Industry veteran Scott McKearn started Banana Manor, a wholesale and direct-to-consumer rug venture based out of Louisiana.
Industry veteran Scott McKearn had an “aha” moment while watching “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the Freddie Mercury biopic, which helped guide the creation of his latest venture, Banana Manor.
In the film, McKearn noted that Mercury didn’t shine until he got on stage and let his personality come out. Along those lines, as he began developing the new brand, which offers rug and poufs for wholesale, private labeling and direct to consumer, McKearn decided to just be himself and brought lessons learned over the years while playing a role with Bramble Furniture, Dauphine Mirror Co., Flambeau Lighting, Gilded Nola and Lucas & McKearn, among others.
“My take away from it was what any artist needs to do is spend as much time in that zone. For me, I can’t sing, but my passion is concept development,” McKearn told me. “I love creating a brand and piecing together ideas and integrating them into one concept. It’s a canvas. You’re constantly tweaking and refining it and improving.”
As part of the concept, McKearn opted to go all-in on personality, naming products after 1970s and 1980s television shows and embracing humor.
“This one should be a true reflection of me and my ridiculousness and my sense of humor. I was born in 1969 and raised in the ‘70s by my television so there are a lot of references to that era,” he said. “It’s my interpretation of these and I integrate my personal experiences and anecdotes and stories relative to those. This is a fusion between shopping and entertainment. Every single item I wanted to be entertaining. I wanted people to get caught up in the site, laughing and feeling good.”
We’ll get back to the humor in a minute, because while the site is whimsical, McKearn said the products and the plan behind them are no laughing matter. He has partnered with a longtime business associate in Bhadohi, India, who is a second-generation rug factory owner. With the factory’s backing, McKearn said Banana Manor can provide anything from inexpensive flatweaves to high-end Oushaks with all stops in between. He said that flexibility will play into the brand’s designer-centric trade program as well as the private-label offerings for retailers.
“My partner’s been doing rugs for retailers around the world for two generations,” he said. “Whether they’re choosing from the designs or providing their own designs or starting from scratch, I can meet with the customer and put together a custom rug program that they can private label. It will be an exclusive collection from them. Nobody can comparison shop what the retailer is selling private label versus what I’m selling direct to consumer. Our main emphasis is the private label for dealers. Our to-the-trade program for designers will be a significant part of the business also. Those will be Banana Manor rugs.”
The venture was initially conceived as primarily direct-to-consumer, but McKearn said his factory partner advised him that private label could provide more opportunities, so he pivoted.
“I came to realize the private label wholesale potential will be so tremendous and will most likely outweigh what we do direct-to-consumer,” he said.
Plus, by private labeling for retailers, McKearn said he’s not in competition with his direct-to-consumer business, and the retailers are protected from showrooming.
“For dealers, the tricky part of what we’re doing is it isn’t following the normal structure. The prices we’re selling the end user, they could mark it up and sell it and make money. That’s why the private label component is key,” McKearn said. “When [retailers] compare an item that they can get the rug from a wholesaler, their price will be much lower than what they would pay. The fact they can private label is the customer can’t compare what the retailer is buying and selling it for. The retail customer is not going to know we exist.”
Shifting gears back to the direct-to-consumer piece of the business, the whimsical nature of the website is part of McKearn’s approach to customer acquisition. “Being highly entertaining is one part of it. I’m creating a buzz and awareness through the entertaining approach that’s unlike any approach any home furnishings retailer is taking,” he said. Additionally, McKearn noted that he’s leveraging data collected via his retail brand’s Facebook and Instagram profiles to create a ready-made initial targeting campaign.
For online Banana Manor orders, McKearn said the rugs will come to the consumer’s door directly from India. He says his costs are so low that he can absorb some of the shipping costs, still make a tidy profit and give the customer a handmade rug at a bargain.
“The numbers work; having our product costs being so low and our margins are low,” he said. “It makes it where even with the shipping expense, the price is shockingly good for the end user.”
Pillows and poufs will come flat from India and can be pre-filled at Banana Manor’s Baton Rouge-based facility or sent flat, and consumers can have it filled themselves. “Shipping stuffed poufs to the end consumer can be cost prohibitive. To ship stuffed, it needs to come from Louisiana,” McKearn said.
Designers will also shop from the Banana Manor selection (or customize their own rugs) and will receive a discount off the direct-to-consumer prices.