In this episode I speak with Alex Back about his innovative new platform,, and why he decided he wanted to solve a problem for customers and retailers by matching them with the couch of their dreams.

Alex and I get design geeky and go down a few rabbit holes as we discuss fabric pilling and cleaning, the educational resource library he’s created, and why building a curated list will assist at multiple levels for our design clients. He shares a few terrific ideas beyond trade discounts to maximize profits and some practical tips for a proactive approach when clients balk at not being able to test products before purchase.

Finally, he speaks my language as he discusses his ethos about the power of partnerships and transparency. If you’re looking for another perspective on furniture buying and all that it entails, this episode is for you!

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Read the Full Transcript ⬇️

Rebecca Hay: Hey, Hey, Hey, it’s Rebecca and you are listening to Resilient by Design. Today. I have a really interesting guest. I have invited Alex back of to talk to me about all things, what he is doing. And guys, when I tell you what this guy’s up to is totally going to blow your minds. Trust me, it is a great conversation and it’s going to take you down a little bit of a rabbit hole.

Once you go and explore his website, Alex is the founder and CEO of couch. com. Yep. C O U C H. com, which is an innovative new online platform that’s designed to help match customers with their perfect new couches. Formerly he was the co-founder and C. O. O. Of the popular furniture brand Apartment 2B – and he bootstrapped that company from startup to acquisition prior to his exit last year. My conversation with Alex. Wow. All I have to say is we talk about a little bit of everything. We talk about marketing. We talk about couches. We talk about pilling fabrics and what to do with it. We talk about the best way to clean couches.

We even talk about how to get your clients to sign on to something that they haven’t been able to sit on. Guys, you’re going to love this conversation with Alex. Enjoy. Welcome to the podcast, Alex. I am so excited. I’ve got a million and one questions for you before we dive into all the things. Welcome.

And can you maybe just introduce yourself to my audience?

Alex Back: Thank you for having me. Alex back is my full name. I am the founder and CEO of, which was an innovative new platform to help people find the couches of their dreams or sort of like the match. com of couches. So that’s what I do now. And formerly I ran a, I’ve been in the furniture space for a long time and I ran a direct-to-consumer furniture brand called Apartment 2B your listeners.

Maybe familiar. Perhaps you have sourced from us before I say, still say us. Of course, I’m not with the business anymore because we sold it. That was pretty great. I stuck around for a few years and. Left about a year and a half ago, and now I’m off on, on my own taking a journey, but it’s, I’m still sticking with the couches.

Rebecca Hay: So it’s not really into the unknown.

Alex Back: No, that’s kind of where I was going with that. So thank you for picking up on that, but I didn’t really get there. Oh, very good. Yes. Yeah.

Rebecca Hay: Right. I got a daughter, you know, so I love this. I, when I first sort of heard about you and started looking into your website, this whole couch.

com, I was fascinated. First of all, I thought. Holy shoot. This guy knows something about marketing. Like he is just so specific. It is beyond niche. It’s like the niche of the niches, which I think is really interesting. And that’s a whole conversation that we could have here with designers, but like couches, first of all, I thought only Canadians called it a couch and that the Americans called it a sofa.

So tell me about that. And why couches?

Alex Back: Yeah, well, I really do love couches. I’ve sold a lot of them in my career. The less interesting answer, I guess, is we sold a lot of couches at Apartment 2B. That was sort of our bread and butter. I became uniquely familiar with all of the competitors in the space on the retail side of things, all the manufacturers in the space just sourcing and working with different suppliers over the years.

I understand sort of the ins and outs. Very well. So when I heard that was available at first, I was like, well, I’m not, I wasn’t that interested because of the price tag of the website. It only cost me my life savings, no big deal, but I kind of thought like, well, I don’t know that there’s anybody better suited to do something cool with than me. So I’m sort of like, I’m really just following my civic duty here for filling my civic duty to be the couch expert that everybody,

Rebecca Hay: everybody needs.

Alex Back: Yeah. And everybody needs a couch too. True. Right. We all have one of some kind, not everybody, but like most people do.

Rebecca Hay: Right. So couches. Couches. So do you sell couches?

Alex Back: So couch. com is a little bit different. We are sort of solving a problem for the industry. And when I say the industry, I mean, both consumers and retailers, because consumers generally have no idea where to buy a couch. Now. Interior designers know this because most often interior designers are sought after to help people source furniture.

That’s a huge part of our jobs as interior designers, right? Yeah. We all understand sort of the trials and tribulations that consumers go through. Do I go to one of the big box stores that like I pass by on the on the highway on my way home from work? Do I like search online to find that cool boutique brand that I maybe saw on Instagram?

There’s a lot of sort of trust that needs to be gained when people spend a lot of money online or in person on a piece of furniture for their home. It’s really difficult to do that, especially in an industry where consumers know very, very little about it. Couch. com exists to educate consumers on things they may be curious about, whether that’s the difference between a couch and a sofa.

There is none, it’s just semantics.

Rebecca Hay: Just checking. Yeah. Sure.

