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How an 85-Year-Old Company Expanded into DTC (2023)

STARK Carpet has a legacy that many new business owners dream of building themselves. The company started more than 80 years ago and became a premier destination for luxury  carpets and rugs. 

It’s not uncommon to see STARK in the pages of Architectural Digest or in the homes of some of America’s biggest tastemakers. Jackie Kennedy even chose STARK for the flooring in the Oval Office during her husband’s presidency.

Chad and Ashley Stark, the third generation to run the family business, have the unique challenge of evolving STARK while maintaining the brand’s iconic heritage. Here’s how the duo have taken an omnichannel approach and retained their longstanding relationships with interior designers in the trade.

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Launching a direct-to-consumer line

STARK did more than just put their inventory online. Ashley  designed a DTC-first  line of rugs, carpets, and other home goods under the name Ashley Stark Home. . 

The brand was born out of suggestions from her more than 1 million Instagram followers, who wanted to know where to buy the products in her posts. Instead of directing her followers to other companies, she decided to sell the goods herself. “I believe in these products because a lot of the things that are on there are actually things from my own home and actually things that I wanted to use,” Ashley says.

Building tools for online customers

One of the first things Ashley and Chad learned about selling DTC was that it was very different from the model they were used to. 

The marketing costs, the churn, and the return rate were all higher. The average order value was lower and it took more customer education to prove the company’s value and history. “You could, with not that much money and some great photography, launch a new brand online that can appear as heritage as a company like ours,” Chad says.

Chad and Ashley worked to build more tools for customers that could help make the experience world-class. STARK added a visualizer tool, so online customers could picture what STARK products would look like in their home. And, they simplified the inventory online so customers don’t get overwhelmed by too many options.

 STARK also relies on its network of showrooms and encourages online customers to visit if they want to see products in-person.

Maintaining trade relationships

The tricky part of entering a new sales channel was balancing STARK’s existing customer base of interior designers with new direct-to-consumer customers. Sometimes homeowners who were working with interior designers would like STARK carpets and buy them direct, instead of through the designers. In those cases, STARK would give designers 25% comission to maintain loyalty.. 

Chad also advocates for maintaining relationships with clients the old fashioned way. He says really getting to know trade customers, through business dinners and one-on-one meetings, can go a long way toward getting repeat business.

Stark carpet in a room with large windows
STARK has an audacious goal to be in one area of every high-end design project globally, which means they need to keep building their relationships with designers in the trade. STARK Carpet

Staying engaged with the community

Ashley found relationship building online was just as important. “I spent the first three or four years literally responding to every comment on my [social media] pages,” Ashley says.

She also commented on posts from other popular design accounts and featured other brands on her own account. She says engaging and participating in the online community helped foster a community that supported the launch of Ashley Stark Home.

Establishing autonomy for team members

With a reputation of a high-quality product and personalized service, Ashley and Chad ensure they hire a  team withe the right mindset to back it up. That includes making things right when errors happen—an inevitable occurrence, especially when selling handmade goods.

Ashley and Chad empower STARK’s salespeople and all employees to do the best thing for the customer. “I can’t remember a single time in our company where someone got in trouble for doing right by the customer, no matter what it was,” Chad says. 

To learn more about STARK’s foray into selling online, listen to the full episode on Shopify Masters.

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