From Home Furnishing Business
By: Powell Slaughter
John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon are bringing design chops honed during two decades in New York to bear in a home furnishings retail concept in High Point that looks to blend a distinct style aesthetic with a whole lot of fun.
Madcap Cottage Design Laboratory held its grand opening during October High Point Furniture Market in a former pharmacy off North Main Street. The store might be new, but the partners have developed a strong resumé not only in interior design, but also in curated vintage and antique finds available through e-commerce sites such as One Kings Lane and 1stDibs.com; and a line of bedding, window treatments and pillows at HSN.com.
Loecke and Nixon also appear regularly as design experts in print and on television.
The two chose High Point for its proximity to a huge array of showrooms that give Madcap customers access to lines not on the floor; and the abundance of skilled craftsmen—many of the accessories in the 2,000-square-foot storefront are produced locally.
CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
Loecke and Nixon founded their interior design firm, Madcap Cottage, 10 years ago. The online partnerships, and now Madcap Cottage Design Laboratory, grew from the partners’ reaction to the recession’s impact on any business related to the home.
“In 2008, we looked at what was what was going on and realized we needed to diversify into multiple revenue streams,” Nixon said. “As the landscape was changing and the economy was slowing, we wanted to make sure revenue was coming in and not be reliant on a single source.”
The team “got in early” he said, at One Kings Lane, where they’re on their 15th curated collection with the flash-sale site. Those efforts reflect the style sense and atmosphere Loecke and Nixon aim to bring to their retail storefront.
“These were products we found all over the world that we tweaked to our style with new fabrics and finishes,” Nixon said. “It’s sophisticated fun, traditional with a twist.”
Here’s how the Madcap Web site describes it: “Imagine a British country house that pairs Granny’s antiques and a spirited dash of Chinoiserie chic with a soupçon of Morocco-meets-India élan. Shake, stir, then pour.”
HAVING FUN, TELLING STORIES
Loecke and Nixon have a lot of fun in their work, and that’s the atmosphere their store projects.
“Decorating shouldn’t be stuffy and serious,” Nixon said. “It’s for rooms you live in—we emphasize pattern, color and a sense of whimsy.
“We’re creating our ideal of interior design, and why can’t it be retail? That’s where we’re moving.”
The store also reflects the experience of curating collections at sites such as One Kings Lane. Ninety percent of the furnishings in the High Point store are “tweaked” vintage pieces.
“These are one-offs,” Nixon noted. “Nothing is mass produced.”
There’s plenty of local talent to help with that tweaking, and also produce accessories such as dog leashes (the partners own three rescue dogs) for the store—all one of a kind items.
“You’re buying our view of the world—we’re storytellers,” Nixon said.
Telling those stories is where Madcap differentiates itself.
“What makes us different is that from years of working with design clients, we’ve found that people want a story,” Loecke said. “They want something more than ‘Oh, this is pretty.’ They want to be able to tell people ‘This piece came from Turkey.’ They want the background behind the pieces. … We’ll show them how they can work it into an existing setting.”
While the store is full of one-of-a-kind pieces, Madcap Cottage has long partnered with companies such as Century and Baker on projects. The partners’ access to vendors’ showrooms was a driving factor for setting up their retail operation in High Point.
“While we don’t necessarily stock those furniture lines on the floor, we have access to them through our design arm,” Loecke said. “We take people through the process of mixing in a piece from Baker with other lines—we don’t do a home in a single collection. A home shouldn’t look like a furniture showroom or a Restoration Hardware catalog.”
For a day rate, the partners will take customers shopping in High Point showrooms.
“Those are such amazing resources,” Nixon said. “You’ll see more Baker furniture in High Point than you’ll see in any showroom around the country.”
SPREADING THE WORD
Madcap Cottage Design Laboratory’s advertising strategy also is unique—it doesn’t.
“We’re lucky enough to get a lot of exposure through our book publishings and being referred to as design experts in magazines and on television,” Loecke said. “I’m on a local segment every Friday on WGHP Fox-8 (the High Point Fox affiliate). We’ve had a lot of international press as far away as China. We have a strong following in High Point, but also in Europe and the U.K.
“This is a High Point business, and we’re delivering to customers here. But this week we also shipped to Tennessee.”
Madcap’s approach is a natural for social media, and the partners have developed strong followings on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. While they don’t advertise they are constantly thinking about marketing.
“We’re all about engagement, and we’ve developed regional, national and international relationships,” Loecke said.
Domino magazine, for instance, hosted Madcap Cottage Design Laboratory’s grand opening party the Sunday evening of October Market.
“Sunday turned out to be a night that it seemed everyone was doing something, but we had a great turnout,” Loecke said. “We were supposed to run 5 to 7 p.m., but ended up open till 11:30. We had around 250 people.”
In late November, Madcap Cottage launched its own e-commerce platform in addition to the business it’s done for years at other sites.
“On our site, you’ll find all the things that round out the design experience in the store,” Loecke said. “We’ve been selling on One Kings Lane and 1stDibs now for the past for years, and customers can access those lines through our site as well.”
That e-commerce site will reflect the High Point store’s merchandising approach and will change constantly.
“We call the High Point location a ‘design laboratory’ because there’s always something happening,” Nixon said. “The store changes completely every month. You’re always walking into a space where something is new and different.
“Retail often reaches the lowest common denominator, where there’s nothing aspirational. Ours is an idea of surprise and discovery—give the lady what she doesn’t know she wants.”
Loecke and Nixon are working right now on their fourth book, which focuses on bringing the “fun factor” back into decorating. Along with national and international press exposure as design experts, the books and social media activities should continue to raise the partners’ profile.
They’ll also look to new partnerships for growing the business.
“I see a fabric line for sure in the next year,” Nixon said. “We’ll be announcing that not too long from now.
“I also see a furniture license happening with a national retailer that has a brick-and-mortar presence.”
Loecke said partnerships with furniture and fabric companies will give Madcap a presence in other retail spaces.
“We won’t be opening stores coast to coast, and that’s part of our vision for retail,” he said. “One problem with a lot of retailers is that it isn’t special anymore—you have a Pottery Barn everywhere, and it’s a lot different than when there were only a couple of locations.
“We don’t want to lose that quality of being special. People can shop us online without coming to High Point, but if they come to High Point, we’ll be a destination.”