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West Elm May Soon Be Serving You Dinner

The modern furniture retailer expands into hospitality

West Elm

West Elm, maker of trendy, mid-century inspired furnishings, has announced plans to open a line of hotels, as Curbed notes — replete with plenty of the brand’s furniture and accessories, of course, but also with a culinary component.

The Wall Street Journal reports West Elm will “design, furnish and market the hotels, the first of which will open in Detroit and Savannah in late 2018, and its partner DDK, a hospitality management and development company, will operate them.” Additional locations are planned for Charlotte, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis.

Naturally, all of the rooms’ furniture and décor will be available online. So, if guests like the bed they sleep on, maybe they’ll hop on their laptop and buy it while lying in it. Each location will also include a restaurant and, though details are sketchy, it’s a safe bet that dinner will be served on a West Elm plate, alongside West Elm flatware, à la New York City’s ABC Carpet and Home and the restaurants it houses, including ABC Kitchen. Rates will range from $175 to $400 per room.

According to a press release, each hotel will include several local touches: artwork will be commissioned and curated by artists from the neighborhood, and design elements will “celebrate community and reflect traditional décor, handicraft, cuisine and culture from the region.” Does that mean the hotel will partner with local chefs? The company won’t say, only sharing that, “West Elm Hotels will have a restaurant component, but we do not have any details to share at this time.”

Of course, that West Elm’s parent company is Williams-Sonoma means food and fine dinnerware will likely be an important facet of the new hotels. Will diners be able to pay their check and wander over to the hotel’s gift shop to pick up an All-Clad saucepan? It’s within the realm of possibility.

Urban Outfitters has partnered with a number of big-name chefs in recent years. It’s part of the brand’s foray into "experience retail" shops, which go beyond shopping.

A preview on the hotel’s website shows a room that looks, well, a lot like a living room right out of a West Elm catalogue, complete with an in-room bar and workspace. Price tags will not dangle from the furnishings or decor, though a corresponding app will provide those details, and, likely, purchase information.

West Elm

As the Journal notes, a slew of big names outside the hospitality industry are jumping into the hotel game. Restoration Hardware has plans to open its first hotel in New York, and upscale fitness chain Equinox is following suit. In Detroit, upscale retailer Shinola (maker of $600 watches and $1,000 bikes) announced it, too, will open its own boutique hotel in 2018.

Retail companies have struggled in recent years due to increased competition from the web. Making the jump to hospitality might seem like a stretch, but it could be more profitable than simply opening more brick-and-mortar stores. Hotel inventory tends to be less risky than retail inventory, which must change at least seasonally in order to attract new buyers. In 2014, Restoration Hardware decided to ditch small stores in favor of massive, mansion-sized “galleries” (some of which total 45,000 square feet). It was a bet that hasn’t entirely paid off. Earlier this year, Restoration Hardware stocks sunk to their lowest levels after the company missed earnings estimates.

Sales at West Elm have, for the most part, been positive (the Journal reports that digital and store sales have increased more than 10 percent for 26 consecutive quarters). But nothing gold can stay, and a new line of hotels could provide more financial stability apart from the tumultuous world of retail.

The Wall Street Journal reports that sales at retail stores, online and at restaurants fell 0.3 percent in August, the first decline in retail sales since March. According to data from financial analysis firm Sageworks, sales at furniture store have grown more than six percent over the past year. Traveler accommodations sales, meanwhile, have grown more than nine percent in the same time frame.

Those numbers don’t necessarily make the hospitality industry a safer bet than retail, though. A spokesperson for Sageworks notes that there could be underlying factors driving the positive growth at hotels: lower gas prices, for instance, or increased corporate expenditures for travel.

Why Big-Name Chefs Are Opening Restaurants Inside Urban Outfitters [E]
West Elm Expands Into Travel and Hospitality With West Elm Hotels [Release]
West Elm Is Getting Into the Hotel Business [Curbed]
West Elm to Launch Its Own Boutique Hotels [WSJ]