas” on your site. For someone who feels overwhelmed when decorating their home, is there a general guiding rule you follow to pull everything together?
Decorating is much harder than it seems for most people. It’s like a giant puzzle. I recommend customers fall in love with a room idea or inspirational room design they love. If you love the room completely, buy as much as of the items as you can at one time. It will make your life so much easier! If you want to be more original, find the key item/s you absolutely love like the sofa, artwork, or rug. Then create a space plan (floor plan), which is free for customers to use on our website, so you can create the ideal room configuration. Space planning is really important for flow and also to make sure the size of the item you want will fit properly! I also tell customers to keep an open mind too; sometimes you think you don’t like a particular item/style but you’ll discover that you need these pieces to help balance out the room – for color balance or to soften up a look or add layers or more texture, etc. Not everything can be a 100% perfect or 10/10. Things like the availability of the color you need or the right scale/size, budget/affordability, etc can limit your selection so keeping an open mind and making some exceptions to complete the entire room is necessary. It’s about the big picture and about finish the room quickly so you can enjoy your new space! Nobody wants a drawn out 2-year design project!
Your brother Will is your business partner. Do you have any advice for running a business with family members?
I think this only works if you have a shared vision and passion for the end result. If you put your customers and team-members first before your ego, then you can work together. Our cousin, Jeff, is also a partner and integral part of the team. Of course, we all have disagreements (sometimes daily), but at the end of the day this is what yields the best decision…really hashing things out and playing devil’s advocate. This would probably drive most people nuts! We have thick skin and because we know that we’re making rational decisions based on our experience, research, data and customer feedback, we try to not take anything personally. Over the years, we have also learned to separate our duties based on our core strengths. Too much overlap can be troublesome. But it’s good to have overlap on bigger strategic decisions, of course!
Making an impact for your product online can be daunting for the most seasoned marketer. What campaign or tactics have been the most successful for HFH?
I feel like styling and photography helps us make the biggest impact. When we come across new products, I make sure to create a space that allows me to show off its uniqueness or versatility in design. It’s really hard to guess what most people will like but by styling it a certain way, it helps the customer visualize how that product will work in their space. Once we create a new look or room idea, we definitely share them via our social media channels, catalog, eblasts and on our website. Social media can be very time consuming to manage but it’s become a great way for us to market our products and get feedback instantaneously.
We absolutely love that you are committed to the environment through your partnership with Arbor Day Foundation where you plan a tree for every piece of furniture sold. Tell us more about this initiative.
Since our inception, we have always believed in doing our part to limit our impact on our environment. Whether it’s recycling up to 95% of our trash/waste, seeking out and partnering up with furniture manufacturers that build beautifully crafted furniture in a sustainable manner, or Jeff, Will and I driving our Prius’ since they were first available (I finally got my first electric car last year ). In 2008, we partnered up with Arbor Day Foundation and committed to plant a tree for every piece of furniture sold – so far, we’ve planted over 153,567 trees! And this past year a portion of these trees were planted in regions devastated by hurricanes too. We believe that the little things we do can add up to big changes. One tree can make a positive impact for years to come:
You have two children, now 8 and 10. How has motherhood impacted how you approach your career?
For the first few years, it was very difficult to juggle full-time work and kids and there were moments when I had my hesitation that I couldn’t do both equally well. But as my kids got older, they started to understand the importance of my work. They know it’s my passion and something I worked very hard to grow. The key for me was to delegate, know when to ask for help, and make sure to separate the two so that I can be in the moment with them or at work. I also had to learn to let go of my need for perfectionism. Because my time is more limited, I find myself making faster decisions. Sometimes I make the wrong ones but I learn from those mistakes quickly and have more time to make good decisions going forward. Creatively, it has actually helped me with my work because I can identify with our target customer base: mothers and new home owners. I understand that they want to live in a beautiful home but that they need to be functional and kid-friendly. So in a sense, motherhood has made me a better buyer, merchandiser and designer.
Healthy body, healthy mind. This gives me balance and energy to tackle anything.
Expect less, appreciate more. Letting go of expectations of others and of yourself and just being grateful and staying positive.
Fail and make mistakes faster, so you learn and improve (this is advice I give to my kids too).