Retail Road Trip: Los Angeles

This month, we’re taking our Retail Road Trip to the West Coast, where Los Angeles showrooms HD Buttercup and Consort keep the stars living in style. Go beyond the Hollywood lights and see how these two showrooms stay at the forefront of business.

Alison Martin
11/27/2017
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Read on for a look at HD Buttercup's showroom in L.A.

HD Buttercup

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HD Buttercup’s flagship store includes two floors and a rug gallery. The showroom may feel like organized chaos, but sections like “Family Style” (top left) and “Luxury” (top right) guide customers from style to style.

Ask many a trendspotter or retail consultant and they’ll tell you — want to see how it should really be done? Amble through HD Buttercup’s flagship Culver City showroom — ground zero for trend — and soak it all in.

Housed in the old Helms Bakery building, HD Buttercup earned a reputation in the design community with its visually stunning showroom design and unique customer concept. The 130,000-square-foot-and-counting showroom offers everything from Mid-Century Modern to California Casual to Luxury, and it’s not uncommon to see Hollywood’s elite casually strolling up and down the aisles with their designers on weekends. 

“There’s always new, trendy things coming in, exciting things and things you don’t often see in the regular furniture stores,” Kathleen Lawler, General Manager of the showroom, says. “A lot of people come in and tell me everyday. ‘I just come here to get inspired. I love your store. This is my favorite store. I love to just look and see what’s new and happening.’”

The brain behind California’s largest home furnishings retailer — Evan Cole — got his start on the East Coast at ABC Carpet and Home in 1982. He left the company in 2004 and opened HD Buttercup in 2005. Today the company has multiple California locations. The name HD Buttercup came from a name above a doorbell Cole noticed on a home in London. Earlier this year, he told Tara Loader Wilkinson at Billionaire.com that HD Buttercup became his nom de plume after that, and he set out to create an inspiring showroom every bit as interesting as the namesake.

Anyone — even magazine editors — could get inspired going through HD Buttercup. Its buyers and visual design teams work collaboratively to create tasteful vignettes, mixing colors, textures, materials and patterns into combinations that look effortlessly stylish and livable. It’s not surprising that buyers often walk in, take one look at a vignette and order the whole thing. 

And although Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities in the United States and celebrities shopping with their personal bodyguards isn’t a strange sight in the showroom, not every sofa costs more than six month’s rent. In fact, part of HD Buttercup’s success hinges on catering to a number of price points. Lawler says the showroom stays stocked with a good mix of price points from $1,200 sofas to $5,000 and $10,000 sofas. The key, she says, is mixing.

“You mix a less expensive sofa with a beautiful, expensive side table or lamp, and it changes the look,” Lawler says. ”It makes the less expensive piece look better.”

All over the showroom, chunky and luxuriously soft throws cover gray settees. Sofas in bright pink make acrylic side tables stand out, and neutral seating options get a glamorous makeover when upholstered in velvet and topped with a fluffy throw pillow. It’s impossible to tell which item falls at which price point — exactly the visual team’s goal. 

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Not every sofa, coffee table and bed is available for sale online. HD Buttercup sells a special curated selection of products online, but most sales still happen in store.

“The visual team is amazing,” Lawler says. “They’re very talented people and they love to get creative and crazy and make things unique and different.”

With such a visual reputation, Cole and his buying team have their work cut out for them. While Cole does much of the international buying, his team in Los Angeles handles domestic buys, and with an ever-changing showroom, that isn’t always easy. Because what sets HD Buttercup apart from other showrooms in the city also happens to be its biggest internal challenge.

“Part of our appeal is that we sell right off the floor,” Lawler explains. “No one does that. It’s usually an eight-week lead-time for things, and people don’t like to wait. So we decided, you know what? We’re going to take care of our customer. The customer is always right. If they want it today, we’ll get a delivery company and get it right out today.”

Naturally, this selling philosophy sits well with Millennials, who expect furniture at Amazon-like speed as well as interior designers who need a sofa in a pinch. But this can be problematic for a showroom that only keeps so much in stock at the warehouse.

To fill in holes, the visual team constantly moves furniture around, so the showroom never looks the same for long. It’s definitely a challenge, but customers stay satisfied and the new displays give them a reason to come back frequently to see what’s new.

“It makes things come to life that you wouldn’t have noticed before,” Lawler adds.

Perhaps the biggest compliment HD Buttercup’s visual design team receives is seeing their work on TV. In addition to serving the occasional celebrity client, HD Buttercup also offers an extensive studio service that helps furnish some of TV’s hottest sets. For set designers, being able to pull whole rooms off the showroom floor makes HD Buttercup the go-to destination in the industry.