Alex Back: Or if it’s, you know, what the best types of fabrics for kids or like what’s hot out there, who has the best sales for black Friday, all of these things that we’re curious about as consumers, I think we, we aim to provide at and ultimately we want to match people with.

The retailers that will gent that will match their specifications for what they need for their home. Maybe they need a pink sofa that is great for kids and has button tufting and they need it tomorrow. Well, that’s gonna narrow your search down pretty heavily and we intend to be there to help a consumer do that.

Rebecca Hay: So it’s almost like You’re a search engine for couches, but like you’re more than that because you don’t just type in what you’re looking for. I’m assuming there’s also education in there. So it’s here’s what, you know, I’m looking for playful children’s furniture. Well, then you probably have, I’m assuming I haven’t used your service, but A shortlist.

Here are recommendations. Here’s who you should go to. Is that sort of what I’m hearing?

Alex Back: Yeah, that’s generally the idea. I wouldn’t call it a shortlist because what we’re, what we’re building here in the platform, like the full scope of this idea is not realized yet. At the time that we’re recording this in April 2024, but it will be soon and ultimately we are trying to offer as comprehensive of a view of of the retailers available to a consumer in their local area or online that match their specifications.

This is going to be a curated list. In fact, many of your listeners may. Be familiar with the wedding website, the knot, the knot is sort of the prototypical business that we’re modeling after when you go to the knot, you can sort of learn about, you know, do, when do I take my engagement ring off before the wedding?

Is that like the day of, or like, do I do a little switcheroo and he gives me the other

Rebecca Hay: one? Oh my gosh. I used the knot when I was engaged. It was like the most incredible resource for inspiration and ideas. And like, yeah, what’s a faux pas. What are people doing here? And I think there was like a newsletter.

I’m trying to remember. I didn’t even know that they were still around because that’s just not my stage of life.

Alex Back: Right. Well, that’s so interesting. You say it’s not your stage of life. A wedding is something that people like everybody has a sense, like everybody’s been to weddings. Many of us have had weddings.

Many of us have had multiple weddings. But. It’s not something you do every day, and it’s the same thing about buying furniture. Customers, no matter how connected they are to the things that they’ve bought furniture-wise in their home, they haven’t done it in like five years at least, right? When’s the last time you switched out your silver five, six, seven years, 10 years.

Sometimes people have never bought a couch before the same way they haven’t bought a wedding. So the reason that the not exists is to, to provide resources, education, and ultimately be a connector piece in an industry that is very fragmented that consumers know very little about. If you’re doing having a destination wedding in Los Angeles, you don’t know who the best caterers are.

And yeah, you can go Yelp and Google your way into figuring this out and get on the phone and pound the pavement. But wouldn’t it be nice to go to a page of curated caterers? that are sort of the not approved or curated couch retailers that are couch. com approved. So it’s really sort of a one-for-one, almost apples-to-apples comparison between what they do and what we’re setting up to do at

Rebecca Hay: That’s super, super cool. Well, how do designers fit into this picture here? Like, this sounds like a really great resource for the average Joe who’s like, Oh, it’s time to get a couch. We need to replace this one. Like, I don’t even know where to start. What about designers? Like, how can designers use this as a tool to help them and or help their clients?

Alex Back: Two specific ways. I mean, I think there are a number of different ways, but two ways that I can point to. One, sourcing is really difficult. I’ve worked with hundreds of designers and A lot of them were sort of came back to our brand apartment to be that I used to run time and time again, because they liked our product.

Sure, but mostly because it was familiar and proven and trustworthy. So designers don’t want to have problems. They want to just be comfortable. They want to understand, you know, where the furniture is coming from. Are there going to be issues? How is the shipping work and things like that? So once they feel comfortable with something, they tend to stick with it.

Now that can actually be a detriment in many ways, because when you talk to designers, oftentimes I found, at least when it comes to couches, that they’ll have like two or three resources that they’ll use, it’ll be like, oh, it’s either, you know, crate and barrel, you know, RH for my high-end clients, or like, I have this one custom, you know, guy down the street.

I don’t know. I’ve heard similar stories to that. So I think that just offering a greater scope of what is actually out there may open doors for designers and ultimately their clients. So that’s one thing. The other thing is, I think the biggest thing that designers deal with, with customers that can be frustrating is that customers generally or clients have no idea what they want.

So, we are building tools like an AI-powered quiz that helps you figure out what kind of sofa you’re looking for. Do you want something that has deep seating? Do you want something that has a high back? Extra cushiony? You want your feet on the floor? Do you want to be curling up? These are things that can dramatically change the course of your, your couch search or search for anything for that matter.

And when it comes to a designer trying to extract that information, we’re trying to give tools to the designer and to the client. to help figure that out and ask the questions, like a checklist of all the things you need to think about before you’re kind of ready to go buy a couch. Sounds complicated, but it’ll be fun.

I promise guys.

Rebecca Hay: Well, I don’t think it sounds as complicated to a designer. Probably to those listening. This sounds like music to their ears because like when you’re starting out in the interior design world, it’s like, Unless you’ve worked for a design firm for a decade and really know your stuff, it can be really overwhelming knowing where to hunt for products for clients.

