Fine Linens by Oswald Wins with the Web
Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, February 9, 2009
The Hirsches, son and father: David and Steve.
New York—“Intensive personal service.” Whether in-store on the upper East Side of Manhattan or on the three-year old internet site, Fine Linens by Oswald holds to this credo, dovetailing with its dedication to high quality home textiles.
The luxury home textiles retailer, in this location since 1975, has a total of 1,200 square feet, with about 700 square feet on the street-level show floor.
Fine Linens embraced the internet as a selling medium when David Hirsch, son of owner Steve Hirsch, joined the business three years ago. Today, the company maintains its roots as a purveyor of high end, custom home textiles for bed, bath and table, as well as basic luxury bedding, while branching out into the new world of web commerce that was espoused by David then.
Fine Linens showcases its custom capabilities on a
mini-bed in the front window.
“After college, I wanted to see what I could do outside this business, and then I joined in and started a website,” he explained. “It was a transitional business.”
Today, the web produces two-thirds of the company’s sales volume, while embracing the tenets of quality, customer service and custom work. “The internet has been a revelation; we send swatches all over the country. I wish I had developed this earlier,” said Steve Hirsch. “David even has a decorating service online, but we also are price conscious and call ourselves the 'best priced’ website — while maintaining MSRP.”
Discussing how the internet and retail store differ, David Hirsch explained, “The internet is more readymade” — but quickly noted that this includes high end brands like Sferra, Matouk, Ann Gish, Home Source, Home Treasures and Hamburg House — while the physical store emphasizes custom work with its own seamstress for, a trimmings collection, and Italian fabrics and products.
Interestingly, the senior Hirsch explained, “The internet has brought us a lot of customers that live in this upper East Side neighborhood. They look for 'finelinens.com’ which is our site and find we’re right nearby, come in and buy custom product, too.”
Finelinens.com is thriving.
The web has led to a 24/7 life for David, who communicates with customers via phone, mail and email, remarking, “We have some 3,000 customers online and 10 to 15 suppliers online.”
While internet sales are twice store sales, the Hirsches concede that the profitability of the in-store custom business exceeds that of the web segment. Overall, sales are in the seven figures, bolstered by a marketing budget that has grown 15-fold in the past three years, to a six-figure number. Advertising is largely on Google. “And we went from a shared server to our own for more efficiency,” David Hirsch commented.
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