With such high expectations for the showroom — for design-lovers seeking inspiration, set designers furnishing the next hit show and interior designers wanting to wow their clients — it’s a wonder the HD Buttercup staff doesn’t collapse under the pressure to stay ahead, but after 12 strong years, this experienced staff seems to be taking it all in stride — one trend at a time.

Consort

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Selling vintage in the Consort showroom can have some huge payoffs, but buyers looking to break into vintage should beware of what they’re getting themselves into. A chair, for example, may look like it needs some minor cosmetic work, but if you don’t closely inspect the materials, you may end up eating your profits.

No other vintage fair from Paris to Portobello Road can compete with the Brimfield antique flea market in Massachusetts. Held three times a year, this market stretches longer than several football fields and attracts sharp vintage dealers, design lovers and fashion icons. It’s rumored that Ralph Lauren sends his whole team to the market and gets special access before it even opens.

Brimfield also happens to be one of Mat Sanders and Brandon Quattrone’s favorite vintage fairs. The owners of Consort Design in Los Angeles, Sanders and Quattrone make the trek to Brimfield twice a year, and they never fail to come back to their showroom with a few choice finds.

“It’s kind of exciting that there’s always going to be something new — something new that’s old,” Quattrone says.

Located on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, the Consort Design showroom houses 2,500 square feet of vintage and custom furniture along with accessories and fine arts. Vintage makes up about 20 percent of the showroom stock.

Sanders and Quattrone launched their interior design firm in 2013, and in December 2015, their retail showroom and design service center opened on Melrose Avenue. A year later, they opened another location on Duane Street in New York City.

Though petite, Consort feels open and California cool with floor-to-ceiling windows, bright white walls and tiled floors. Fine artwork from LA-based designers decorate the walls, and there’s only room for three vignettes. Even with limited space, it’s enough to carry off the California casual vibe.

The showroom stock comes from a mix of vintage fairs, trade markets and even social media. In the beginning, Sanders and Quattrone scoured markets to find artists to sell their work in Consort, but now, they connect with artists and vice versa through Instagram.

“Gone are the days of having to go to Maison & Objet and really walk that show to find something new,” Sanders laments. “You can follow the hashtag of the show and see what’s trending, what’s everyone into and who are the big people coming out of that show. Then we can reach out to them directly.“

While markets still play a role in stocking Consort, the true finds come from Sanders and Quattrone’s vintage forays. In addition to two yearly treks to Brimfield, they also stroll through the Paris flea market, and they always send at least one container home.

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Shopping for vintage takes patience and a keen eye, but when you find a treasure, the pay off can be huge. Recently, Sanders stumbled on a one-of-a-kind 1950s string chair designed by Jacque Guillon. After it was restored, a set decorator bought it. Imagine Sanders’ surprise when the chair appeared on the big screen in the Oscar-winning movie, La La Land. 

For all the hard work Sanders and Quattrone do in the showroom, they hit it just as hard online. All the pieces in the store — from easy-to-ship accessories to credenzas and artwork — can also be purchased online. It’s a struggle to keep up with new inventory, but they’re not precious about it.

“We really use scrappy resources to get something up as soon as possible,” Sanders explains. “So when we get new vintage up, our social media manager and digital coordinator will come over and get it in front of a white background and shoot it with her own camera, sometimes with a camera phone, and get that thing cut out and put on the website and promote it.”

When photos need to be touched up, Consort turns to Upwork.com, a freelance website that connects writers, graphic and web designers, and personal assistants with businesses looking for short-term work.

“Our backend, our ecommerce platform and website is all run through Shopify,” Sanders says, “and a lot of the people on Upwork are very proficient in Shopify specifically so you can find Shopify experts that know exactly how to do it for you as long as you’re organizing the information into a spreadsheet and passing it along to them. It’s really helped streamline our process of getting product on the website really quickly.”

And they’re not just selling on their site. Consort’s 85-thousand-and-counting Instagram followers will ask for product names and where to buy them, which is almost always the Consort website. Yet half of Consort’s Instagram followers fall into the Millennial category and 20 percent are 18- to 24-years-old — definitely not a demographic that’s most likely to be in the market for furniture — but they are buying, even if they’re not at the designer price point. Sanders and Quattrone value their virtual “fan-girl audience” just as much as their real-life clients, and they think of them as an investment.

“It’s all about capturing them now,” Sanders says, “and holding onto them and continuing to keep them engaged and speak to them, knowing that eventually, they’re going to become that spender that’s really going to pay off for us.”

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