And then even then, like trying to describe it to your clients. I remember being at Highpoint a couple of years ago and I was with some designers and they were asking all these questions like, Oh, I didn’t know there’s, what do you mean, Phil? What are you talking about? Oh, seat height, like simple things like that, that you need to educate yourself as a designer.

They’re not teaching that in school. They are not teaching those dec unless you do a decorating-specific diploma, I don’t think there’s a lot of education out there for designers when it comes to that. Don’t get me started on window treatments, but with the sofas, with the couches, it does seem that there’s a need for that knowledge, but that also, it’s so overwhelming.

I literally was at high point two weeks ago, and I’m like sitting in all these chairs and thinking, You know, I’m going through with these other designers and we’re going showroom to showroom to showroom at some point, it all blurs into one. I don’t remember who had the better comfort level versus the fabric versus, oh my god, it’s all basically one thing to me.

And it can be really dizzying. And so I love this idea of having one place to go as a resource where you can do a little compare and contrast and you can decide what works for you. And I also love this idea of like, it’s going to make the designer look like an expert to their clients because they can get the information from you and then be like, here’s why I chose this one.

Alex Back: Oh, a hundred percent. And just generally make their lives easier. So far, you know, we’ve been getting going for the last six months or so, and mostly just building out our content library and making all these videos of mostly me and some industry experts. I’m talking about various things. So I’ll make, I’ve made videos about, you know, how to deal with fabric pilling on your couch or how to negotiate in a furniture store.

I have some tips and tricks. And then I have industry experts that talk about like shopping and on different marketplaces, like Wayfair and Amazon and like sort of the business behind it. These are videos, not only that can help the. The designers, but also they can just like send them to their clients so they don’t have to be in the position of educating them about what a fill material is or what a high-density foam cushion is and things like that.

So yeah, I mean, these resources they do exist online, but in very fragmented form it’s hard to find, you know, a good sort of singular resource to get multiple pieces of information like the ones we’re discussing.

Rebecca Hay: Okay, let’s just geek out for a second here. Okay. Cool. I thought we were already. Where do

Alex Back: you, where are we going?

Rebecca Hay: no, no. Let’s go really deep. Can we talk about pilling? Because I have to say, I had a situation a few years ago where we did a decorating project here in Toronto. And we used like a cravet, I don’t know if it was a performance fabric, but it was like a durable upholstery grade fabric. We had two sofas made by my custom guy.

Yeah, the guy you were talking about just down the street. Which actually as Canadians, we tend to do more of what I’ve noticed than Americans, because we don’t have the same access to wholesalers. It’s a bit more complicated. Oh, yeah. So we do more custom. But anyhow, I got a phone call like six months later, that the sofa was pilling everywhere.

And I mean, I was mortified because here I thought I had specified the right fabric and what have you. And in the end, Cravit replaced the fabric and paid for the reupholstery of the sofas. But talk to me about this. Cause this is almost a designer’s biggest fear, worst nightmare that you put something into someone’s home.

And because we’ve selected it, we’re now on the hook if it doesn’t stay perfect. And let’s face it, our clients want this crazy perfection.

Alex Back: Okay. I have a lot to say about pilling. Number one, killing is not necessarily a sign of poor quality when it comes to a fabric. It can just be sort of like an unlucky.

occurrence, right? I’ve seen very higher-end fabrics pill as well. It also has a lot to do with how the fabrics are being used and what it’s like. Let’s picture a cowboy coming off the ranch with like the absolute thickest car heart pants you could possibly imagine to be scraping against it. So a lot of it’s situational.

Sort of unlucky. It’s and it’s and it’s not the end of the world by and large. Pilling can be remedied very, very easily. The only issue is like how how constantly you you might have to do it. The way to fix pilling fabric shaver. It’s as simple as that. When we had customers who would have problems with pilling.

What we would do as a customer service team, we would reach out to them. So sorry to hear about that. Please don’t worry. We have a remedy in place. We’re going to send you a fabric shaver on the house. We would order it from Amazon and send like these really cute Conair fabric shavers that come in different colors.

We send it to them. It costs like 12 bucks and generally speaking 95 plus percent of the time. We never heard back from the customer. Now, sometimes you have a fabric. That came from a lot that was, you know, that just like I said, sometimes one lot of fabric can be different than the next and you just have, you know one that pills a little bit more.

So it can be a real nuisance, but if you see pilling on a fabric, it doesn’t necessarily just like rugs, all new rugs pill to my knowledge, like of most fabric types, it’s just something that requires maintenance. The hope is that it’s not a regular maintenance and it’s just like a few times every now and again.

The fabric shavers. They work. I’ve had before and after videos that prove it

Rebecca Hay: right. So it’s like shaving the sweater. Like I have these cashmere sweaters and they start to pill. I mean, I don’t have a special fabric shaver. I’m going to google this now after our call. I just use a razor. That’s probably bad.

But oh, God, what do you mean? Like a, like a razor that you would use to shave your legs and I just use it. Yeah. And I would take the pills off my cashmere sweaters. It works pretty well. Never thought of having a fabric shaver as a tool for upholstery. So that is super interesting. I like that idea.

