Bringing Back the Bombay Brand
By Andrea Lillo
Going through some old Bombay Company catalogs recently, Wil Hollands saw that the furnishings styles sold during its retailing days would still be relevant today.
"That is what I love about Bombay--the furniture can stand the test of time," said Hollands, the chief merchant of Otto International, which handles the U.S. licensing for Bombay Brands LLC.
Hollands, a former executive with Bombay Company when it was a retailer, was tapped last month to lead the brand to its new life as a licensed collection. Bombay-branded items will launch later this year at retail.
Hollands spent three and a half years at Bombay. His last position at the company was vice president of merchandising, and he feels the brand has a specific place at retail due to its recognition as well as its design.
Even in the current economic environment, "there is a void in the marketplace for this type of look," he said. Just like a clothing retailer like Anthropologie has a certain look for women's apparel, so it is for Bombay in furnishings. "There's a sort of specialness that you can't find anyplace else," Hollands said.
Founded in 1978, Bombay brought its world goods concept to retail with product inspired from all over the globe. At its height Bombay had a portfolio of 350 retail stores and nearly $600 million in annual retail sales. Because of a poor real estate strategy that moved stores from being mall-based to off-mall locations that acted almost like start ups, Hollands said, the company shuttered its doors two years ago.
Bombay Brands LLC was established in early 2008 through a joint venture between Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Brands. Otto International, the new U.S. division of the global trading company Otto Group, oversees the U.S. licensing for Bombay Brands LLC.
Bombay's retail failings "had nothing to do with product," Hollands said. "It left before its time."
Apparently a lot of consumers feel the same way. Its Web site--bombaycompany.com--gets several hundred hits a day from people searching for where to buy its products, Hollands said, and that's without store front or advertising exposure or search engines.
And for Hollands, it's easy to see why they are so loyal. "The design always started with a very familiar look, but done in a unique way."
Now this familiar look will be offered to the public in a new way, as a licensed collection targeting three channels of distribution. A lifestyle collection including furniture and accessories will comprise the main collection, for the specialty/department store channel. That channel "will be able to tell a story at the store level," Hollands said. There will also be collections for the home improvement centers and mass merchants. Each will have different packaging and logos, though the Bombay typeface will always be consistent.
About a dozen collections will launch initially, Hollands added, including former best sellers. And they will include such styling as burled woods, ebony and distressed finishes -- "it all layers in beautifully."
Items for the mass market channel will have "more of a boxing strategy," he said. This group will include items that "speak for themselves," such as RTA furniture and jewelry boxes.
For the home improvement stores, Hollands plans to expand into categories Bombay didn't have before, such as wallpaper, custom fabrics and window treatments. Wallpaper, for example, is a natural for Bombay as "it's known for great textures," Hollands said. Paint, something Bombay Company dabbled in before, is another possible extension.
Some other former categories, such as bath furniture and lotions, will be developed in the future, Hollands said, but it's not his first priority.
Of the new line, 40 percent will be based on previous best sellers, Hollands said, and another 40 percent based on where designs would have evolved if the company had stayed in business. Another 20 percent will be customized.
Hollands has already worked to reestablish relationships with Bombay's former manufacturing partners overseas, in such countries as Vietnam, China, Malaysia and India. Hollands is also finalizing licensing agreements with manufacturers.
His team is already in place, including a few former Bombay Company employees, such as the senior product designer. They all come from diverse backgrounds, he said, but have one thing in common: "They all have a love for Bombay product."
Hollands obviously does as well. "This brand is in my gut," he said. "I believe in it."