Alexis DeSalva Kahler
Alexis is a Senior Research Analyst at Mintel. Alexis focuses on US Retail and eCommerce reports.

Senior Retail and eCommerce analyst, Alexis DeSalva, sit down with Heather Taylor of Heather Taylor Home in a two-part interview to discuss navigating the current retail challenges as a female-run small business. Heather discusses how her home décor and textile brand has pivoted from a diversified revenue stream of wholesale, e-commerce, brick-and-mortar and rentals to adapt to today’s changing retail landscape. 

Alexis DeSalva:

For those who may not be familiar with Heather Taylor Home, can you give us some background on your business? What products do you carry? How and when you got started and how you operate on/offline, and how that’s changed because of the pandemic?

Source: HeatherTaylorHome.com

Heather Taylor:

I started Heather Taylor Home in 2013 and felt like there was a hole in the market for cute, table linens. I’ve always loved hosting people for meals, and setting a pretty scene and table, and felt like that didn’t exist unless you were digging around at a flea market. Everything out there either felt too trendy or like something your grandma would want, but nothing felt fresh. I’ve always been into knitting and at the time the concept came to me, I was taking a weaving class so everything came together because I understood the language of making textiles from experience. We launched it as an e-commerce business and selling at a few stores, and the retail landscape in 2013 was very different than it is now. It’s all morphed since then; we started online and in wholesale and then a few years ago I had an “aha!” moment when my friend was getting married and realized we should rent our products, and that became a huge part of our business and it’s dead right now.

AD: I wanted to ask about that because that’s a big part of what I cover, the circular economy, so I’m wondering, who’s renting and for what right now?

HT: It’s really fascinating. Our fourth revenue stream is a pop-up store we opened a year-and-a-half ago and never “unpopped”. We still have our shop, but I don’t know how long we’ll be there but we’re still there. I remember the week that all this (COVID-19) went down and realized our business was dead. All of our rentals got canceled and I knew our shop wouldn’t be open and some of our big wholesale accounts canceled. Very quickly, I thought about making masks out of our product.

AD: You were one of the first brands that I saw was making masks, and also offering charitable partnerships as well.

HT: I care so much about the people in Mexico who make our items and it’s an impoverished part of the world and even with having a great job, a lot of the people who work on our products need this work. I contacted the head of our production asking about available scrap material, in my mind thinking this is a great way to keep them working. He told me we could make 500 masks right away, and initially Alex (Heather’s husband and business partner) and I thought about just donating them but then we realized we could use it as a fundraising opportunity; we could sell them with a charitable component and be able to give more.

AD: People will buy more!

HT: And you’ll be able to give more. I wanted them to be reasonably priced and I like to make a big impact, so I made them a 10-pack because I also liked the idea that maybe you only need four masks, but give the six away. We all have a UPS guy or a person at the grocery store or a homeless person or an elderly neighbor who needs a mask.

AD: And your masks are $50 for a 10 pack of masks, and for every pack purchased, 10 get donated.

HT: Yes, I didn’t want to capitalize off of this project. I need to cover our costs, obviously, but I wanted to price it well and I think we did.

AD: And it doesn’t feel like a gimmick. It’s very clear it’s the Heather Taylor Home textiles, it’s made in the same factory and you’re repurposing material that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be used. It’s still a smart way to keep business moving and keep people engaged.

HT: Also, we as a brand are always engaging with the community and trying to give back. It’s very important to us and we’ve always done it. It’s just who I am, so this is another good way. And it’s been incredible, what it’s lead to, the people reaching out to me. A lot of it’s through Instagram, but there are nurses reaching out and social workers and people who are lawyers for kids in foster care. And something I never thought about is that because the patterns on the masks are so cheery and happy, the masks aren’t scary for kids so social workers that are dealing with sex-trafficked kids can still try to go into the streets and rescue them. These are the messages I’m getting like every day. It’s been a very eye-opening thing. We’ve sold over 40,000 masks, so we have over 40,000 to donate, but it’s critical for us that we donate them in a really smart way where they’re not sitting in a box. A big goal for us is to donate to every homeless person in Los Angeles.

AD: I read you’re going to have children’s masks, right? Those are coming soon.

HT: Yes, it’s really exciting and people are really interested in them. Of course, it’s a weird time to launch a product. Normally, I’d be trying them on a bunch of kids for sizes…

AD: Yeah, but I think just as a consumer, we’re all kind of adjusting. If a mask is big on me and small on someone else, it doesn’t matter; whatever we can get to meet our needs.

HT: It’s very interesting, but then simultaneously, our (regular) online business for Heather Taylor Home has exploded.

AD: That’s what I was going to ask. What has been the customer response and how have you seen it just shift your business models in general? Because you don’t have a store presence right now and rentals are down, how has that all shifted?

HT: I think that because we’re all at home, to be in the home business is actually pretty good right now. People are excited about making their homes cozy and that’s what we’re all about. Quick, easy things that aren’t too expensive, that make your space feel comforting and cheerful and cozy is what we’re about always, so that has really resonated. People are really interested in shopping for their homes so we’re doing our best to keep up with that demand. We’re trying to accommodate everyone.

AD: I do think there are two sides of the coin here, especially being a small business owner. There are some definite challenges that you probably faced before the pandemic that are still very present, but I’d also argue that some small businesses are at a bit of an advantage versus the bigger retailers, such as J.Crew and Neiman Marcus, that maybe realized they got too big, too fast. What do you think are some of the challenges that existed before that are still an issue and what are some of the advantages you see of being a small business owner during a time like this?

HT: It’s exactly what you just said; having a lean operation is a huge bonus for us right now. Real estate and overhead, all that is a benefit and I spent the first couple weeks feeling really grateful about that. But that being said, we’re still really understaffed, and now I’m homeschooling my kids. We need more help; we needed more help before and we need more help now; that hasn’t changed. I’ve also been interested in diversifying our business from the beginning, making sure we have a few different, strong revenue streams that make us be a little bit more nimble. Like rentals, which is a huge part of our business traditionally, is dead, and I have no idea if it will come back. It might, but in a few years.

Check out part two of Alexis’ interview with Heather Taylor!

Heather Taylor Home face masks are available at heathertaylorhome.com. For each pack purchased, 10 masks are donated to those in need including medical workers, first responders, social workers and the homeless population.