College Dorm decorating – Home Furnishings News
It’s an $83 billion business—the second biggest consumer spending season after the winter holidays—so it’s little wonder that retailers and suppliers in home furnishings categories ranging from bedding to housewares to décor are looking for ways to get their share of the back-to-college (BTC)/back-to-school (BTS) market.
In its 2018 survey on the BTC and BTS markets, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights and Analytics predicted K-12 and college spending would be $82.8 billion, with families of K-12 students spending about $685 per child and college-age shoppers ringing up about $942 per person in sales. Within that latter figure, about $109 is set aside for dorm or apartment furnishings, just behind electronics and clothing.
That furnishings budget figure fits pretty closely with what Jeff Gawronski, founder of DormCo.com, is seeing among his BTC audience. The average sale on his website, which offers everything from top-of-bed items to organization and storage products to dorm décor, is $86—a figure that has grown by about $10 to $15 since the site launched in 2010, he said. And he acknowledges that shoppers usually buy from more than one source.
Gawronski got into the dorm products business when he created a bed post shelf and began selling it online. From there, he expanded into other student-oriented products and eventually into bedding, and began partnering with Chinese and other foreign manufacturers for Twin XL sheets and comforters—the size of choice in dorm rooms.
“It was about how to make college dorm bedding that wasn’t the cheapest, but to transform it into something special,” he said. “This is a big event in people’s lives. We wanted to do something they would appreciate. We really found a passion in bedding.”
Bedding is a big part of dorm room décor, with most BTC shoppers beginning with the comforter and going from there, he said. “That sets the tone for the dorm room,” he said.Targeting the female BTC audience, bedding supplier Indo Count has teamed up with Bed Bath & Beyond’s online business to offer Jane Meets Janie—a line of reversible comforters and shams that allow students to change their bedding style to reflect their mood.
“We found in our research that the college girl doesn’t want something cutesy,” said Bryan Parker, vice president of design and merchandising at Indo Count. “They want something more sophisticated.”
Jane Meets Janie consists of a reversible comforter with a solid section on each side as well as a print or pattern at each end, allowing for four different looks with one comforter. The shams are also dual sided. Parker said the hope is that BTC shoppers will embrace Jane Meets Janie, which is available in four patterns, and that will lead to its being offered at Bed Bath & Beyond’s brick-and-mortar stores. To help shoppers understand the versatility of the bedding, Indo Count created a video that tells the story.
BTC is huge for Bed Bath & Beyond, said Parker, as it is for many retailers, with most offering registries and checklists so shoppers can select items and buy them through various means—buy online, pick-up in store; buy online and ship to the school; or just buy in store or online.
Although he offers the option of shipping products directly to the college, Gawronski said it’s a rare choice among his shoppers. Most want to accumulate their items at home and see the bedding and wash it before heading off to school, he said.
Amazon, which is encouraging shopper loyalty with Prime Student, offers a package of entertainment and shopping perks including various delivery options from free one-day delivery and even same-day delivery options in some cities. Amazon also has its Hub Lockers in more than 900 locations, many at or near colleges and universities.“Back-to-school and back-to-college shopping can be overwhelming, especially for first-time shoppers, so it is helpful to have a checklist available to make the shopping process easier,” said Allison Spampanato, senior vice president of product development for Pottery Barn Teen and Pottery Barn Kids. The brands also offer buy online, pick up in store service and have design crews who work with families and students on product selection.
Providing design inspiration is becoming a big part of BTC. While many students turn to influencers, Pinterest and Instagram for ideas, retailers are working hard to steer shoppers to their outlets by presenting themed rooms or tips on how to tackle specific challenges—using their products, of course.
Overstock.com’s options include dorm decorating ideas by personality, ranging from traditional for the Ivy League legacy to the chic goddess and the midcentury media mogul. There are also web pages with designs for girls and guys and tips on dorm room organization, covering desks, closets and even laundry. Students can also join Overstock’s Club O rewards program, which offers 5 percent cash back, for free, said Rachel Reid, public relations associate.
Ikea, which doesn’t have a specific BTC collection, uses its existing products and solutions when building product ideas to inspire students with specific needs such as small space living, said Kelly Cronin Niszczak, media project manager. The idea is to target both students with styles that highlight who they are as well as parents, who want to make sure students’ BTC needs are all met.
This year, the global retailer surveyed students about different aspects of their lives. “Some spend their nights studying hard, while others spend them partying hard. Some stay up late, while others like to get an early start. While everyone is different,” she said, “they have one thing in common: They are 100 percent students. They survey results give us great insight to inspire students with product ideas and solutions.”
Ikea also partnered with Whistle Sports to create a custom content series on social media called Plan My Room, said Niszczak, where four sets of friends compete “for all the Swedish meatballs” by designing a living space for their best friend based on rapid-fire questions.
Ikea, Overstock and others begin promoting back to college in late June and carry on until kids pack up for campus in August and September. The NRF survey showed 67 percent of BTC shoppers started buying at least three weeks before school begins.
DormCo.com’s Gawronski said as summer wanes more buyers turn to all-in-one packs. “The person who is shopping early is someone with a theme in mind and they are piecing it together,” he said.
Amazon also used the start of summer as its launch date for its Off-to-College storefront, through which students can browse via computer or Amazon app for essentials and check out dorm room must-haves from influencers.
The gift market and its crossover into BTC shopping is one area that Mark & Graham, the monogrammed gift business that is part of Williams-Sonoma, is avidly exploring. And it has brought on an influencer—Belle of the Ball blogger and college student Abby Widger, who is being featured on the brand’s website and has done some video content for them, said Kate Lesher, vice president and general manager.
“We think about people who give and get gifts, and this (BTC) seemed like an opportunity,” said Lesher. Parents and grandparents are their core customer, although the brand is targeting college-age shoppers as well through its influencer, Instagram presence and stylish look books.
Mark & Graham is selective in its BTC room furnishings gear, offering a storage trunk, Swell water bottles in different sizes, towels and soft and hard-sided luggage. One of the options is to get the monograms in college colors, helping to personalize the BTC experience.
Since the brand is new to marketing for BTC, Lesher said it’ll look at the response to the items it has offered “and decide how robust we want to make it. We see ourselves complementing our sister brands” such as Pottery Barn Teens and Pottery Barn Kids.
Pottery Barn Teen has taken a broader approach to dorm living, launching its Pottery Barn Dorm collection in 2010 and covering furniture and essentials such as storage and decorative items, explained Spampanato.
On its website, Pottery Barn Teen’s dorm section presents a variety of styles from which students can choose, ranging from boho chic to preppy to neutral. For its PB Teen and PB Kids stores, Spampanato said they curate the collections, allowing customers to see various items, and also get fitted in person for backpacks and other gear.
Based on feedback from customers, Spampanato said it’s created some items specifically for the college and back-to-school markets, like the no-nail décor pieces that use removable adhesive strips to mount wall organizers, pinboards and even headboards. Tapestries also fall into this category, she noted, bringing not only color, pattern and personality into a space but serving a practical purpose as wall décor, room dividers and curtains.
Joanne Friedrick is a contributing editor for HFN and Home Textiles Today with more than 20 years of retail and housewares business reporting, writing and editing. For the past 15 years she has been operating her own business with clients that include Convenience Distribution, Seafood Source and Zest, a Maine-focused consumer food and lifestyle magazine.