That doesn’t mean that it’s poor quality then, because I always understood that if a fabric pills, it’s pretty crappy quality.

Alex Back: Not in my experience, but I will, but let me qualify by saying one amount of fabric expert to be frank, like I’ve never worked in, in super high end luxury markets. So if you’re paying, you know, 70 a yard for fabric and it pills, I think that could be grounds for being upset.

About it or whatever. But in my experience and sort of like the mid-range to serve low high end, where where is my bread and butter. And I’ve seen it sort of like interchangeably, like a grade three fabric versus a grade one, one might pill and the other one might not. In fact, I think it’s sometimes the higher-end fabrics that people generally have problems with.

When we would have comm orders or customer zone material with when designers would give us fabrics for their clients to use on our, on their couches, we That’s when we generally had the most problems with quality because sometimes these higher-end fabrics are not in mass production, they’re not regulated or looked after by the, by the producers as much picture, like a super specific pattern, like how much do you think they sell of that?

It’s like, these are limited-run things that may

Rebecca Hay: not even be made for upholstery too, right?

Alex Back: Right. Versus like your average sort of performance fabric or microfiber. Polyester-based material that a crate and barrel might run. I mean, they’re pounding thousands of yards a week on this stuff. So, you know, generally speaking, I think it’s, it’s all relative to a specific situation.

We really geeked out on that. I’ll be quiet. I know. I’ve

Rebecca Hay: got the next geeky thing. And then I’ll stop asking geeky questions. Cleaning. Cleaning a couch. I have children and they often dirty the furniture with their shoes or they’re eating a chocolate muffin or whatever. Oh, my

Alex Back: kids don’t. That’s amazing.

Wow. Really? Your

Rebecca Hay: kids are perfect then. Or they’re not allowed in certain rooms maybe.

Alex Back: There’s literally gum from two months ago still on one of my cushions I haven’t cleaned yet. Okay, gum, that’s a

Rebecca Hay: whole other ball game. Oh boy. But if it was like regular food stains, I mean, we have this like, I don’t know if it’s abyssal.

It’s like a carpet cleaner thing. And like, sometimes it works, but sometimes it just makes it worse. And then I’m cleaning like a cushion and all of a sudden that part is so clean. And then the rest of the sofa looks dirty by comparison. What do you do? Like, what’s the best way to clean these things?

Alex Back: Man, I have a lot to say about this.

So a few things that I’ll address without going too deep into it. Steam cleaning was what I think you’re describing. Bissell is a company that sells steam cleaners. I generally think that those aren’t that helpful. The more industrial-powered ones, like the ones you would rent. At a Home Depot or Lowe’s or that kind of a store I’ve seen people have some success with but we would sort of process and refurbish many returns to sell in our outlet products that were open box couches that were returned or gently as if it was really rough we would donate it or God forbid dispose of it if we absolutely needed to mostly donate it but if we if it needed a cleaning and a little zhuzh.

We had a regular steam cleaning appointment with a company called Delta Chemtry. They would come by every month and be like, Hey, go to that corner. That’s where we have all the couches in our warehouse. that needs to be cleaned. The thing about steam cleaning is you can’t really spot-clean it. To your point earlier, you’ll notice that it looks a little bit different than the rest of it.

So it needs to be done somewhat thoroughly. This can cost anywhere from 75 to 200, depending on where you live. And I’m talking us dollars here. So, you know, to some people it might be worth it. If you’re, if you’ve had a couch for four years and your kids have like, Have, you know, there’s like 19 stains on it.

Well, yeah, it might be worth 100 to give it like a really nice once over. But I don’t know that that’s the best way to spot clean things. Most fabrics are polyester base. But when in the interior design community, we all tend to use a little bit higher end fabric. Sometimes you get into linens. It’s a cottons or some pattern prints made of various materials, and those are often very adverse to being cleaned with anything water based.

So you want to find upholstery cleaning products that are not water based. It’s very difficult. There’s only a few out there. Some of them are like sprays and stuff like that. So that can be quite tricky. However, I have a super, super industry deep level secret. That I only tell to certain people, but I’m going to tell you so

Rebecca Hay: special.

Alex Back: I mean, this one’s a good one. So our showroom secret for whenever we had in person events over the years is to have a bottle of isopropyl rubbing alcohol nearby. Rubbing alcohol clean stains better than anything else that I personally know about. And the good things are one, well, it smells horrible, but it dries extremely quickly.

because it is not water based. So it’s one of the only cleaning solvents that has no water content in it and is extremely potent. It cleans things very well and it dries quickly and it doesn’t leave any marks, stains, or smells after it dries. Rubbing alcohol.

Rebecca Hay: Interesting. I am going to try that. Although I’ve already steam cleaned the one dining chair, so I don’t know if rubbing alcohol will work now, but I will try it.

You know when you like try to do, you try to make something better, but then you make it worse. And it’s like, you know, and then it’s like a ketchup stain and I’m like, now I can’t go back from here. Like it’s done.

Alex Back: Yeah.

