Founded by Kristina Thomas in mid-2011, Home Culture is designed to bring high-quality, stylish gifts, homeware and furniture to Australian members at affordable prices.
Kristina Thomas, a Belgian-born Australian, has always had a passion for anything to do with home and living. Being time-poor and having personally experienced the challenges associated with trying to find great decorative pieces for her own home at reasonable prices, Thomas turned to online retail.
It was here that she discovered a flourishing space for fashion and apparel retailers that were able to amass huge membership lists and offer those members exclusive sale prices. It was in this model that Thomas saw an opportunity to offer Australian consumers similar access to high-end homeware, giftware, furniture “and everything to make your home beautiful at up to 70 percent off retail prices,” she says.
Thomas then came to establish her webstore, Home Culture, halfway through 2011 as Australia’s first members-only flash sales site dedicated to these categories. According to Thomas, Home Culture aims to provide three major offerings:
- A positive, interactive and informative experience for the customer while securing the purchase of items at great prices
- A launchpad for young designers, decorators, stylists and brands
- A marketing opportunity for more established brands and interior designers, decorators and stylists
Thomas achieves these things by astutely acknowledging the model her business venture operates within, while also carefully curating the products she offers. The flash sales model, which was in fact defined originally by fashion site Vente-privée.com, also works well for the homeware and furniture categories, and has been pioneered by OneKingsLane.com in the US.
Pairing this model with her own sense of style, Thomas also offers a ‘Be Inspired’ blog that features hints and advice from interior designers, such as Greg Natale, Darren Palmer and Diane Bergeron, once again proving the power of good editorial content when it comes to selling niche, unwieldy or high-end items.
Creating a One-of-a-Kind Culture
Thomas describes her brand as being very down-to-earth, but the model is anything but simple. It relies on convincing trusted brands to partner with the site in order to produce short-term sales at drastically reduced prices, and this doesn’t happen without headaches along the way.
“Generally, sales run for seven days and products are delivered to customers anywhere in Australia,” says Thomas. “There is a strong focus on offering hand-selected collections of high-quality products.”
In order to offer this, Thomas has been growing her business on a shoe-string, and as such, things have grown slowly. Where she once operated in a niche all of her own, lately Thomas has been facing off against some heavy-hitting competitors.
“My biggest issue so far has really been one of ‘bandwidth’,” says Thomas, “that is, I often struggle to afford to have enough hands on deck with a limited resources base in general. Now, competition has begun to be an issue as well. There were no other businesses offering what Home Culture does when we launched in 2011, but since then several others have entered the market. Some of these are well-established in other online retail sectors as well.”
Thomas says that the only option she has is to maintain her brand’s image wherever possible, instilling the sense of a ‘down-to-earth’ and personal shopping experience for every person that signs up. She has also had to innovate in order to ensure she can maintain her members’ engagement.
“One example of this is our highly popular Sunday Secret Sale, where one ‘mystery item’ is put on sale for one day only at up to 85 percent of recommended retail price.”
For the most part, Thomas strives to feature product from Australian brands, whether they are established names or only just emerging in their respective categories.
“Good examples of exciting emerging brands include Your Table Matters, In Mixed Company, La De Dah Kids and Ecosleep,” she says. “Online retail is becoming highly competitive, so it’s important that Home Culture continues to provide unique offerings that can help it differentiate from any competitors. Without having the marketing budget of some of the larger online outfits means that we are always striving to stand out in others ways. We are building a strong offering on social media and we try and innovate as much as possible in this direction.”
Email Marketing: The Core of the Members-Only Model
Of course, the most integral part of any members-only or flash sales online retail venture’s marketing strategy is email marketing. Emails are gathered at the point of entry to Home Culture’s site and then added to an ever-growing membership database. From this point, sales can be easily broadcast to the entire list, or certain items can be targeted to certain kinds of customers.
“Home Culture has daily ‘conversations’ with close to 5,000 fans on Facebook, which is also broadcast to Twitter followers,” Thomas explains. “This has proven to be a cost-effective means of building brand-awareness. Home Culture also offers a referral program where a member can invite a friend and receive a $10 voucher when their friend makes a purchase.”
Home Culture also employs a unique shipping and fulfilment strategy, which is handled entirely in-house that means Thomas doesn’t need to hold large amounts of inventory at any given time.
“Home Culture delivers directly to customers anywhere in Australia,” she says. “The business model means that no inventory is held and stock is ordered once given the sales campaign has finished. I initially outsource the management of Home Culture’s logistics, but I eventually found it was easier and cheaper to manage it in-house. The choice of delivery service usually depends on the customer’s location, as well as the size and type of their purchased product.”
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