Remember when you and your college friends shopped for the same boring twin extra-long sheets and bed risers at the same brick and mortar stores?
Dormify changed that.
“At the time, there wasn’t anywhere to go for dorm room decor inspiration, explains Nicole Gardner, Dormify COO and member of the founding team. “People just weren’t talking about it.”
Although initially started as a decor inspiration blog, Gardner, Amanda Zuckerman, and Karen Zuckerman (Amanda’s mother), soon decided to venture into actual ecommerce sales.
Just a few years later, Dormify boasts a thriving ecommerce operation, enough Instagram followers to fill two London Olympic stadiums, and has expanded into the millennial apartment market.
How did they do it?
Dormify’s Biggest Traffic & Revenue Drivers
Unless you live under a wifi-less rock, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Dormify. The ecommerce company has been spoiled by a lot of media exposure; from NBC to The Washington Post to Forbes.
(And no, they don’t just dedicate hours to PR.)
“While we do have a lot of relationships with editors and people excited about what we’re doing, we get a lot of interest from bigger publications naturally,” says Gardner. “So we just continue to build our organic brand.”
Dormify’s organic brand virality also generates direct traffic for the website, which is the biggest driver of their sales.
The team puts a lot of thought and emphasis on well-crafted content, which prominently features products (along with prices and links) pushes users to the final sale.
This organic reach is a big reason why the team doesn’t have to spend big bucks on other digital marketing channels.
“We advertise on many of the basic digital channels–social, paid search–but we’re not really spending huge budgets in those areas, explains Gardner. “We put more attention into the product itself, and how to build an experience that people want to talk about.”
Dormify’s Social Growth
Dormify’s most powerful social site is Instagram, followed by Pinterest.
They’re also currently testing Snapchat, but if you think they jump onto every trendy social network for the sake of being seen as “cool”, think again.
“The social media landscape and technology change every year, so we put a really concerted effort towards watching what our customers are engaging with,” says Gardner. “Sometimes it’s not a platform change–it’s a strategy change on a particular platform, based on how our customers are currently using it.”
Dormify’s loyal audience and expansive media exposure makes social channels such as Instagram a perfect fit for the brand.
“When you’re going into your first freshmen dorm–that’s the biggest college shopping moment for many students,” says Gardner. “They’re looking for ideas based on where their peers have shopped before, and that’s where social plays a huge role.”
Their audience is not just loyal, they also like to talk about it–and the first referral program was born without any official prompting from the team.
The team further capitalized on their customer loyalty by designing an ambassador program called “Style Advisors”. Students opt into the community and earn points to get into an advisory role (hence the name).
Those style advisors don’t just help new customers help find their perfect dorm room setup, they’re also a built-in focus group for the Dormify team.
“We actively talk to our style advisors to influence upcoming strategies and marketing plans,” says Gardner. “We try to talk to a wide range of customers in different geographic locations, and see if we can back that information with surveys and large-scale polls to validate the larger assumptions we’re starting to craft in our minds.”
Dormify’s Brick and Mortar Presence
It’s a strange world out there. While traditional brick and mortar stores struggle to stay relevant online, native ecommerce sites dip their toes into brick and mortar.
The Dormify showroom has started off on an appointment-only basis, where customers could set up appointments with an expert stylist.
The team also tested a few small events and in-house trunk shows over initial years “on a grassroots level”.
Now, the showroom heavily influences their merchandising and even site design decisions.
“We found it so valuable to shop with customers in person because of the nature of what we’re selling,” says Gardner. “There’s a level of education and desire to see products in person and work with a stylist to help make decisions.”
Given Dormify’s obsession with the customer experience, it makes sense that they mainly sell direct-to-consumer.
But their obsession doesn’t just stop at getting products to their customer’s doorsteps–they actually design and manufacture the majority of their products, and pivot these every season based on trends and consumer insights.
Given the personalized nature of Dormify’s offerings, they think hard before venturing into any marketplace channel they don’t directly control.
But you know we had to ask about Amazon–after all, the potential revenue from the mega-site is tempting.
“Selling our products one-off in a marketplace is not part of our current strategy,” Gardner says. “Not to say we’d never go [on Amazon], but right now customers are coming to us because we’re offering that boutique experience in a one-stop sort of way for decorating a small space.”
“There are always temptations to partner with marketplaces and venture out into venues like that that would probably provide a lot of revenue and growth potential. But at this time, controlling the customer experience is more important. We’re not just selling a product, we’re selling a lifestyle.“