Rebecca Hay: Any other tips that you have for interior designers when it comes to specking or picking sofas or couches for their clients? Is there anything that they should really consider or know when they are making these selections? Because a lot of designers, I tell designers all the time to supply the furniture.

I’m like, do that, supply the furniture. There’s money to be made in the furniture. And we can talk about that too, but I’m curious from your perspective, if there’s anything that you. Would recommend to interior designers before they go about sourcing and selecting furniture couches for their clients.

Alex Back: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of ways we can go with that. I have a whole bunch of ideas. One thing I’ll say to start is The furniture industry is struggling right now at the time. You know, 2023 was a very, very, very down year for the furniture industry. You know, you went to High Point a few weeks ago, and that’s a furniture trade show.

There are four sort of major events a year where everybody meets in Vegas or High Point, North Carolina, and they talk. So we all know that everybody was kind of hurting last year and things are on the up right now, I think, but It wasn’t. It wasn’t fantastic. All that to say, there’s a lot of inventory out there and there are a lot of deals to be made.

And I know I’ve been talking to furniture brands left and right with my dealings with couch. com. Look at some sales sections and clearance sections a little bit more closely. I think designers tend to focus on their trade discount than just like sort of look through the entire website to find or, or offering to figure out what might be worth it to them to buy.

But I think if you’re looking to, to maximize your own profits and find some real margin, Like to really get into the outlets, the clearance sections and all this. And I’m not talking just like the mom and pop stores, cause they are hurting the most, even like pottery barn right now. I got an email cause I’m in their trade program.

They have so much stuff that’s super deeply discounted. And it’s simply because they have tons of inventory. Everybody overbought. They’re still moving things from a year ago. And I think we, in the sort of community that are serving. You know interior design clients can really capitalize on that.

Rebecca Hay: That’s a really great tip.

I don’t think most of us think to go there. I mean, there’s always that concern of, well, if I buy it on sale, it is final sale. So there’s that a little sense of nervousness, but if it’s a heavily discounted product, it’s probably worth it.

Alex Back: Yeah. I mean, I’ve never had an interior design business, but if it were me, I’d probably have a small, you know, storage facility for anything that my clients absolutely hated.

And I just find other ways to, you know, move that product or sell it or sell it on Facebook marketplace. And generally in furniture, you can get that. There’s a lot of value there. Even in a used piece of furniture, you can get a lot back. It’s an asset, right? So like you can get a lot back for, for something that you pay for.

If you pay a thousand dollars for a couch and your clients hate, absolutely hate, and you can’t return it. And you could probably turn it around for six or 700 to a different buyer with a little bit of hustle.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. And even on Instagram nowadays, I see design firms doing these big sales of like, here’s all the furniture we’ve been stuck with over the last year, right?

And like, and people who follow those designers are like, give me the thing. I want the Rebecca Hay designs custom sofa, like I’ll take it. So you’re right. That’s such a great tip. Any other tips for designers? I know there’s like probably lots of things you could share, but another top contender

Alex Back: I think relationships with the retailers are great.

In my experience, interior designers sort of get a bad rap with retailers because they can be extra demanding and a little bit sort of pushy. You know, they’re not the easiest customers to deal with. I think because maybe they’re a bit more savvy. And they’re running a business. So it’s just a different kind of relationship.

That being said, the designers that, you know, I had great relationships with over the years that I developed personal relationships with, you know, if I had something, I’m like, Hey, I need to place a piece somewhere just to get a nice photo of it. Do you have any clients that are looking for like accounts right now?

Or for, Oh, I have this awesome, you know, You know, media stand that we’re just trying to get some, you know, user generated content on, I would go to my designers that I liked and be like, Hey, Rebecca, do you have anybody that we could place this? Cause you can, you got me a nice photo. I think having relationships with the retailers and not seeing them as something to take from, but rather someone to partner with.

is a really good way to think about it.

Rebecca Hay: That’s awesome. Yeah, it’s so much about relationships. I mean, any business is, I’m sure, but it does seem that in this business, you might be a difficult client, but you are a repeat client, right? And that retailer, you will purchase from them again and again. And if you have each other’s backs, you can circumvent a lot of negative situations with clients in the future when you have those relationships.

So that’s really smart. I guess you’re not selling furniture per se, but in your experience, do you find that interior designers Are able to make a lot of margin on couches,

Alex Back: you know, it’s always been so interesting to me because if you’re outside of the interior design industry, you’re like, how are these people getting away with it?

Like, don’t their clients have a computer? Can’t they come to my site and see how much I charge for this? My whole thing recently is transparency. And I think that goes a long way. If I were an interior designer with clients, I would create a value proposition upfront. I would tell them like I get furniture at special prices.

I mark them up and that’s how I make money. But in return, you’re getting a great product from trusted resources. And you’re getting me to design your room in a way that you are going to love. It’s an investment. But I need to make my money and that this is how the industry works rather than trying to like hide it or white label invoices or whatever all the other tricks that we use to sort of make this margin.

I actually think that being up front about it is a way to to really maximize it. But

Rebecca Hay: I like that.

