West Elm creates a sense of home with Airtable
Selling a product that will live in someone else’s home is deeply personal, especially in today’s world.
hours saved each week
people connected across 8 teams
The pandemic changed how much time we spend at home, how we experience that space, and what it means to us. That’s why the Creative team at West Elm wanted to reimagine the way people are introduced to their brand. “A sense of home became more important, so our imagery became more important. We have to think: how does our product make people more comfortable at home?” Korin Thorig, VP of Creative Operations at West Elm, said.
Korin’s team went into the 2020 season armed with more assets for the website than the creative team had ever had before. Her team was under immense pressure to still create visuals for the website while working from home. They delivered, thanks to what they built two years prior.
In the spring of 2018 Korin set out to reimagine West Elm’s customer experience and transform their content for the digital age. West Elm as a brand is willing to take risks, which brings great potential for growth and innovation, that’s what drew Korin there in the first place. “We were a brand built on lifestyle imagery and catalogs and as time has changed we needed to think differently on how we produce content,” she said.
She wanted to grow their photo assets and compete on a bigger stage with sister brands like Pottery Barn. That meant Gary Webb, Senior Studio Manager for West Elm, would be responsible for directing his team to produce more than 1,000 unique images a week. His team manages all product photography you see on West Elm’s website and in stores.
"But there was one glaring problem. Every single one of those images moves across seven different departments, each with their own workflow, before it ever reaches a customer. Managing this scope of content across photo production, merchandising, warehouse, samples teams, and more required lots of manual work. The data for each photo (the SKU, shot list, including color, dimensions and angles) all lived in a basic spreadsheet. These teams all work in different physical locations, so the lack of a single source of truth for photo shoot information created a considerable disconnect across teams.
If Gary or someone on his team wanted to make changes to the shot schedule before heading into the studio he would have to download a copy of the spreadsheet and email it out. If things changed while they were on set his colleagues, and external partners weren’t able to see those changes in real time. “We were shooting the same thing twice because a merchant partner didn’t know that we had completed the work and was requesting it a second time. That was a big problem,” Gary said.
The manual data entry also led to mistakes, “I couldn’t sleep at night because I couldn't trust the data. Knowing that things are named accurately, without typos is important for the data to be considered clean and trustworthy,” he said.
So Korin went in search of a solution to get her team organized and on the same page. She found Airtable through a mentor who used it to manage video production. Korin liked Airtable’s dashboard clarity, the high level overview of performance metrics that she could surface to leadership was what really sold her. At first she created a content calendar and then used it to manage West Elm’s budget, she knew this tool could keep her cross functional partners and her own team in sync.
“I knew we needed Airtable. I knew the volume of photography I was up against and the scale we were up against.”
When she passed it on to Gary, Airtable took on a life of its own.
Now instead of manual data entry the team uses automations, so they can spend more time thinking creatively. Every photo is automatically uploaded to a base. Using linked records Gary’s team then attaches metadata to each image. It’s connected to a SKU, with detailed dimensions, color, angles, and the photography shot list for that item.
While on set Gary can see what shots he already has and what he still needs to create. All seven departments are looking at the same base so external merchant partners, the warehouse team, and the samples team know what to expect from each shoot. They don’t have to ask Gary for it or search through an email chain to find out what his team is working on. This application also ensures they’re not wasting time on set thumbing around looking for information. “A single source of truth means everything, time saved, dollars saved, headaches saved,” Korin said.
“We’re looking at 85 hours of cost savings per week.”
“Now I can sleep at night. When I talk about trusting data it's about knowing the information I'm looking at is up to date and it's consistent with what others are seeing. It takes the interpretation out of it,” Gary said.
“Airtable is really up to the user, you can do anything you dream with it,” Korin said.