People to Watch in 2016:
Niraj Shah and Steve Conine

The August 17 edition of HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® revealed the 10th Annual “Players,” 20 people to watch in housewares during the next 12 months.

Selected by HomeWorld Business editors, the Players represent a cross section of a diverse housewares business— from established to newly installed company leaders; from large to small operations, from big-box to specialty retailers; from trade show managers to celebrity endorsers.

The HomeWorld Players are in the spotlight not only for how they might impact their respective organizations in the coming months, but also for how they might impact the overall housewares business.

Player’s CredentialsSteve Conine and Niraj Shah met as high school students attending a summer program at Cornell University and struck up a friendship while attending the college. In their final college semester, Conine and Shah enrolled in a class on entrepreneurism. The class led to a business plan that, in turn, developed into their first company. Conine and Shah began their business by setting up shop in a spare bedroom of Conine’s house. By analyzing Internet search patterns and results, Conine and Shah realized they had an opportunity to sell stereo racks and stands online. As they continued identifying sectors where they could build a business, they eventually amassed more than 250 standalone specialized product sites. In viewing the developing market, Conine and Shah decided to consolidate their operation and, in 2011, Wayfair.com emerged. 

What To Watch: Wayfair has been driving its sales since 2011 by crafting a distinctive merchandising strategy compared to other online retailers. Wayfair is not Amazon.com and intends to keep it that way. Although it maintains a value orientation, the home products Wayfair offers through its namesake and related specialty online sites, AllModern, Birch Lane, DwellStudio and Joss & Main, offer curated product selections driven by content. Wayfair sites offer advice on everything from home decoration to throwing a party but also narratives that provide a context for the home goods it offers. The company has come to function as part retailer and, with a boost from social media, part community of people who are interested in enhancing their homes and associated lifestyles. 

The ecommerce company has recently launched a custom upholstery program based on fast turnaround via manufacturing in the U.S. and has teamed with Sherwin-Williams to provide input for do-it-yourself consumers through the Restore & Renew DIY Hub. As Wayfair continues building sales, and works toward generating profits as well, new home products and content related initiatives will be key not only to gaining additional customers but also to building loyalty, which will help the retailer generate more profitable sales.

Perspective: “At Wayfair, we are committed to creating the best home goods shopping experience for consumers and we are excited to see our selection and service resonate among more and more every day,” Conine said. “We look forward to this continued momentum and providing our customers exactly what they need for their homes while also offering ideas and inspiration through exciting visual merchandise and content.” 

2016 HomeWorld Business Players (click on name for profile):