West Elm ‘Local’ Expansion Taps Into American-Made Movement

West Elm has emerged as a pioneer in a local approach retailers have taken to home goods made in the U.S., as they have recognized that many consumers focus more on tradition and heritage than fixate simply on where and how products are sourced.

A newcomer in many communities, from its inception West Elm has been aware of the attraction of local heritage to shoppers, supporting local and regional product developers that employ local talents who sustain a homegrown sense of design and community.

This spring, West Elm began a new chapter in its relationship with local communities where it operates and the designers and makers working there.

Across North America, the company launched its first Local Showcase initiative. Conceived as a forum for makers to share their stories and present products at their local West Elm stores, Local Showcase events also have the advantage of establishing a relationship between the retailer and product developers, entrepreneurs and craftspeople in each community, noted Mo Mullen, director of West Elm Local.

To kick off the Local Showcase program, West Elm put out a call to its potential local partners, soliciting new product proposals in nine categories: giftable, home textiles, kitchen goods, garden, personal care, personal items, furniture, décor and food.

West Elm has indicated that the Local initiative has enjoyed a strong and positive response. West Elm Local today has a presence in all of the 70-plus North American stores operating under the banner and features over 4,500 products from 500 makers and designers from across the U.S.

“Local Showcase is in concert with the Local initiative at large,” Mullen said. “We ran a small business grant competition in 2014 as part of that process. We had makers and designers come to stores. We had such an incredible response, and it was a great way for our stores to dig deeper and get to know our community more.”

In developing Local Showcase, West Elm determined to expand its outreach to what has emerged as an important resource. “We want to make sure that we’re able to give our stores the opportunity to connect with as many local designers and makers as possible,” Mullen said. “We want to double our base of local designers and makers.”

Mullen added, “Part of what makes West Elm Local work is we really took autonomy and ownership down to the store level. Each store curates product in the Local collection. The stores manage all events, so cool things happen in stores with input from the local creative community.”

Although events do strengthen the local connection, product still is a core component in creating a community environment.

“It’s about relationships, and product with sense of place,” Mullen said. “Consumers love supporting people they know, and they love products and experiences. At West Elm stores, they love being able to support the small business, the designer, the maker. As a brand, West Elm is making an effort and has a commitment to support the small designer and maker in the community.”

For more on West Elm, see the July 4, 2016, issue of HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®. This issue’s Made in U.S.A. report also looks at entrepreneur programs from QVC, HSN and The Grommet, along with category by category coverage of housewares vendors and their American-made efforts.