Restoration Hardware's Catalog Lands With A Thud

That thwack I heard emanating from the front stoop yesterday, it turned out, was the outcome of more than 10 pounds worth of UPS-delivered catalogs hitting the bluestone — Restoration Hardware’s “2014 Annual Source Books” collection of “the most comprehensive and curated collection of home furnishings in the world.”

In his effusive introduction to a chat with Restoration Hardware chairman and CEO Gary Friedman — “the most inventive person in retail today” — Jim Cramer proclaimed on “Mad Money” last night that the company’s “management has an incredible vision like none other I’ve ever seen in retail.” 

Friedman went on to point out that only 8% of all sales are currently online and “nobody is talking about the 92%” where business is conducted in fluorescent-lighted boxes “that lack any sense of humanity” and were “were built for a different generation and convenience.”

His modus operandi, therefore, is “to destroy today's reality to create tomorrow's future and we're doing things very differently. In some cases that makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes it's scares people.”

Such as people concerned about the environment, for one.

“Twitter has exploded with disgust. Search hashtag #restorationhardware and you’ll find these — and many more — little gems,” writes Will Burns on Forbes’ “CMO Network”:

  • I thought I was able to escape this utter marketing debacle. No thanks @RestorationHardware. Come take it back. Now. —Mark Boles
  • If I sit down with 3300 pages, there better be a scarfaced wizard or a lot of Jesus involved. —Marilyn Thomas

Burns’ own brother shipped the whole caboodle back to Friedman at his own expense ($32.54) “on the assumption that the landfills in your neighborhood have more capacity than ours here in Chapel Hill,” as an attached note said.

Reports on the weight of the package vary from 17 to 12 pounds, by the way, apparently depending on whether one received the entire 13-book, 3,300-page offering or not. My bundle, which only contained nine volumes, was slightly more than 10 pounds outside its vacuum-packed wrapping.  

A one-page flyer accompanying volumes attests to the company’s “commitment to the environment” with three points:  The collection is “published just once a year and shipped to you in a single package”; the “paper is forest certified”;  the “shipping is carbon neutral.” A fourth point is added online: “we are the founding sponsor of the Verso forest certification grant program.”

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ben Elgin, however, dissects each of the claims and finds “Restoration Hardware’s paper is certified to a weaker standard than that of many competitors”; the “catalogs are nowhere near carbon-neutral” and “many of Restoration Hardware’s sustainability claims lack sufficient detail.”

That applies specifically to the Verso program, which purportedly provides funding to develop new projects for reforestation. 

“Katya Sorokko, Restoration Hardware’s vice president of public relations and marketing, declined to answer questions about the company’s contribution to the Verso program,” writes Elgin. “Two people listed by Verso Paper as contacts for its grant program didn’t respond to several e-mails and phone calls.”

Seven concerned citizens gathered up “nearly 2,000 pounds” of catalogs and dropped them at the Restoration Hardware store in Palo Alto, Calif., on Wednesday hoping they “might send a message to the home furnishings store's corporate headquarters,” Barbara Woods reports on Palo Alto Online.

Store employees responded by handing out the flyer, saying they were not allowed to comment. “When contacted via email, a company representative simply emailed the same flier [cq] and a link to the company's website and ignored questions about the delivery,” Woods writes. 

Under the headline, “Restoration Hardware Unleashes 12+ Pound Catalog, Trees Weep,” Racked’s Erika Graham writes about the “swift and vicious” reaction to the mailing on social media.

“The Daily Mail rounded up the best of the bunch,” she reports, “including ‘Oh I get it, the Restoration Hardware catalogs ARE the furniture,’ and ‘'Going out in the morning to clean up all the dead UPS guys who were delivering Restoration Hardware catalogs today.’”

“When we look at this industry, we say, there's those with taste and no scale and there's those with scale and no taste,” company CEO Friedman told Cramer. “And what we're trying to do is scale taste.”

In a tasteless way, many potential customers would have it.

Tags: print, retail
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4 comments about "Restoration Hardware's Catalog Lands With A Thud".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 20, 2014 at 8:50 a.m.
    Would a regular catalog or on line catalog crafted such a national name recognition campaign, like it or not ? What does a national TV campaign cost with even these results ? Can it be measured ? What can you get in one place such a Restoration Hardware ? Who knew they had so much ? Not that it is such a winner about those you speak, but lets see the sales the next few quarters if they thought they had such a great idea or a real Thud. Isn't everyone trying to find that needle in a haystack even if it is an O & O ?
  2. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy , June 20, 2014 at 9:52 a.m.
    One of my most popular posts on Facebook reads like this... "Restoration Hardware: Let me see if I've got this right. You cut down trees in Canada and truck the logs to a mill. The mill grinds them into pulp and then the pulp is trucked to a paper plant to create huge rolls of paper. The huge rolls of paper get trucked to printing presses that print 15 POUNDS OF CATALOGS. The catalogs are bundled in plastic and then UPS trucks them to every home in America. Then, each homeowner groans as they lift the damn thing off the doorstep and carry it to their paper recycling garbage can in the back of the house. Or, in my case, the homeowner briefly stops to take a picture of the message that says that RH did this as one of their "SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVES" - honestly you cannot make this stuff up. I've been involved with brand building and brand marketing for 30 years and this is the worst initiative I have ever seen. Hopefully I won't hurt my back now as I take this out to the paper recycling can."
  3. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy , June 20, 2014 at 9:58 a.m.
    Many smart marketing executives have noted that we are all now talking about Restoration Hardware. That is why the companies that track social network buzz are paid big bucks to understand the sentiment underlying the commentary. The legacy of "all publicity is good publicity" is obsolete. When the PR is negative word-of-mouth being spread from one consumer to another with the catalyst of digital social networks, the simple idea that RH is top-of-mind is not likely to drive revenue growth.
  4. Christopher Hamer from CrowdFlik , June 23, 2014 at 3:02 p.m.
    I bet that very few of those packages returned to the Palo Alto store were unopened. I'm sure you've seen the books - awesome and outrageous at the same time. Ours blocked my wife's Beetle from getting into the garage for a week then sat unopened in the mudroom for another. The kids opened it to find all sorts of cool stuff, furniture, design ideas, crazy pictures and stories and plenty of zani-ness. Probably half of them are interesting to us - but, hey - less than 1% of emails get opened.