top of page

The heart returns to home retailing

Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma & West Elm storm Oz

Homeware retailing has experienced a renaissance in the past 12 to 24 months, which is fortunate because until the recent revival, we saw many retailers doing a mediocre job. When Nood hit the local landscape a while back they demonstrated, as Matt Blatt and Milan Direct did in Australia, that good looking reproductions and knock-off trends could be delivered quickly and affordably, giving us the freedom to update our home looks more often. The economic reality of the past five years has meant we turned towards our houses and put our hearts back into our homes - making the most of what we have got.

And retailers have definitely stepped up. There has never been a more exciting time to update your look, with multi-nationals such as Country Road, IKEA and BO Concept, local independent retailers with the likes of Taylor Road and The General Trading Company and pure-play operators - check out COLLECTED at Bloc – offering plenty of choice.

Retailers also recognised that to increase repeat visitation, they needed to provide differentiated and defined experiences and recently I’ve shopped a few of those experiences. Here is my summary of what’s been going on.

Freedom figured out that they had lost ground, become stale and more importantly were expensive. To their credit they have since done a great job in repositioning their price perception and adding freshness to their offer to make it more relevant for today’s diverse range of tastes. Introducing “everyday low prices” and interest-free finance every day has certainly helped put them back on the radar.

Back in Australia recently I made a trip to Freedom’s new concept store in Moore Park, Sydney. Here they are a key anchor tenant of the Supa Centre in the eastern suburbs, a location friends tell me hadn’t been touched for years and was a bit of a dinosaur.

Significant refurbishment has transformed the style-based layout which has been their foundation, to a function-based approach where all beds or sofas are in one place. This store also features a significant Snooze store-within store concept (bedding specialist), which enables better buying decisions in an easy to navigate store and is sprinkled with inspiration. Beds have not been a strong category for Freedom in the past but by partnering with an expert they have created a destination location.

Freedom, Moore Park – Snooze store-within-store

Visual feast served up in Sydney

I had heard great things about the launch of Williams-Sonoma Inc, a group which includes Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm into Australia. Excited to finally experience it for myself, I was left with mixed emotions. Without doubt they are experts in visual merchandising and display. The stores were stunning, inspired and the sales assistants exceptionally well trained. However, apart from a few items I was not bowled over by the range of product, which is not much fun for a shopping addict. Casting aside my personal feelings, I took another look with a professional eye.

The stores sit side by side at the Exchange Building just outside Westfield Bondi Junction, which I think is a smart move. They avoid the retail rents of the mall and leverage the high levels of foot traffic through the Westfield entrances. As a result they have added a new lease of life to the outdoor pedestrian mall and you can almost hear the thank you’s from surrounding retailers. This cluster of shops, which opened in May 2013, is the first to be owned and operated by the retailer outside of North America as part of its global expansion strategy.


A specialty kitchen and homewares retailer offering everything from cooks tools, cutlery, books, cookware, accessories and even food items, these guys have really embraced experiential retailing. Engagement is key to their strategy and as I shopped at 6pm in the evening, one of the many cooking classes was being held. This is the first Cooking School to be established in a Williams-Sonoma store and I hope it proves to be an unprecedented success (the numbers will swell if locals get a clue about the unusual ratio of good looking men attending).

Entering the store I passed the March events board showing an array of upcoming activities from cooking to food demonstrations.

Events for March

The store is a little labyrinth but the space is well optimised with exciting displays in otherwise difficult to utilize corners.

The Exchange Building, 466 Oxford Street Bondi Junction NSW 2022

Pottery Barn and Pottery Barn Kids

Lifestyle displays aiming to inspire shoppers and make the experience enjoyable are the cornerstone of these two concepts. This approach brings to life home furnishings that ooze comfort, quality and style.

In Pottery Barn there is a Design Studio where shoppers can sit down to discuss their personal needs with a sales assistance who can tailor furniture and design solutions for their individual needs. I enjoyed the experience, even if the design style was a little too American for my minimalist taste.

However I loved every square metre of Pottery Barn Kids, so much so I would consider popping out another rug rat as an excuse to buy their product. Furniture, bedding, rugs, lighting, decorative accessories, classic toys, nursery essentials and gear such as luggage make for visual heaven.

The Exchange Building, 466 Oxford Street Bondi Junction NSW 2022

Pottery Barn Kids

West Elm

My enthusiasm for Pottery Barn Kids was tempered by a tinge of disappointment at West Elm, perhaps because I had been anticipating this visit for a while. According to the back story, “West Elm’s talented in-house team of designers creates a collection that can’t be found anywhere else, and works with artists and independent designers globally and locally to develop collaborations that are exclusive to the brand”.

I had been inspired by bloggers’ pictures of the opening merchandise last year, yet found the assortment to be, well, ho-hum. I couldn’t find the Etsy collaboration from local artists (maybe that was so last year) but there were pockets of brilliant merchandising and top marks for a store fit-out that feels very Brooklyn-meets-Bondi.

The Exchange Building, 466 Oxford Street Bondi Junction NSW 2022

Enough from me. I’ll hand over the last word to an article from Australia’s Business Review World (May 2013) on the five secrets to the Williams-Sonoma Inc cult-like following. If you are considering re-energising your offer, this contains five valuable nuggets to learn from. Enjoy.

14 views0 comments
bottom of page