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Similar Vibe, Distinct Paths

The emails from One Kings Lane and Joss & Main arrive on the heels of each other, sometimes at exactly the same minute. A couple clicks later, one is shopping beautifully photographed home furnishings. Prices are slashed and a clock counts down until the deals are done.
     Stylistically, they resemble each other quite closely and both convey the same lush feel of a high-end shelter book, thanks to crisp photography and copious use of white space as well as original editorial content. These sites, chosen for discussion because they both focus almost exclusively on home, prompted the question: Is this an example of copycat behavior? Or having hit on a winning formula - emulating a shelter book - are home flash sales piling on to cash in?
     The question didn't rattle Paul Toms, general manager of Joss & Main. He explained the site evolved over time, based on feedback from consumers.
      Toms said Joss & Main does try to look like a shelter book - and is flattered by the comparison. "We're looking to provide different design points of interest," he said. Goals are to "be accessible, be inspiring, and to allow the photography to do most of the speaking." Susan Feldman, One Kings Lane co-founder and chief merchandising officer, pointed out that the One Kings Lane arrived on the scene first.
      "We were the first in the home industry to launch flash sales in 2009," said Feldman. "While others like Joss & Main have focused on the flash sales model, we quickly evolved into a curated home décor marketplace." Feldman points to the launch of designer Tastemaker Tag Sales in 2010, Vintage & Market Finds in 2012, global shopping trips, exclusive designer collaborations, and celebrity curated sales as setting One Kings Lane apart.
     In early 2014, One Kings Lane will launch Hunters Alley, a marketplace for premium used furnishings and décor.
     In response, Toms characterized Joss & Main as "the only flash sale site for the home that offers a broad range of design inspiration at a variety of price points." He said for consumers, the Joss & Main shopping experience centers on magazine-quality editorial content and curated events sourced from celebrities, designers, and bloggers.
     Regarding the sites' similarity, Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, vp and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said Joss & Main was "probably looking for an opportunity to take advantage of what was happening in fl ash sales. Why reinvent the wheel when you have a proven model?" she asked.
     But if the sites look very similar to the consumer, on the back end they are very different.
     Joss & Main is owned by Wayfair, a Boston based group of retail sites that focuses on home décor, which raised tens of millions to build the flash sales site. Wayfair has hired a chief financial officer to prepare for an IPO, likely in 2014 or 2015. But regardless, Toms expects "business as usual" after the IPO. "Both Wayfair and Joss & Main are very well-capitalized," he said. "I don't expect the IPO to impact us."
     Does having a parent company to raise investment dollars on your behalf make doing business easier? The answer, from Toms, was not necessarily. "It's a different hustle. It hasn't always been easy to round up manufacturers," he said.
     One could say that the folks at One Kings Lane know a thing about hustling as well. The start-up has raised an impressive amount of funding - $117 million.
     "When we first launched in 2009 my cofounder [Ali Pincus] and I bootstrapped the business with our funds," Feldman said. Even though the company has grown to 500 employees, Feldman said the company is still operates with the "passion, nimbleness, and innovative spirit of a small startup team."

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