Online: It’s inevitable that the move towards online shopping is going to continue to shift even faster than it has already. There will always be a place for the tangible experience, especially when selling goods like furniture, but retailers need to learn how to be digital first.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Schultz of Medley.
Behind Medley are two brothers, Travis and Ryan. The brothers grew up outside of Sacramento, California, in a hippie household that taught them to tread lightly. Back in the early eighties, they were the only family on the block with a solar-powered camper in the driveway. A few years after college, they entered the furniture business together, with their first showroom in their living room. The more they learned about how furniture usually gets made, the more they were sure that they wanted to make it the best way possible, with clean, eco-materials, local manufacturing, and an emphasis on quality and comfort. Since, the brothers have been learning all that they can and trying to further the conversation on sustainability in the industry. Together, the brothers and co-founders want to change how an industry thinks about making furniture, and also change how people think about what goes into their homes.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Travis and I found ourselves in Los Angeles, both relatively soon after finishing college at UCLA, sitting in one of LA’s outdoor malls. There we were on a bench, staring at a massive furniture store, thinking about how there had to be a better way of shopping for furniture. It was a matter of days, if not hours after that moment, that we decided to quit our jobs and venture ahead with Medley.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When we were starting out, we decided to test the waters by transforming our apartment we were living in at the time in LA into a showroom. We arranged several sofas so that clients could see them in-person, and had the fabrics displayed that you could choose from. We’d post ads on Craigslist for the furniture, and I remember groups of people customizing their furniture with us in our living room after they got off work. People loved that they were ‘in’ early on this new furniture company, and it allowed us to test ideas without having to commit to a physical retail space.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
In the early days, we both literally did every single aspect of the business outside of the actual furniture making. While our idea was to move the furniture shopping online, and infuse technology into the customer’s experience to help them customize their furniture, there were physical aspects that couldn’t adapt as quickly. This included the moving and delivery of the finished furniture. Travis and I often joke about how many U-Hauls we rented in the early days to personally deliver the furniture. While it was exciting to take the pieces to their new homes, we quickly learned after a few flights of stairs, and some wonky hallways, that it was better to leave the deliveries to the experts.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We’re currently well into a digital revamp of the shopping experience on our website, making the experience for the customer even better. This includes things like more realistic imagery as you’re customizing the furniture, a more interactive shopping experience, and eventually augmented reality tools that will allow you to fully visualize your space. This area of the technology world has really come a long way in the last few years.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find your inspiration. Furniture is a crowded space, and it can be hard not to get lost in the competition. I love solving problems, and I’ve approached every challenge over the years as an opportunity to grow the business. Sure, it’s hard, but when you find what inspires you within your field, it makes it that much easier to approach the inevitable challenges.
- None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Our parents, and especially our dad. He dedicated 30+ years of his life to alternative energy in California, and his passion didn’t stay at his desk. We grew up with regular exposure to the outdoors, and an appreciation for nature that has only grown. More importantly, I think it taught us the value in not accepting the current “norm” as the best we can do, and to push forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Inherently, the nature of our business is doing good every day as we help shift consumers’ habits towards a more sustainable way of living. We’re just one part of the many changes societies need to make, but creating a healthy home with furniture that co-exists with you in so many ways is something we can be proud of.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
Ex1 — Online: It’s inevitable that the move towards online shopping is going to continue to shift even faster than it has already. There will always be a place for the tangible experience, especially when selling goods like furniture, but retailers need to learn how to be digital first.
Ex 2 — Customer Expectations: There’s no doubt that companies like Amazon continue to shift consumers’ expectations. Whether it’s how products are shipped, how fast they get there, or how easily they can be returned, customers expect to have flexibility with their time and wallet.
Ex 3 — Transparency: Across the board, people are expecting more transparency from their employers, the brands they buy their food from, to all aspects of consumer goods. Corporate responsibility will continue to determine which brands succeed, and which don’t.
Ex 4 — Enjoyable Experience: Right now, more than ever, consumers are looking to be delighted. In many cases, their old ways of shopping have changed quite rapidly. They miss a lot of aspects they had come accustomed to. The retailers that shine right now are stepping up to that challenge by using humor, approachability, and authenticity to win new fans and make shopping fun.
Ex 5 — Connection: With more shopping from home, and more distancing across so many areas of our daily lives, it’s harder and harder for brands to connect. For established brands, it’s going to be about maintaining relationships you’ve spent years building with your customers. For newer brands, the challenge will be to stand out enough to be seen and then to deliver on that promise with an experience from start to finish.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love food, and one of my favorite places is in the kitchen cooking up new dishes. We’ve seen a dramatic shift in how we think about our relationship with food since our parents in the fifties growing up. My hope is that we can continue this conversation globally in our homes, re-examining the materials we build them with, and the furniture we put inside. We create so many wonderful memories at home, so many moments shared with others. If I’ve done my job, we’re playing a role in continuing this much needed, and long overdue shift towards a healthier coexistence.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!