Juniors in a League of Their Own
May 5, 2012,
At right: Silver pebbles, a handtufted wool rug, is part of a vignette at CB2.
Competitors CB2 and West Elm, the junior offspring of the Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma retail families, respectively, are often linked for having comparably similar design sensibility and pricing. However, their identities differentiate upon examination of their merchandising strategies, with CB2 skewing toward a younger and edgier vibe while West Elm aspires to a slightly more established young adult.
CB2 on 3rd Avenue, which opened in October, and West Elm on Broadway, both in Manhattan, were visited as part of the HTT series "Face to Face" comparing similar merchandising classifications at pairs of competing retailers.
CB2 opened its first store in Chicago in 2000, followed three years later by Williams Sonoma's offshoot, West Elm, which opened its first store in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn. With 41 units, West Elm has grown faster than CB2, which lists 13 stores on its website.
Both retailers devote tremendous amounts of floor space to vignettes, which tend to be more elaborate at West Elm. There are rustic baskets of duvet covers perched on beds and baskets of pillows on the floor. Bed side tables carry vases, candles, and books. A trestle-style desk has a lamp, basket of folders and an open book, as if someone got up in the middle of reading.
CB2's more minimal display strategy is more studio, or first apartment, with its beds and living room furniture at close proximity - much like a studio apartment would be organized.
At CB2, based on rough visual estimates, approximately 30% of the product assortment is devoted to textiles, while at West Elm, the ratio appears to be higher, about 40%.
Nine beds are on display at the West Elm location on 3rd Avenue, while CB2 recently added a seventh bed to its store on Broadway. While both West Elm and CB2 hit the same high price point of $169 for a king-sized duvet cover, West Elm offers a broader selection with several colors at that price point, compared to one style at CB2, and also offers several styles at a $139 price point. A larger selection of colors and prints is available on westelm.com as well.
Below: A basket of Alhambra duvet covers is perched on a bed at West Elm.
Many styles at West Elm are 100% cotton and made in Pakistan. The $169 duvet cover is for a seersucker style in 100% organic cotton with a 200 thread count. A striking design is the $139 king-sized duvet with a hand-stitched cover made of 100% organic cotton with a 230 thread count. It features pin tuck pleats for a voluminous textured effect, made in southern India.
Duvet covers at CB2 run from $79 to $169 and several styles come in 100% organic cotton. The highest price point, $169, is for a citified style called Skyline, featuring a drawing of buildings on a white background. The duvet cover is 100% cotton, made in India with a 250 thread count.
Only display samples are on the sales floor at CB2 on Third Avenue - a sales associate must retrieve products for customers. This contributes to a neat, streamlined store.
Both retailers offer organic cotton bedding and emphasize being green, drawing attention to it through their merchandising. Organic bedding at West Elm is wrapped in a natural-colored ribbon with a green letter G on it. Brown tags carry the natural theme as well. These also have a picture of a fully-dressed bed for a neat visual. At CB2, signs point out that its duvet covers are free of pesticides and chemicals.
|Right: CB2’s Skyline duvet
cover aims to please urban
|Bottom: A living room vignette
at CB2. The displays were more
And both retailers offer a slim selection of sheets, focusing on organic cotton, with only a few options in stores and a couple additional styles online, driving home the point that as retailers, they are not trying to offer everything that a more traditional textiles retailer would stock, just a stylish selection edited with the urban consumer in mind.
In shower curtains, as well as bath towels and bath mats, there is a limited but coordinated selection of products.
Decorative pillows, on the other hand, seem to be available in dizzying variety at both stores. While most styles at West Elm tend to fall between $12.99 and $54, for $129, consumers can have a 14-by-36 Mongolian Lamb pillow - but just the cover only. Pillows and inserts are sold separately at this retailer. At CB2, most pillows run $19.95 to $89.95, however, for $299, there's the poodle poof, made of hand-knotted 100% wool from India.
In rugs too, both retailers offer a wide selection, however West Elm is far broader. Both show area rugs in vignettes as well as hanging on rug racks. At West Elm, there are 18 styles hanging on the racks, several priced around $249 for a 5-by-8, such kilim and Andalusian dhurrie rugs and some wool rugs priced $349 to $499. Much higher priced rugs are on the retailer's web site, up to $2,499.
Seven styles from $79-$139
100% cotton, some in organic cotton
Four styles from $179-$199
Linen, organic cotton
Wide variety from $19.95-$59.95
Vignettes, freestanding shelves
Five designs from $19.95-$99.95
Two styles bath size $24.95
One textile style at $24.95
100% handwoven cotton
19 area rug styles from $199 to $399
One size 48-by-120 at $49.95
Linen, fi ve colors
* A wider selection available online for some product categories.
CB2 showed 19 styles of rugs hanging from its racks, including some exclusive designs from Liora Manné, who created an innovative layering method called Lamontage. Rugs in store ranged in price from $199 for acrylic pile Lamontage rug, made in China, to $399 for hand tufted wool. Several bold rugs were designed by a group called Creativity Explored, representing artists with developmental disabilities.
Vignettes are key for cross merchandising. At West Elm, an outdoor dining collection designed by Clinton Friedman, known for his prints of South African flowers, includes decorative pillows with bold, photos of flowers on them. Nearby is an extensive indoor gardening display, with plants and containers for creating terrariums.
|Left: A fully-dressed bed with
an Ironwork pattern duvet
cover at West Elm.|
|Bottom: Bath textiles at West
Elm are displayed on a table
and wall fixture.|
At the back of the store is a Moroccan-themed display in conjunction with the organization Aid to Artisans. The colorful product display features rag rugs made in Morocco for $499.
However, as visually impressive as vignettes can be, there is a drawback for the consumer, who may come in with a singular product in mind and face an unexpected treasure hunt.
One sales associate was overheard responding to customer query for particular item with a broad sweep of the hand, "They are scattered all over the store." Indeed.
West Elm Stores*
Nine styles from $79 to $169
100% cotton, some collections in organic cotton
$79-$119 sets, six styles
100% cotton, some collections in organic cotton
Wide range of styles $12.99-$129
Three styles from $29-$39
Eight designs from $39-$49
Two styles, bath size $19
100% organic cotton
18 styles area rugs (5 by 8) $229 to $499
10 styles, multiple sizes, multiple colors
$39-$119 for linen, linen/cotton blend, velvet
|* A wider selection available online for some product categories.|