Building a Bridge in Tabletop

Founder Jason Solarek sketches the underlying network that supports Bridge.

Founder Jason Solarek sketches the underlying network that supports Bridge.

By Allison Zisko

Linda Tabas, owner of The Pink Daisy in Yardley, Pa., has a lot of tabletop to offer in her 1,000 square-foot store. She carries what she calls “a cross between Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus” that includes brands like Vietri, Casafina and Juliska for everyday use and Vera Wang, Royal Crown Derby and Anna Weatherley for bridal customers. But there’s only so much merchandise you can carry in 1,000 square feet of space, and this is where Bridge comes in.

Bridge, an e-commerce platform that offers retailers a full online catalog of select tabletop brands that are constantly updated and maintained by the individual vendors, enables Tabas to offer far more merchandise than she could ever fit in her store and “makes me look like I’m a department store.”

As a maintenance-free service for retailers, the network also removes a lot of tedious work for small-store owners. “The best thing it’s done for me is that there are 21,000 SKUs on my website that I don’t have to update or do anything with,” Tabas said, although she still has to monitor the close to 3,000 branded SKUs she carries that are not part of the Bridge network. Since she implemented Bridge two and a half years ago, part of a complete website overhaul, Tabas said her Internet sales have gone up roughly 50 percent a year. And although not all of that business is directly attributable to Bridge itself, the network has boosted business at The Pink Daisy. “It’s reinvented my whole store and given me more success than I would have had, especially in this economy,” Tabas said. Sales of Arthur Court, BIA, Mottahedeh and Haviland have increased, for example.

The seven-year-old Bridge carries 27,000 products from more than 40 luxury tabletop brands, and more than 40 retailers participate in the program, according to its creator, Jason Solarek. Solarek likens Bridge to Facebook in that it gives you a quick view of all vendor activity at one time and in one place. There is a tiered pricing system. Bridge offers retailers a free e-commerce door, or basic website, that contains certain brands, and then builds off that with additional brands at a price of 2 cents per item per month. Solarek, a web designer, can also customize websites and incorporate the Bridge network into a retailer’s own site for a seamless look.

Vendors who participate in the program pay nothing, but they are required to regularly update their suggested retail prices and their product photography. Solarek said many of them are happy to do so because they prefer to maintain control over their brand image in the marketplace.

“It works very well for us,” said Tim Kutz, vice president at DeVine Corp., which was one of Solarek’s first customers. DeVine Corp. worked closely with Solarek to develop the program. “The more SKUs that we can get out on the Internet, the more sales we can generate.” For example, Raynaud, one of the high-end brands distributed by DeVine Corp., can show all 40 of its dinnerware patterns, something most retailers are unable or unwilling to do.

Many vendors regularly maintain their product photography and pricing (“that’s part of our normal, day-to-day life,” Kutz said), and with the push of a button, they can send that information out to hundreds of people at once through Bridge.

One potential drawback of the system is retail pricing. While vendors want retailers to adhere to MSRPs, some small independent retailers may feel hampered by it and unable to compete against larger stores that discount their prices. This is, of course, an issue that bedevils the industry online and off.

Solarek, who is trying to promote Bridge to trade buildings and foreign embassies as a product catalog, believes his idea is part of the future of retailing. “I’m trying to give them something that’s quick, cheap and functional,” he said.