Mercedes Ruehl Reporter

Mercedes writes for The Australian Financial Review and BRW from the Sydney newsroom. She has an interest in technology, politics and travel writing.

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Secrets to the Pottery Barn success story: 5 things they got right

Published 03 May 2013 12:19, Updated 09 May 2013 00:45

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Secrets to the Pottery Barn success story: 5 things they got right

An artist’s sketch of the Pottery Barn store in Sydney’s Bondi Junction.

Pottery Barn has finally opened its first bricks and mortar store in Australia to the delight of thousands of devoted fans, who were previously forced to order everything online.

The 64-year-old US-based homewares store, which is owned by retail giant Williams-Sonoma, has been an international success story in a brutal and challenging retail environment.

Pottery Barn has set up shop in the Exchange Building, in the Sydney suburb of Bondi Junction. The store spans three levels and will employ some 100 staff, and will also house a Williams-Sonoma cookware store, Pottery Barn Kids and budget furniture store west elm at the same site. It will also ship all of its wares to anywhere in Australia.

BRW looks at five secrets to the brand’s cult-like following, which extends to its other stores too.

1. Classic and quality pieces that stand the test of time

Expect no new-age or out-of-the-box furnishings here. Pottery Barn is about timeless furniture for the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the home office and the backyard. There’s also something for all ages, with Pottery Barn Kids and Pottery Barn Teen.

The store’s policy to its designers is, if you wouldn’t give it as a gift to family or friends, toss it in the bin.

2. A good-old category-buster

As Bentleys executive director and retail expert David Gordon puts it, Pottery Barn “is an old-fashioned category-buster.”

“It’s like Bunnings was to the hardware industry. Before Bunnings came out there was only a whole bunch of small stores and all of a sudden a big industry-buster came in offering a wide range and good prices.”

“We don’t have anything like a Pottery Barn in Australia; we get our homewares mainly from the large department stores and speciality homeware stores,” Gordon says.

3. Social media

The brand’s use of social media means they had a huge market in Australia before they even opened their doors. On Facebook and Twitter they offered a $5,000 gift voucher in a raffle to whip up excitement in the leadup to the opening of the Sydney store.

Social media is also a good way to connect with the company, rather than waiting on a phone for hours. Check out its Twitter or Facebook feeds and you’ll see most pressing questions and complaints being answered.

Keen shoppers can even take part in live Facebook chats.

4. A little bit of theatre to encourage the hype

Gone are they days of a quick sale. To compete with online, successful bricks and mortar stores know customer engagement is the name of the game. Williams-Sonoma does cooking classes, readings in Pottery Barn Kids, and one-on-one decorating and entertaining advice in its furniture stores. The store’s design specialists host more than 50 complimentary decorating and entertaining in-store classes and events every year in the United States.

The upscale cookware store Williams-Sonoma Sydney will host the company’s first ever cooking school. A chef will offer intensive courses daily. Gluten-avoiders take note, some of the classes will teach gluten-free cooking.

5. The Pottery Barn rule

Shoppers wary of sending one of the store’s Aegean Vases tumbling while perusing the floor, never fear – it will be written off as a loss. Pottery Barn famously took offence to the invasion of Iraq being compared with breaking items at one of its stores.

Secretary of State Colin Powell allegedly told US President George W Bush that if he invaded Iraq he would have to take responsibility for it, calling it “the Pottery Barn rule” of “if you break it, you buy it.”

“This is very, very far from a policy of ours,” one of the brand’s public relations directors said at the time.

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