Alex Back: Yeah, I don’t know all the tricks of the trade, but just off the top of my head. I’m thinking like the more you sort of bulk things together and to do it as a full install and put everything on one invoice and that’s, that’s sort of a way to reduce the focus or attention on the price or markup of any one item.

But that’s just my business mind. Think like a salesman. You’re

Rebecca Hay: making me feel really good about my business mind because I literally do that and I just had a presentation yesterday with a client. I do room totals. And so it’s like, Dan is 30, 000, the family room was like, I don’t know, it was a little expensive.

It was like 55, 000, you know, for that particular project. And the client questioned it. I said, full transparency. The reason I do this is so that we can get you the design and the look that you want the quality I know you that you crave without getting into a nickel and diming situation where we end up removing pieces based on price but not based on the design aesthetic.

If you want to reduce the you tell me that and I will find a way to save 10, 000. And get you that design, but leave that with me as your professional to find the way to do it.

Alex Back: How did that go?

Rebecca Hay: It went pretty well. They’re repeat clients. So I have a good relationship with them. They still said, though, I will tell you like full transparency.

Speaking of transparency. Yeah. The wife was like, okay, yeah, no, I totally understand that. And the husband was like, okay, well, I’m probably still going to need to, you know, know the cost of certain items. And I was like, okay, like, we’ll see, like, here’s the pricing per room, like take it home and we’ll see.

And we’re going to, we’re already going to be reducing certain areas where we know they want to and explain, you know, this fabric was half the price, so we’ll swap it out for this fabric. But I’m not saying this fabric is 70 versus that fabric. That’s 120. Like, I’m not getting into those details. I did that early in my career and it becomes this back and forth over like, Oh, I want a fabric that’s 20 cheaper and like the hours that you lose.

That you really can’t bill for. So I don’t do that anymore. So we’ll see. Verdict is still out. As of today’s date we’re in revision. So we’ll see if he comes back at me and wants more clarification. But I think what you said about transparency is really important because I think I do believe that more often than not, we hear that word and we think that means that we need to pass on all our discount.

Oh, well, if she’s transparent, that means she showed its cost plus, like, here’s my cost and then here’s my fee and that’s it. There’s no markup. But I think when you talk about transparency in the term of I’m transparent. They know that there’s a markup. I don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of this cost me 10 and I’m charging you 12, but I’m transparent in the fact that this is our billing structure.

And I’ve shared this with designers a lot on this podcast, but I do sometimes have clients ask me if I share my discounts and I tell them, no, I used to do that, but it wasn’t a profitable business model because it wasn’t. And most of the time clients hear that and they’re like, Oh, okay. Like they don’t want to put you out of business.

It’s just the way that you do business. And I think if you’re transparent that way, then everyone’s happier because you want to make money, right? You need to make money to stay in business. It’s a business after all.

Alex Back: Have you ever charged anyone more than sort of the MSRP and like cross your fingers that they didn’t figure it out?

I think obviously when you work in custom MSRP. And I think there’s a major advantage to doing things sort of, you know, as Underground, so to speak, as you can rather than like Everyone can look up the price of an Ashley Furniture 4 5.

Rebecca Hay: Right. I haven’t, but I do know designers who have. That makes me nervous.

Yeah, it

Alex Back: makes you nervous and you could lose trust. I don’t have an opinion. I was just always sort of curious about

Rebecca Hay: that.

Alex Back: But I like your approach. I mean, Just tell the people how you make money.

Rebecca Hay: Everyone has their own and we’re all in business to make money. And if you’re not, then it’s a hobby and good for you and go hang out at the beach.

But that’s not my reality.

Alex Back: Well, look, there’s a reason why they’re going to a professional for help. And just like we go to a doctor or a mechanic. We don’t need to know how they make money and how the doctor bills insurance or how much the mechanic is. Well, sometimes we want to know how much the mechanic is getting that part for, but at the end of the day, they’re providing a service that has value.

And I think if someone is hiring you as a designer, they’re willing to pay for that service. They just may need to be educated on how it works. Because it’s it’s a little bit different and dynamic. They may be seeing invoices or ship, you know, packing slips from Crate and Barrel with a certain price on it that’s different than what they paid.

And I think that transparency is could be very helpful. But I’m also the least experienced interior designer in this entire conversation right now listening to this. So I don’t know.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah, I had a situation years ago where I didn’t, what I did is I did cost plus 20. That was my model. So my cost plus 20 percent and it was a big renovation.

And things went south with their contractor. He was running out of money and was robbing Peter to pay Paul. And it was a mess and he wasn’t doing the work. And he tried to turn around and point fingers at me. And he turned to the clients and said, not my face, but the client told me after, well, you know, Rebecca’s marking up everything.

She’s selling you. She’s making money on all of that. To which my client said, because I’d been very transparent and was in my contract, my client said, yes, we know she charges cost plus 20. That’s what we signed her contract for. And it was kind of like a booyah, take that moment where he assumed that I wasn’t transparent.

