Launched in 2015, House of Mosaics has already won awards and created a thriving, fast-growing business. Joe Simpson discusses strategy with founders Becky Firth and Ann Quirke.
Few decorative construction materials can challenge mosaic for longevity. Since Roman times, humans have been fascinated by the design possibilities of placing tiny pieces, tesserae, in set schemes to produce patterns, figurative depictions, or simple monocolour surfaces that offer visual interest through minute differences in angle and planarity.
So, starting a new business retailing mosaics seems like a considerable challenge. Is it still possible, in this sophisticated retail age, to offer something unique, and truly differentiated in a market that already boasts long-established luxury mosaic brands, like Bisazza, Appiani, Sicis and Trend; and is also served by specialist suppliers of more technically-focused materials like Jasba?
With many mosaic specialists essentially catering to the hobbyist or mosaic artist community, a site aimed at homeowners and interior designers must prove its design credentials if it is to be seen as a trusted and credible source.
This was the challenge facing Becky Firth and Ann Quirke, co-founders of House of Mosaics. Firth and Quirke’s aim was to establish a trend setting on-line boutique, specialising in innovative and inspirational mosaic tiles.
Passionate about mosaic tiles, the pair’s aim from the outset was to provide customers with the best selection of stylish, high quality, mosaic tiles, at the most reasonable prices. Fair enough, you may think, but wouldn’t any large tile retailer with an online presence say something similar. For Firth and Quirk the real challenge was to create a site that fully leveraged the versatility of mosaic tiles, and conveyed to online shoppers why mosaics are a simple and effective way to add a touch of luxury, and the ‘wow’ factor, to any room, tiled or otherwise.
A great analogy is a set of oil paints. In a master’s hands, it can be used to create everything from da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. In the wrong hands, all that results are coloured daubs. With mosaics the potential is limitless, but all good mosaic installations have to start with a clear concept and a target style.
One of the great triumphs of www.HouseofMosaics.co.uk is that it provides this inspiration for complete novices or the design illiterate, without alienating professional designers and design-savvy homeowners.
One of the keys to achieving true customer engagement is education with a light touch. This is where the House of Mosaics’ “Inspire Me” section is so effective. It is divided into eight parts or chapters: “How can I use mosaics?”; “Trend Spy”; “Tile Design Studio”; “Style Guide”; “Personal Stylish”; “Customer Type”; “HOM Hearts”; and “Blog”.
The first chapter is self-explanatory. It looks at mosaic applications in domestic bathrooms and kitchens. Some of these are obvious and familiar: others more radical and unusual. The ideas span feature walls and various border options; zonal mosaic applications behind WCs; vertical installations and zoned shower areas; wet room floors and walls; feature bath panels; backsplashes and recesses; floor separation strips; and mirror surrounds; plus more unusual applications such as a bedroom headboard, fireplace surround, or cladding for a curved feature. You can even, of course, create a piece of stand-alone art, the site explains.
To provide a further degree of hand-holding and inspiration, “Style Guide” introduces users to a set of curated design families, such as “New York, New York” or “So Scandinavian”, that offer a choice of contrasting design directions.
“Customer Type” helps shoppers to bring out their inner design personality, by dividing shoppers into four neat groups: a further aid to overcoming creative insecurity.
The “Blog”, “HOM Hearts” and “Trend Spy” sections introduce House of Mosaics’ customers to global design trends, and the founder’s personal favourites and opinions, providing still more curated context to support considered shopping.
The next step is “Tile Design Studio”, House of Mosaics‘ online design tool. This allows shoppers to adapt kitchen and bathroom templates, select mosaics, and decide on their application using a simple step-by-step guide. As well applying the chosen mosaics, the user can choose complimentary large format tiles, and select grout and accessories to complete the look. Users can then save the room, and start again.
For those not yet ready to take this step, extra support is provided by House of Mosaics’ inexpensive bespoke design service – “Personal Stylist” – which provides two levels of individual design consultation.
Of course, all this has to be backed up by an inspiring product portfolio. House of Mosaics are always looking for the next lovely mosaic tile, and try to launch new tiles every month. The latest arrivals feature in the “New In” section.
Overall, the buying philosophy is create a product mix that is contemporary and stylish; only featuring on-trend tile designs. House of Mosaics believes that, with over 100 designs to choose from, there will be a style to compliment every shopper’s needs.
This online portfolio is categorised in many ways to make navigating it as simple as possible. The mosaic offer is ordered by material; colour, shape, type, and application; which seems to cover all the bases. The “Tile Design Studio” is also important here to help customers see the final vision, and allows shoppers to narrow down their selection, while creating a personalised and bespoke look within budget.
House of Mosaics are clear that success is not all down to a well-considered, inspiring, and functional website. Customer loyalty is built on great service, and Firth and Quirke are quick to stress the key role played by their dedicated customer service team, who work tirelessly to ensure a first-class customer experience, from sending out samples and ordering, right through to after sales service. The aim is to always exceeds expectations, encouraging loyalty, and word-of-mouth recommendation.
However, House of Mosaics are far more than an internet-based retail operation. If fact, the business model has shifted since the company’s launch in 2015, with web-based sales now accounting for less that 10% of the company’s ever-increasing turnover.
This is because Firth and Quirke specialise in category management, offering key account marketing and sales excellence, backed up by a web-based customer services team.
“When we started the business we had a clear branding strategy,” explains Firth. “We wanted the brand identity to reflect everything in the business top-down, so from the logo and branding on the website, through to packaging, business cards, stationary, to brochures … everything represented our brand. We have seen strong growth year on year since our launch, and are predicting the same in 2019,” she continues.
“We have 100 SKUs listed in multiple DIY retailers to date, in-store, and on-line channels,” underlines Quirke. “Our long-term strategy is that as we continue to build our customer base, the website will eventually become non-transactional, acting purely as a marketing tool for the end user.”
The formula appears successful. As well as delivering impressive sales growth, House of Mosaics’ achievements have been recognised by its peers, winning Highly Commended in the Best E-Commerce Website/App category in the 2017 TTA Awards, and being shortlisted again this year in the Marketing category. It all goes to prove that, while there may be nothing new under the sun, modern marketing can certainly breathe new life into one of the most traditional of all materials.
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