Five Questions: Dan Weiss
April 14, 2015
Dan Weiss, president and CEO of Lillian August, discusses his journey from the business world to the business of home design—a process that took place during lunch breaks.
Text by Kyle Hoepner Photography by Lorin Klaris
What was the path to your present position?
I wrote a business plan for the company while I was working on Wall Street, in the late 1980s. That period really saw the beginning of modern fashion branding—companies like Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren were moving into home design in a big way. My mother, Lillian August, had been doing some design licensing of wallcoverings and fabrics, and had come out with her first catalog of clothing, furnishings, accessories, and gifts. But she wanted to grow her business, and I realized that there was a fast-emerging market for designer “lifestyle” brands. I had a full-time job and had just gotten married, so I did this on my lunch hours. But we eventually raised the initial seed capital—and the rest, as they say, is history.
How has the company’s engagement with home design evolved over the time you’ve been there?
When we started, we sold everything from furniture to women’s apparel. We had a mix similar to the original Laura Ashley shops, with more emphasis on home furnishings and interior design. As the concept evolved, we migrated away from apparel and focused specifically on home furnishings and interior design…to the point that, today, we are a “one-stop shop” for designer home furnishings.
Are there special challenges that Lillian August faces these days? Or special challenges you see in the industry as a whole?
The biggest challenge is becoming truly omni-channel. The customer today wants a seamless experience, whether it’s online, via a catalog, or in-store.
Do you have any notable initiatives planned for the near future?
We’re continuing to open stores, we’ll be getting back to producing our magazine, we continue to work on our online experience. We’ve been expanding our very successful proprietary lines of furniture and accessories as well, with Lillian August furniture for Hickory White, a new wall decor line with Wendover Art Group, and lighting with Currey & Company.
Designers these days are typically mixing and matching a range of products for their high-end clients, including some things available to the public and some things from trade-only or custom sources. How do you see Lillian August fitting into that spectrum?
Our design-services staff actually makes us one of the largest design firms in Connecticut: we have more than thirty-five designers working on anything from individual rooms to full homes. We have lots of published projects, and we just recently did the library at Holiday House NYC and last year’s Hampton Designer Showhouse. Our designers source from the store and through trade-only design centers; they’re no different than a private designer.
In the stores, we’ve pulled back the curtain between trade and retail a lot, with much of our product available to everybody—consumers and designers alike. We have a diverse mix of good/better/best products that allows both our trade and retail customers to meet their varied needs. We have always had a wide variety of unique, artisan-made custom products, and that continues to be an important and growing part of our designer business.