Business

How TRNK is tackling the men’s living space market — one furniture piece at a time.

Combining content and commerce sounded like a foolproof plan at its height between 2010 and 2012. But the idea has endured very public growing pains since. Gilt Groupe, Refinery 29, and even Esquire, among others, all launched content driven e-commerce arms to much fanfare, and they have since retreated from those projects as quietly as their launches were loud.

But New York-based TRNK appears to have landed on viable niche. Rather than focusing on flash sales or fashion, as most companies in this mold have tended to do, TRNK is focusing on high-end home furnishings for the male living space — a market that’s been either largely overlooked altogether, or handled with too much ostentation when attempted. Launched softly in late 2013, co-founders Tariq Dixon and Nick Nemechek, both former Gilt Man merchandisers, saw an opening to do it better. Their idea: Imbedding carefully-selected furniture pieces, homewares, and artworks — all curated by them — for purchase inside magazine-like editorials.

Close friends since their Gilt Man days, their collective track record is impressive. Their time at Gilt notwithstanding, Mr. Dixon, a Harvard University graduate, boasts a background in finance, and was previously a buyer for Armani, while Mr. Nemechek’s stint as a medical researcher after graduating from the University of Southern California predated his time as a menswear merchant at J.Crew.

“We saw this whole renaissance and emergence happening among men, but no one was speaking to them about their homes.”

In talking with Mr. Dixon, I learned that it took both he and Mr. Nemechek a full year of coast-to-coast travel, touring and photographing homes, developing content, assembling the proper retail assortment, and building the site prior to TRNK’s unveiling. After a full launch in January 2014, both he and Mr. Nemechek were hoping that TRNK would find success where others had failed. And at launch, the end result looked to be well worth the investment: By simply debuting the site, the two men instantly became the owners of the leading resource for the male home in a field with little to no direct competition.

I sat down for a conversation with Mr. Dixon to discuss TRNK’s business strategy, and the state of the venture since its launch in January 2014.

On what sparked the idea:

“We saw a renaissance happening in men’s style, and a renewed interest in shopping. Men are showing a newfound appreciation for their wardrobes, and the way they look. We saw this whole renaissance and emergence happening among men, but then, no one was speaking to them about their homes.

For Nick and myself, it’s a function of age and maturity. We saw how our own lifestyles and shopping patterns were evolving, and as we got older we found ourselves spending more and more time and investment in our homes, as well as our wardrobes. In that sense, we noticed an absence of a retail experience that serviced that need.

Seeing these positive trends in male consumerism, we found this a completely underserved and untapped market when it came to the home. For decades, we’ve thought of the home as an exclusive female domain, and we’re starting to evolve out of that notion mentally, but it’s not yet been reflected in retail experiences. That’s where we come in.”

Why adding content on top of online sales was the right choice:

“In thinking about how we wanted to build the site, creating original content was necessary because we found that the right representations didn’t really exist in the media. When you see interior design publications, they’re often very staged and very pristine. To us, they didn’t look accessible or approachable.

At the same time, we wanted to build an experience that guys felt useful, and then, reflecting back on our knowledge of e-commerce and how men shop from previous experiences, we felt that content alone wasn’t enough. Why not take it a step further? For men, when they shop they don’t enjoy the hunt as much as their female counterparts. We make it a little bit easier by doing some of the legwork for them and finding products inspired by the inspiration that we’re lending. That’s where the idea of including shoppable products imbedded within the content evolved and came about.

But for us, we do see it evolving into a more retail experience over time. We’re exploring the idea of creating products of our own because we see an absence of certain things in the market of things that we’d like to own. We’re exploring a number of avenues at this point, but we do ultimately see it evolving as a retail-and-content driven model instead of an ad driven model.”

On the curation process:

“It’s time intensive, but that’s the service we’re providing. We’re more knowledgeable in the space, because we’ve spent a lot of time in it, so we know certain keywords and things to look out for. But at the end of the day, it’s a really intensive process because there is such an abundance of product out there, and it’s difficult to navigate. We feel that that’s the value add that we’re bringing to users.

A lot of it is browsing through marketplaces like eBay and Etsy, constantly keeping our eyes open and checking back in with some of our favorite storefronts and brands. At the end of the day, there’s no shortcuts for it, and that’s the sort of value we’re hoping to add for our visitors.”

On taking the time to get the launch (and process) just right:

“We actually had a rudimentary version of the site up in April 2013 for about a month before we decided to shut it down to go on a roadtrip to produce the content for the site.

We drove from New York, all the way across the west coast, and down through California, and photographed these guys and their spaces. We met with vendors and makers of product, and we had about a year’s worth of content already created that we intended to publish over time.

Now we’re focusing on building out the experience, the visual merchandising, and product assortment. So yes, it was a lengthy process was very long and involved.”

On the early reception after debuting in 2014:

“It was great, really positive. The traffic was been good, we got great feedback through social media, and today we’re really happy.

But we saw it as a slow and organic build from here — though we’re glad the early signs were positive. People seem very engaged and receptive, everyone who’s come to the site, for the most part, has spent a lot of time there. They’re still browsing around and it seems like they’re enjoying what they’re seeing. Let’s hope that continues.”

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