When he worked as the head of CBS Interactive’s entertainment division, Dot & Bo CEO Anthony Soohoo expected viewers to react to the content the team posted and produced. What he didn’t anticipate was that viewers would get active design inspiration from CBS’s stable of shows.
“Consumers would call us up trying to buy the products on shows,” Anthony Soohoo told Emerging Retailer during a conversation last week at Shoptalk. In one particularly notable example, he laughs, “Someone called us up multiple times trying to make an offer to buy a tree stump from an island on Survivor.”
While CBS had to inform that particular caller that there were multiple environmental and logistical reasons that the stump wasn’t for sale, even for the $20,000(?!) offered, the idea persisted in Soohoo’s mind. “I thought it was really interesting that people shop while they’re bringing entertained,” he explains, “What kind of company could I create that’s a media based company, but instead of making money through advertising, how do we monetize it with consumer purchases?”
Taking a cue from the burgeoning popularity of native ads, which are online advertisements designed to fit in with the host site’s layout with the intent of directing users to the buyer’s commerce website, Soohoo decided to investigate the potential of a single platform where users would go to engage with stories and make purchases.
At the same time, he was in the midst of a home renovation with an interior decorator which left a poor taste in his mouth. “I used to go to IKEA and it was so simple – I would walk in and see a room and say, ‘this is what I want my room to look like,’ and then I’d just buy the products and walk out,” he says, comparing the process favorably to his more recent experience.
That motivated him to combine his platform idea with home goods for a site that would bring the curation and attitude of IKEA and HGTV to online shoppers. The challenge, Soohoo explains, was to create a site where consumers could “get ideas about how rooms should look together – not just to see a chair, but understand how it fits with a given side table, or the other chairs in your house.”
The name Dot & Bo came next. Soohoo and his team wanted to create a welcoming brand atmosphere that would make consumers feel like they were sitting in on a friendly conversation, which meant they started by looking at _______ & _______ style names. According to Soohoo the Bo part of the name was actually inspired by the name of the Obama family dog, Bo, which he spotted on the Obama’s Christmas card. Dot emerged as a shorted version of Dottie, a name which had continued to resonate during the name choosing process.
Today you can see the combination of Soohoo’s interest in home, content and commerce in the guided, curated collections available at Dot & Bo as well as its longer form lifestyle stories. Soohoo is proud to say that Dot & Bo is one of, if not the, premier online furniture retailers for millennials. According to Soohoo, 60% of the sites audience is under 45 years old, and he’s eager to see that percentage grow.
Surprising Sales and Lessons Learned
Somewhat surprisingly, Soohoo and his team didn’t exactly plan for the success of Dot & Bo’s entire furniture vertical. “I thought we could see a lot of tabletops and décor, maybe even a side table,” he clarified, “but I didn’t think people would buy a couch or buy a dining room table without sitting on it or touching it or feeling or understanding the dimensions.”
Soohoo credits Dot & Bo’s success in these tactile categories (in addition to their predicted success in decor and smaller home items) on the work the team has done to create trust with their customers. “It all starts with us not forcing the consumer to feel like they need to buy anything,” he says. The ultimate goal is for Dot & Bo’s customers to think of their communiques as magazines, rather than catalogs, which Soohoo says he’s already seen evidence of. As an example, he says that customers have the company asking why they didn’t receive emails on days where none had been produced.
Another lesson that Dot & Bo had to learn was just how important timing and shipping is to their customers, which Soohoo also brought up during his panel talk at Shoptalk. “Under promising and over delivering doesn’t work,” he says, explaining that the furniture industry has different constraints and requirements than many other hot online commerce segments, given the size of the items and the warehousing/shipping requirements involved.
“The more important thing for us is to be able to be very accurate, and say, ‘we can get this couch to your house on this day between 12-2, even though it’s three weeks away.’” Soohoo continues. He also admits that, given the tools available, the industry isn’t there yet, but he thinks Dot & Bo are among the closest.
As a furniture retailer, Soohoo is excited about the potential for virtual and augmented reality to help users visualize and feel comfortable with their purchases. However, given the infancy of the medium, he is reserving judgement and budget until it’s further along in its development.
In the near term, he’s more excited about using video. “It seems like everyone’s doing video, but right now people either make their content on video really entertaining where no one buys it, or they’re trying to sell to you with what’s basically product information.” The key for brands like Dot & Bo, he says, will be to create video that makes viewers feel like they’re part of a conversation with a friend, while being exposed to product ideas.
Looking beyond Dot & Bo’s purview, Soohoo thinks furniture rentals present an opportunity for innovation. Right now, he says, renting really doesn’t make financial sense if a consumer wants to have the furniture for more than two months.
However, he believes that there may be a market for customers who want short term, high quality furniture for hosting or other events. The challenge, then, would be to make rentals work on an economic basis while protecting the quality of the pieces and ensuring the consumers view shared furniture as high quality enough to use for special occasions.
For now, Dot & Bo continues to establish its bonafides as a brand capable of staying in the industry for the long haul.