For many retail brands, Chapter 11 is not always the end of the story. Just consider the sequel being crafted by home furnishings retailer Bombay Company, which was founded in 1978 as a mail-order operation and grew to a national presence with 461 stores before filing for bankruptcy in late 2007 and closing all its U.S. locations.
Wil Hollands, who served as VP merchandising for the former Bombay Company, is now president of Hermes-Otto International USA, the U.S. division of the global lifestyle and fashion company Otto Group. Its holdings include Bombay Company. Hollands talked with Chain Store Age contributing editor Connie Gentry about the return of the brand and the launch of its e-commerce site.
After Bombay Company shuttered its stores in 2008, what happened to the brand?
Bombay was, and still is, a vibrant, popular brand. When the stores closed, retailers began bidding for the brand, but the IP rights were purchased by Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Group.
After that, Hermes-Otto International, which also owns Crate & Barrel, acquired the master license for Bombay Company. Hermes-Otto was looking for another home furnishings brand in the U.S., and Bombay was a highly recognized brand with positive association.
I joined the company in October 2009, and convinced our board to buy the brand outright. For me, the Bombay brand is a personal commitment — it is very important to finish what should never have ended.
When was Bombay introduced back into the market?
About 18 months ago we launched the brand through a series of shows on QVC, and about one year ago, Bombay products began selling in select retail stores. Although we are maintaining a controlled environment for the Bombay brand, there has been such enthusiasm and so many eager inquiries on our Facebook page about where to buy product and when stores might open that we knew the next step was to launch an e-commerce site. [Bombaycompany.com was due to go live at press time.]
Did the bankruptcy filing negatively impact the brand’s image?
Most people did not realize Bombay went out of business; they just thought the local store closed. That speaks to the overall positive perception of the brand, and it’s important to remember the stores didn’t go out of business because the product was bad or customers lost interest. It was simply due to a shift in real estate strategy at a time when the economy plummeted. All of the company’s assets were leveraged and, as banks were going under, they pulled businesses like Bombay Company down with them.
How have you kept Bombay fans interested and engaged?
Primarily through our Facebook page, which not only talks about what we’ve been doing, but also engages fans to describe what they’ve been doing with their homes and decorating styles and share photographs that show how they are using Bombay products they bought over the years.
We also email, tweet when we have something important to say, and use Pinterest to create a buzz around new ideas and new products. Similarly, we reach out to bloggers to encourage talk about our website and the launch of products in stores.
What are the biggest challenges of resurrecting the brand?
The growth of mass-market retailers and value-priced stores altered the retail landscape. The challenge is to combine value and style while remaining true to the brand and still find a niche within this marketplace. We’ve been able to do this because it really didn’t matter what a person’s income bracket was — Bombay had something for everyone. Shoppers could walk out of a Bombay store with a $10 purchase and feel phenomenal, or they could buy a bedroom set or home office set for $2,000 and still feel incredible. The range of price points made it possible to bring the assortment into different levels of retail.
A number of retailers filed Chapter 11 in recent years. When does it makes sense to resurrect a historic brand versus introduce a new brand?
That’s a tough question because every brand would have a different answer. Bombay is unique because everything we sell is designed and manufactured for us; the brand has such a loyal following, and brand awareness remains high. In fact, a recent study showed that seven out of 10 people would purchase a Bombay product. Other brands that have gone out of business did not have that same business equation. They carried multiple brands in their stores, and the retail brand stood for a place to shop but didn’t necessarily stand for a particular style.
Are there plans to open Bombay stores?
I had a discussion about that very topic this week. No, there aren’t immediate plans for brick-and-mortar locations, but it is definitely something under consideration.
Do you have a favorite Bombay piece in your home?
Yes! I gravitate to the interesting designer pieces, and my favorite is the wingback bed that was introduced in 2005. It’s a great example of Bombay innovation. We were the first to introduce many products, including the wingback bed, and other retailers followed.
What is your vision for Bombay Company?
This year I want to continue building great retailer relationships and successfully launch our e-commerce site. Next year we’ll continue to identify strategic partners to help grow the brand, and possibly re-evaluate when to open stores. I’m committed to steady, planned growth.