It did not have integrity and tried to throw me under the bus and it actually kind of backfired and made him actually look terrible. So I think transparency is so key and you got to make money. But anyhow, we’re not here to talk about money, honey. This has been really insightful. I’m really excited because I do think that when the more information that designers have at their fingertips, the better they’re able to educate their clients, the better they then can charge more money, the more value they are adding.

It’s no different than going into a restaurant. I worked for many years at Earl’s restaurant when I was in design school and they called it romancing the food. Right. When you approach the table and you’re explaining what’s on the menu to the clients or to the customers you romance it, you tell the story, you explain like the grapes came from this, I don’t know, vineyard and this, and they taught us about romancing the food.

And it’s so true. It’s adding that extra value so that the customer feels almost excited to spend the money because they really value the product. And you are giving designers the tools and the general public, the tools to really educate themselves and understand and make them feel more confident about their purchases.

Alex Back: Look, I’ve been reaching all over town, the same stupid dad joke that I, that I say, which is you really need to be comfortable to buy

Rebecca Hay: a couch.

Alex Back: It’s like, it’s like anything, like you have to, you have to reach a level of comfort as a consumer. To swipe your credit card, whether you’re buying groceries or anything else and how you establish that trust with a brand or retailer or interior designer.

There are many paths to getting there, but I believe as a retail marketer that that is an essential, essential part of the transaction that is often undervalued and not focused on enough. We have to build the buyer’s trust. And it seems like in the interior design world that more transparency would do that, at least for me as a client, it would.

Rebecca Hay: Yeah. And that’s, it’s interesting. This got me thinking yesterday. I had a conversation inside designer’s room, which is my, my monthly membership where designers come and, and share and learn. And one of the questions was, How do I convince my clients to buy a couch was actually about a couch that they can’t sit on because you know, the one I’ve picked from the website of the supplier, you know, my retailer doesn’t have it on their showroom floor.

And that was the debate in the conversation because the world has shifted. It used to be that everything. Was on the showroom floor. You couldn’t buy things that weren’t on the showroom. That was the different model. But now with the interweb, right, there’s so much more at our fingertips that you will never get a chance to sit on.

So what do you say to that designer who wants to sell a couch to a client, but hasn’t sat in it themselves and a little bit nervous because they don’t maybe have that trust yet with their client?

Alex Back: What a great question. And I spent over a decade of my life chasing this specific thing, selling as an online only retailer to.

Thousands and thousands of customers. It is sort of the biggest question when buying furniture online. What if you can’t see it or what if I get it and I don’t like it? So there are a number of ways to approach this. Of course, I think a lot of people will sort of fall back on a return policy and be like, well, you don’t have to keep it.

If you really don’t like it, you could send it back, which is generally the case, but I would take a little bit more of a proactive approach. And here’s what we know. We know that we’re never going to get to sit on the Alex sofa, right? We’re never going to get to sit on it before we buy it. It’s just not possible.

So just Level setting that if you’re talking to a client or a customer, just making sure that everyone’s understanding, like, no, there’s no possible way to do this. So we’re going to have to use alternative means to get you feeling comfortable unintended enough to buy this couch. So what I have always recommended is to gain as much context as possible.

And here are a few ways. One, start with your own couch that you currently have. Take an inventory. If there’s another decision maker like a partner or kids or other people you share this couch with roommates, whatever, actually have a discussion. It seems cheesy or corny, but like literally talk about what do you like about the sofa?

What do you, well, I like this and I like that having a sense of what you like about a sofa and what you may dislike will help you inform you inform what you’re looking for and your next one. Okay. So you start there. Then I think, you know, whether it’s a specific retailer or a specific type of SOPA, search for things that are similar to that to sit on and actually feel in person.

I always recommend that customers go to a few actual in person furniture stores or retailers just for context, right? To get a sense of what A high density foam cushion feels like versus a down cushion, like down is a perfect example. So many people think that down just equals luxury equals higher end, but I don’t like sitting on down.

I absolutely despise down pillows for my head at night. If they’re in like a hotel, I’m like, no, no, no. You know, I’ll use like a towel instead.

Rebecca Hay: Oh gosh. You’re not particular at all.

Alex Back: No, no, no. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I think just gaining context, you know, it’s not perfect. But literally going to sit on similar pieces.

If it’s a deep seated sofa, go sit on, find one that is 27 inches deep also, and see what that feels like. So you can, you can check a lot of boxes more than one would think at first glance. The last thing I’ll say is fabric swatches, virtually every online retailer offers them on anything that’s sort of medium to higher end, even though it may extend the period waiting period a little bit longer.

Generally, they’ll get them to you in a week or less, and I think that’s a fantastic way to literally have a touch point with the actual fabric that you’re going to be using or sitting on every day. You can test it out, spill some wine on it, put some ketchup on it. You know, clean it. You can literally use this tiny piece of fabric as if it was part of your couch for a little while to get as much context as you can.

Rebecca Hay: But if you’re going to give the fabric swatches to your clients to test, also give them rubbing alcohol so they can get it out. As I could just picture sending a fabric sample home with a client and they’re like putting ketchup on it and they’re like, well, it’s stained. I’m like, yeah, no shit. If you put ketchup on a white fabric, it’s going to stain.

