‘Going Against the Grain’ – An Interview with our CEO, David Light
Icon By Design is actively expanding their physical presence as a result of customers asking: “when are you opening in our neighbourhood?” With the launch of their first Melbourne store this month, we sat down with David Light, CEO of Icon By Design, to talk ‘going against the grain’ of traditional retail, company expansion, and sustainable culture.
Firstly, give us a little background on the business – how did Icon By Design come about?
We’re a family-run business; I started Icon By Design with my son Adam in 2015 off the back of his successful homewares company. We saw a gap in the market for timeless design, beautifully crafted solid timber furniture at an affordable price point, so we set up an efficient supply chain, and developed a unique business model that would achieve that. In doing so, we are able to offer sustainably-sourced, solid timber furniture, at prices usually associated with MDF and veneer. Our unique, two-price model allows customers the choice of convenience, or savings – should you want your furniture immediately, you would pay the Buy Now price. If you’re flexible with delivery and are willing to wait, the Pre-Order price saves you 20%. I’m confident in saying no other furniture retailer offers that!
How would you describe Icon By Design’s aesthetic?
We subscribe to a timeless aesthetic. Unlike many of our competition, we don’t specialise in one fixed era, and we stay away from trends – these tend to come and go, so many companies are constantly reinventing themselves. This is extremely erosive to companies’ cultures and ethos. By operating with a principle of timeless design, we – by definition – never go out of style. Naturally, this leans towards a ‘Scandinavian’ aesthetic (they do it very well!); but we actually believe we’re much more of a reflection of Australian style: minimal and elegant, with a focus on natural materials and craftsmanship.
Would you call yourself a store-based or an online retailer?
When anyone asks me that, I tell them: “I don’t understand the question”. Today’s world is so fluid, you shouldn’t distinguish between “online” and “physical store” – they work in tandem; they’re inseparable. We subscribe to the Apple model – whatever your customer journey, your experience with us should be consistent; you should be able to move effortlessly between store, phone, social and website. People often remark that we’re a technology company…who just happens to sell furniture. I’m not against that analogy!
The standard in your industry is 2% online sales, 98% offline – yet Icon By Design is 50/50. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s due to a number of factors. We work hard to make the environments of our physical stores and our online store a consistent experience. The service you receive from a sales person in-store is translated in our online environment. Our product imagery reflects the styling we use in-store, and we have just added product videos (filmed in-store), where you’re able to experience the product cinematically before you try or buy. I think that consistency builds consumer trust. We also invest heavily in UX (User Experience) – optimising our website for our customers. We pay close attention to feedback, so we’re constantly making improvements and changes in line with what customers want.
Your first Melbourne store has just opened – why did you choose the Church Street, Richmond location?
The area of Church Street that we’re on is known as a furniture strip. People come there with the intention of looking at furniture and homewares. Many companies shy away from being neighbours with their competitors – we actively seek it out! We want customers to compare our furniture with others’ – we’re confident in the quality of our product, and the value of our price proposition.
Your Sydney store is in the Supa Centa Moore Park – what were some of the challenges with opening up a street front store?
A street front store comes with a lot of variables! Generally, when you’re in a centre a number of things are handled by centre management – security, shell preparation, compliance, etc. With a street front store, that’s all your responsibility to manage – so it was definitely a baptism of fire! Our floor definitely proved the most challenging component of the build. Achieving the polished concrete look that we were after required a lengthy process of stripping, cleaning, grinding, and polishing – but we’re very happy with the end result. Lighting also required real attention; we challenged to our lighting designers to work with a huge amount of natural light (coming from the floor-to-ceiling, double storied windows) to deliver a warm, homely ambience that also showcased the beautiful qualities of our solid timber furniture.
You mentioned this is your first Melbourne store – can we expect Icon By Design to open another one soon?
Yes, our second Sydney store opens in 6 weeks’ time in the Castle Hill area, We’re looking to open more Melbourne stores in 2019. I’m not able to tell you exactly where, but they’re at locations favoured by furniture retailers – our perfect environment! We also have our sights set on Brisbane and Canberra, so watch this space!
The business sounds as if it’s growing rapidly – how do you ensure consistency of brand and company ethos?
We’re worked very hard to have a dedicated team who are passionate about the company and what we stand for. Every decision we make in the business – regardless of position or role – is guided by our key principles of timeless, craftsmanship, affordability, commitment, and sustainability. You’ll notice the flexibility of those principles – that was done on purpose. Each principle is able to be interpreted and translated into all areas of the business. We recently completed an Ethos Guide, which introduces these principles to our new recruits. Our focus on one-to-one mentoring and training is also invaluable; it reflects our family business and values.
Apart from new stores, what else can we expect from Icon By Design in the near future?
Design is very important to us (it’s a ket part of our ethos and in our name, after all!). We’ve recently engaged an in-house product designer to create new pieces for our range that adhere to our timeless design, beautiful craftsmanship principles. We really value home-grown talent, so empowering a new generation of Australian designers is very important to us. We want to provide a stage for them to succeed. We envision funding an annual competition in which we work with aspiring designers in creating their first product for the commercial market. The ’Commitment’ part of our ethos is all about customer engagement and service. We are focused on building a range of furniture pieces reflective of what our customer are asking for, consistent with our timeless design, beautifully crafted and affordable principles; it’s an exciting time!