With a showroom disguised as an apartment, Merchant Sons is merging IRL experiences with the ease of the digital world.
Merchant Sons is carving out a niche for themselves in the homewares industry. Based in Toronto, with plans to expand their showrooms across Canada, they’re finding success by listening to their audience, responding to their needs, and steadily growing their product offering based on what their customers can’t find in the marketplace. We sat down with their co-founder Cathy, who oversees brand experience, to talk about the process of launching their brand and the steps they’ve taken to grow a community of loyal followers—both online and offline.
Where did the idea for Merchant Sons come from?
We were sitting around in our friend’s apartment chatting, and the girls were talking about going over to guys’ places and being appalled by their decor. In response, the guys said “it’s not our fault—we know what looks good. We have a sense of decor. We go to good restaurants, we stay at nice hotels. But we can’t find anything [for guys] when we go shopping.”
How did you confirm your hypothesis—that there really weren’t enough options out there for guys to furnish their homes?
When we decided to embark on all of this, we did customer research with in-home focus groups. When it came to bed sheets, guys complained about aesthetic. All their options were geometric patterns and florals. They were missing simple patterns and colours. Guys were also complaining about functionality. They get sweaty when they sleep. That led us down the path to explore different textiles and we started looking beyond simply thread count and cotton. There are a lot of myths around thread count! They’re usually multiple ply, so you end up with thick, non-breathable fabric. But it’s the type of fibre that’s really important. Tencel is made from eucalyptus, it’s really common in athletic wear. A lot of moisture-wicking athletic wear is made from the same thing, so we started there. We thought, why not apply it to bedding?
You’ve taken a men’s POV to shaping your brand and product, why did you go with this angle and how has speaking to a specific group helped your growth?
The homewares industry targets a female decision maker. By flipping that around, we’re able to unlock a lot of different ideas about how homeware looks and functions that applies to both men and women. We don’t explicitly say “this is only for men” and alienate women, but we focus on male needs to make our brand stand out, as well as unlocking a lot of interesting ideas. People are also looking for more of a gender neutral aesthetic these days—simple and minimalist. It’s less about explicit gender stereotypes and more about being able to think about how real people live, versus a catalogue version of us.
As a new brand, how are you building community?
In the offline space, our brick and mortar location is really key for us. It’s a showroom disguised as an apartment. We’ve turned it into a livingroom, diningroom and kitchen with an operating cafe run by a local roaster. There’s a bedroom in the back. It’s a public apartment. People work out of the space and hang out with their friends here. Our intention was to inspire a really comfortable, aesthetically-pleasing home life. That’s been key to us, and we hope to expand to different neighbourhoods in Toronto and different cities.
We also partner with local brands and do customer appreciation shopping events with two local menswear designers.They can showcase their product and we can showcase the space. We also rent out our space on thisopenspace, which is a great revenue driver for us and brings in different people who might never have been in the neighbourhood or in the space.
How are in-person experiences crucial to your brand?
For a long time, people were focused so much on online and talking about the threat of Amazon. We’re seeing a lot of other brands show the importance of IRL experiences, like being able to see something, touch it, and interact with someone who can speak to all the nuances of the product and the brand. We believe in brick and mortar. We want to replicate this as fast as we can so we grow and inspire this lifestyle. No matter how many videos we have on our site, it’s still not the same as smelling the candle we created while feeling the fibres of the sheets. It’s just about getting more creative about how we do it. At our showroom, there’s no line or cash register. You can sit and flip through a magazine and someone wraps up your product in a reusable tote bag. It’s like receiving a gift versus standing in line at a department store and waiting to transact.
What’s next for Merchant Sons? Any new products we can be getting excited for?
A lot of people have been requesting a system of pillows and comforters. Sheets will only take you so far if the rest of your bedding isn’t working for you. We’re looking at the same idea of breathability with the rest of the bed.
People also often complain about fit—it’s a biweekly struggle to fit your duvet into your duvet cover, so we’re working on creating fasteners and sizing things exactly. It’s a simple thing, but there are companies that make duvet covers and different companies that make duvets, and they’re not made the same size. Ours will fit perfectly.
What’s been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur so far?
I’m looking at a map right now—we put a blue dot on every new city where we’ve sold a product. We have a customer in Fort McMurray, Alberta, who has bought every single one of our products in multiple colours. He’s a young engineer and he doesn’t have a lot of shopping options where he lives. He loves his home. He shared his Instagram with us. It’s really cool to see the business model prove out.
Looking to pop-up IRL? Check our Merchant Son’s showroom space for your next pop-up, product launch or group off-site – book their space here.