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Lisa Versacio - in the house

Lisa Versacio
in the house
by Vivian Manning-Schaffel
October 31, 2005

Lisa Versacio, Restoration Hardware's senior vice president of new business development, knows a thing or two about brand building. By translating the skills she acquired during her early days in fashion, she built the modern furniture brand West Elm from the ground up. In the process, she helped create a concept where you don't have to be rich to have a great looking home filled with quality well-designed home furnishings and accessories. Versacio is about to do it again with a new furniture/lifestyle brand under the Restoration Hardware umbrella due to launch in Fall 2006. Although she wouldn't divulge any of the details, she did tell us how she got to this point in her career.

Right out of FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology], my first job was in the fashion industry working with Liz Claiborne. That was where I got my real education. I was so young and it was amazing to watch these people literally build this huge business, not necessarily from an aesthetic perspective, but from a brand building perspective. To this day, I still use principles that I learned from that experience, on both the creative and operational sides.

Since crossing over from fashion to furniture design, I started to question why people love to look at certain magazines or catalogs, and I discovered that it's because they want to see how to put things together. And I discovered that it becomes more about a level of personal security in terms of how people choose what to wear, versus what they choose to put in their homes. When we analyze the waters, what is apparent is that most customers tend to buy the entire space. If a look is put together, people are more likely to buy the whole look instead of one piece.

One of the interesting things happening in the home world is, although it doesn't make sense for most people to go out and buy a new sofa or tables every year or two, but with all of the accessories out there, people can make less expensive changes that can still change the look of a room. By offering stylish accessories at a lower price point, this opens brands up to a whole new market segment.

With West Elm, Williams-Sonoma was looking to sell the new concept of a brand that would extend their current umbrella, and reach a customer base that they weren't getting particularly with Pottery Barn—a younger demographic with a cleaner aesthetic as opposed to their more traditional look. I was really proud of what I achieved with West Elm. I love the process of imagining something and then bringing it to life in a tangible form. It's even better when people start buying it!

I can't say too much about our new brand, but it's really exciting. About six months ago, Restoration Hardware started thinking about taking in a different direction and they asked me to come on board. Opportunities like this don't happen very often.

This new brand will have nothing to do with the current Restoration Hardware stores, which have become a bit upscale. It's an innovative concept that's geared toward a younger customer than they are currently addressing. In building this new brand, part of the plan is to offer accessible price points, but without sacrificing design or aesthetic. We are working on the logo right now and are going to start with a catalog and a website, and eventually roll out storefronts.

As difficult as it is to execute something this involved, where I've created and conceptualized the entire aesthetic, it's also so rewarding. There is so much involved in the creation of a brand from the ground up. The merchandising, the marketing, the retail planning…. There is so much that's been in my head for a long time and it's not that easy, but I really enjoy the process of getting it out of my head and into the world.

To get new ideas, what I've always done is maintain an awareness of everything that's happening around me, the restaurants I go to—those kinds of places. I try not to get into such a linear train of thought that I'm just looking at a particular product segment. It's important to get inspired by maintaining an overall awareness of what is going on in the world and channel that into something that fits the brand. In building a brand, you don't want to be all over the place. Just in the right places.

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a freelance writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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