Alex Back: Hey,

Rebecca Hay: anyway,

Alex Back: if you’ve learned nothing from this. Today those listening at home, get yourself some rubbing alcohol and, and have it stocked. Give it to all your clients as a little welcome gift though. You’ll be happy. You did

Rebecca Hay: super awkward and weird, but it works. Oh my gosh, Alex, this has been a really great conversation.

There’s so many more things I would love to pick your brain about. So we’ll have to have you back. I want to hear about your marketing. I think what you’re doing is really, you know, Really fascinating guys. You got to go check it out. But before we end our time together, can you please share a last nugget of wisdom with my listeners today?

Alex Back: Not to get too deep into the marketing, the marketing thing, but I talk about marketing a lot with people in the business community and, you know, other podcasts and things that I’ve been running my mouth all over town a little bit recently talking about couch. com. I like other brands. And in this case, even other interior designers, even competitors that you would just.

Generally, in your mind, you’re sort of averse to reaching out to the other person in your community or in your city who’s doing a really good job, right? But generally speaking, people like to help other people. Think about when you get asked for help or something. I think most people feel great about that.

They’re like, wow, this person actually wants help for me. And they’re very endeared by that request and generally will offer the help even if it’s. For free or for a competitor. So I would say there’s safety in numbers and there’s power in partnering up with people and asking them for help, even if they may at first seem like it would be dangerous in some way, risky or, or that you are, you know, sort of engaging with your competitors.

I think there’s still a lot of value. And getting out there and, you know, partnering up or, or cozying up to as many people as you can.

Rebecca Hay: That really resonates with me. I’m glad you shared that little nugget because it’s something I talk about all the time is collaboration over competition. And then someone asked me, a designer at high point said to me, like, Rebecca, you know, you’ve brought all of us designers together and this is so great.

I know you have all these designer friends, but what about in your coaching space? Like, what about in the online business space? Like, do you have those? Partners, do you have those people that you can talk to and collaborate with? And I was like, you know what? I don’t really like that’s on my radar for this year’s.

I really need to be more intentional. And like you say, kind of get over that fear that it might be dangerous to approach a competitor here. Or somebody else who seems to be doing a little bit better than me to just even have a conversation. It’s not that you’re asking for anything, right? You’re not necessarily asking for something in exchange.

And so I think it’s a great reminder for me for sure. But for all the designers listening to reach out, like the worst that can happen is the person says no, and they don’t have time for you, right?

Alex Back: A hundred percent. There’s really no risk. No one likes being rejected. But there’s a very low probability that, you know, anyone would, you know, be left feeling rejected when reaching out for help in a reasonable fashion.

So I say go for it. You have very, very little to lose.

Rebecca Hay: I love that. Thank you so much for joining me today. Before we leave, can you let everybody know where they can find and follow you?

Alex Back: Absolutely. So I’m a very communicative person and I love hearing from people. I’m happy to continue conversations along the lines of any of the themes we discussed today with anybody.

Like I’m busy, but I’m not that busy. If you want to send me an email, my email is Alex at couch. com. And I’m also just really getting feedback about, you know, how to sort of structure and shepherd this idea of couch. com and the platform that we’re building. So as much input as I get from people like you, Rebecca, and anybody listening is actually very valuable to me.

If I can be of service to anybody or if anyone has a question or just want to, you know, shoot the breeze with me, like I’m, I’m, I would love to hear from you.

Rebecca Hay: Awesome. Awesome. I will be happy to collaborate with you. I saw your website and I would turn to my husband. That’s what I was like. Look what this guy’s doing.

This is effing brilliant. I love it. Thank you very much for your time, Alex.

Alex Back: My pleasure.

Rebecca Hay: I hope you guys enjoyed that conversation with Alex. Oh my gosh, I had so many more questions I wanted to ask him. And in fact, we actually stayed on after recording For another 30 minutes talking about marketing and business.

And you know, it’s a great podcast guest when the time is running out and you still have more to talk about. I’m really excited to follow his journey and to see what he does with this new endeavor at couch. com. Like talk about freaking brilliant marketing, e commerce. The whole nine yards. So guys, we are going to follow closely on Alex journey and hopefully have him back here so he can kind of update us on the trajectory of this business.

If you found value today in some of the information that Alex shared, please hop on over to find him on Instagram, find his website, tell him you found him here on the podcast. It would mean a lot to me. Also let me know, do you guys want to learn more about. I’m going to be talking about couches and upholstered furniture and speccing that for your clients because I feel like we entered a rabbit hole that we could have kept going down.

So let me know if that’s a topic that interests you. We can do some episodes on it. And don’t forget to please, please, please review this podcast, hop on over to iTunes, give us a five stars with a lovely comment. Let others know what specifically it is about this podcast that you keep coming back to and why you enjoy listening to it.

More reviews we get. The more eyeballs we can get, ear balls, ear eyeballs, ears, eardrums, eardrums, I don’t know. Got to work on that one. That we can get on the podcast. Don’t forget to hop on over to Instagram and always come and give me a DM and say hello. That’s it for today. I hope you guys enjoyed this episode with Alex.

See you soon.