Why this designer’s motto is “always sail”

Celebrity chef turned designer Travis London, whose company, Studio London, is based in Miami and Los Angeles, has developed an unconventional approach to retailing finds through clients with big budgets and tight deadlines. Although some of these availability advantages are disappearing, the strategy has become the hallmark of his design practice.

Travis LondonRoy Ritchie

Where to start sourcing for a given project?
I always start online, and look at what’s already in stock. I don’t like making custom pieces, because even though I sometimes have unlimited budgets, there are already so many good things. My favorite thing is customization: I’ll find something we can get right away, then I’ll get it with fabric from France or other amazing fabrics. Kelly Wearstler pattern which makes it luxurious.

Where do you go for these in stock parts and do you get a trade discount?
I get a trade discount at every place I shop. And especially when you’re shopping from a direct-to-consumer brand, you’re already saving a lot because there’s no physical store. [so the prices can be lower]. Even if you look at a brand like Anthropologie, which everyone knows for their clothes, they have an incredible catalog of furniture online. The trade discount there is low, but I don’t always pass it to the customer, because it all depends on the percentage you mark to make a profit for your business.

So your pricing has nothing to do with the list price the customer sees.
No not at all. When a customer comes to you, they come to you for your skills, your expertise, your availability and your ability to supply you. I may source from retail, but I also reupholster anything that’s custom – and customization is the most authentic form of luxury. I always do full retail markup [on the furniture piece, the fabric and the workroom labor]. Customers want transparency about what’s going on [with the piece]but they only see the final price.

How many trade accounts do you have for fabrics?
I have so many – with everyone from here to Africa to Berlin. I never know where I’m going to find the perfect fabric.

How do you stay organized and keep all those products straight?
I ask everyone to send me their lookbook, then I scan [my favorites] and keep them handy for reference. For me to shop with you, however, you really have to think outside the box – that’s my biggest thing.

Have order minimums ever been a challenge for you?
For a project I was working on, there was minimal cutting for a fabric of
France was much more than what I needed. I only wanted to do two things in it, but it’s something I love, so I know it’ll get used to. If it’s your aesthetic and you love it, other clients will be able to use it in their home – and they won’t even have to wait, so it’s a savings that can be passed on to another client.

Are there shortcuts to online procurement?
When it comes to shopping, I sometimes literally browse websites all day. When I’m in a restaurant, I browse. When I’m eating, or when I’m in bed, still browsing. [Seeing me] on my phone at three in the morning, my ex-boyfriend was like, “I know you’re stocking up. So many websites have around 500 pages – and if I’m looking for a project, I have to check every page. This is why the customer comes to you. They can’t check the 500 pages, but I can, and I do.

How do you charge for all this time?
I charge a flat rate for the design and a markup on everything I source. I also bill by the hour if the project is out of scope. I think those three things combined make you a profit. I’ve talked to designers who only do customization because they want to be able to charge a 100% markup. A lot of what I do is cater to retail and personalize, so I can charge a 100% markup as well, because that’s still a form of personalization. You have to find a business model that works for you, but you have to make a profit and also live some life. I have a Maserati and a nice house, and that’s what the client expects when they meet me. I don’t think anyone can have a 35% profit margin and still live their life.

It looks like you’re less focused on a brand’s creator discount. What do you prioritize when approaching a client’s budget?
I’m working on an $18 million house in Miami where they’re redoing the kitchen, and they want to do it for $200,000. It’s going to be doable because there are two direct-to-consumer companies in Germany that are changing the way cabinets are made, so we can get a price reduction [on quality product] with them. I told the client, “There will be no Italian-made cabinets in the kitchen for $200,000.” We’ll get the cabinetry from a direct-to-consumer company, then add marble to the backsplash and countertop to make it look more luxurious. This is how sourcing comes into play in my work.

On the other hand, many of these direct-to-consumer brands do not have enough margin to offer designers a large trade discount.
It is very, very true. But for me, I go to those brands and then I personalize them. This allows me to make a markup that I consider fair and profitable for my business. And with this house, they want a quick turnaround – all in two months. If I was doing real custom pieces, it would take at least 14 weeks to six months to do something. That’s why my model works here: we only buy off-the-shelf products and then customize them to make them more luxurious for the customer. The bones are good, and then we customize them.

It’s tight timing! What is the secret to achieving this?
You’re only as strong as your team, so it’s all about building a good back team. I have a fantastic upholsterer, and when I have a deadline, he always does.

This article is part of a series of interviews that explore different approaches to shopping, offering tips and strategies to make sourcing a business more efficient, more inspiring and more profitable too. You want to know more ? Check out the rest of the series here.

Photo: The living room area of ​​Travis London’s house in Miami. | Venjhamin Reyes

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