Interview: Bob Immerman, Founder of mDesign

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Bob Immerman, founder of mDesign

Bob Immerman has spent almost 50 years in the home décor and storage solutions industry. He has founded two companies already, at over forty years apart: Interdesign in 1974, and mDesign in 2015. Both of these companies have become global leaders in their field, selling products to hundreds of countries across different continents.

With mDesign, Bob Immerman has founded a “global direct-to-consumer digitally-native home décor brand,” offering décor and storage solutions for an entire household. The company prides itself in creating “smartly designed storage products for the whole house.” Currently, mDesign sits on the #4 spot on Amazon’s American Marketplace; you can also find the company in numerous marketplaces in the United States and across the globe.

Prior to mDesign, Bob Immerman has developed 20 products for Bed Bath Beyond. However, the company would end up picking only three out of the 20 for testing, and after that, they would only buy one product to sell in 1,000 stores. While Bob has exerted a great deal of imagination and effort in designing 20 products, only 1 landed on the market, while the other 19 got shelved forever.

So, out of frustration, Bob Immerman founded mDesign to give those other 19 products a chance. By adopting Amazon Marketplace, Bob hopes to bring his designs to life and sell them to consumers directly. He hopes that with his business model, “the days that retailers were the exclusive gatekeepers to reaching the consumer were over.”

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Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Bob Immerman: mDesign has a unique business model that differentiates from other competitors out there. We make big bets on home goods and think bigger than the traditional DTC platform. First, we leverage marketplaces, which enables us to cast a wide customer net and go where the customer already is instead of trying to force them to come to us to shop.

The traditional DTC model has traffic driven via PR, Instagram, Facebook, and tons and tons of paid advertising — fueled by rounds and rounds of VC money. Amazon is considered the enemy. But Amazon is not the enemy at all; quite the opposite. Amazon is an effective way to eliminate friction and efficiently reach the consumer, and it’s the quickest way to do it at scale in the USA, Europe, and beyond. It also allows us to build our brand awareness with consumers since over 40% of our sales come from returning customers. Amazon has become intricately linked to our growth and expansion.

Another differentiator is our expansive assortment that covers different colors, sizes, and finish variations, and selling on marketplaces allows us to present ALL of these options to customers. We listen to both the quantitative and qualitative insights in developing our assortment instead of going off of predictions.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Bob Immerman: Don’t expect the same output will achieve the best outcome every time — learn how to adapt to your environment. I have stayed malleable throughout my career, reinventing myself time and time again when it was necessary. The path from the analog 1970s start-up business to creating and expanding mDesign has required constant adaptation to new realities. Business is not a 100-yard dash. It’s more like a “college marathon.” There’s a lot to keep learning and it doesn’t always happen as fast as you want.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Bob Immerman: A friendly retailer once pushed me to take a strategic planning course. It didn’t turn me into a terrific planner, but I did gain a better sense of the big picture. It showed me that it is important to put things into context.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Bob Immerman: The pandemic has caused a significant shift in consumer buying behavior, but eCommerce still has the same essential requirements. Now, it is just more important than ever that online retail businesses make sure they are on top of these critical areas since consumers are spending so much more time shopping online, comparing different websites, and looking for the best overall buying experience. Some of the key areas are:

  • Keeping the site and the product selection fresh to encourage frequent visits
  • Offering a diverse range of product options to meet all of the customers’ needs
  • Maintaining inventory levels to avoid out-of-stocks that frustrate shoppers
  • Communicating key information like product features, shipping details, or order status
  • Providing excellent Customer Service, including easy access to representatives and simplified returns

My advice is, don’t limit your potential. When mDesign started, we focused on top-notch storage solutions, but today, we are so much more. mDesign has become a fully-loaded home decor one-stop-shop for all types of home furnishing needs and is so much more than just organization. mDesign’s success can be attributed to consumers finding everything they need for the house in one place, without leaving the comfort of their homes. This is a huge win in the world that we are living in today, impacted by 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic that still grips on the nation. As we continue to expand our product range, we also never lose sight of our purpose: mDesign has always kept organization at the forefront of our products, whether that be a full line of custom-made furniture for every room, dining and entertainment items for any occasion, or a host of products specifically designed for outdoor recreation and gardening. The future is online, so make sure you are providing solutions for your customers, in an easy-to-use shopping environment, so they continue to return to your business as an invaluable resource.

Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Bob Immerman: Focus on what excites your customer, know your purpose, and communicate it clearly and consistently through your brand message. From the beginning, mDesign has been a brand that simply seeks to uncomplicate lives. We deliver home solutions in each and every product that we offer, which has been a key to our success in growing the business. Hyper-growth is a difficult thing for any company to accomplish, but it takes a certain amount of well-engineered planning, an incredibly solid product that the marketplace needs, and exceptional word-of-mouth from all of the customers that touch the brand. mDesign’s home decor product line has managed to accomplish all of this and, in turn, has achieved a consistent state of hyper-growth since its conception. mDesign home decor moved into Amazon’s Top 5 marketplace sellers list in August 2020, touting 4,745 customer reviews in only 30 days with 167,156 lifetime reviews on Amazon. Over 40% of our sales come from returning customers, so the quality and experience of our products speak for themselves.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Bob Immerman: Trust your instincts. It took me a while to become comfortable in making product decisions. Ultimately, I learned not to overthink things, and instead to take a chance, however, outside-of-the-box it might have been. I also think it is critical to listen to your customers. I love to read reviews. They tell me how the consumer uses our products, and it’s often not what we originally intended or expected. This has led to new product positioning, as well as the development of other new products and variations. Brick-and-mortar retailers don’t have the same ability to listen and react to consumer feedback. It’s a huge plus for online business.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Bob Immerman: People sometimes underestimate how much different eCommerce, or selling direct to the customers, can be from selling through retailers in a brick-and-mortar environment. Some aspects are much easier because you are in control of your product, your message, and your brand. But others are much more difficult since the entire selling process rests entirely with you — from merchandising, pricing, and supply chain to customer service and ultimate buyer satisfaction with not just your product but the entire shopping experience. Digital retailing is complex and constantly changing, so you can never stop learning, adjusting, or innovating.

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Bob Immerman: It’s critical to pay attention to reviews — good and bad — to understand your customers and their needs. We listen to our reviews, especially the negative ones. Often the customers make valid points, whether they’re issues we did not think of, or flaws we were not aware of. It can be anything from damage in shipping because of poor packaging to confusing product descriptions on the eCommerce sites. The best response is to take quick action and use the information to make the product better!

Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Bob Immerman: I have spent my life following my passion for developing innovative, quality products. I never wanted to be the biggest or richest — I just found my satisfaction in the product development process. Fast forward a few decades and now I can look at the people who work at my companies with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that I have helped them earn a good living, provided them with quality health care, and enjoyed seeing them raise their families. The process itself has been tremendously gratifying and the results are my reward. That said, I think the movement would be to inspire other entrepreneurs to start businesses which in turn provide great jobs and health care for people in their communities.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Bob Immerman: You can always follow mDesign through our website and social media to see what new and exciting things we are up to!

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Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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