COFFEE WITH CHRIS WEYLANDT FROM LEADING FURNITURE RETAILER WEYLANDTS
By Emma Clapham.
Chris Weylandt is the catalyst for the phenomenal growth and global expansion of WEYLANDTS. WEYLANDTS started as a small family-run furniture store in 1964 in Windhoek, Namibia by Chris’s father Edgar Weylandt. Weylandts is now an international retailer with seven stores and counting. This leading South African furniture retailer is also a well known and unique shopping destination in our very own Melbourne. Melbournians have been enjoying Weylandts since 2013 when they launched their first Australian flagship store.
Chris Weylandt is currently in Melbourne and I was lucky enough to grab a coffee with him. See below the transcript of my inspiring coffee date with Chris, where I ask him everything from how it all started, his decorating tips, his biggest achievements, favourite place in the world and more.
Emma: Can you tell me a little bit about Weylandts and how it started…
Chris: My father started the business in ’64 in Namibia of all places.
Emma: Oh wow, Namibia?
Chris: Yeah. It was a German colony way back, so there were a lot Germans that came in after the war, and it kind of started as a small furniture store with high end designs, European brands, Scandinavian brands, Italian brands and all of these kind of amazing products that were placed practically in the middle of nowhere (Namibia) . So that was all the beginning and that’s how I was introduced to design as well. I grew up with design, and the small business of it, so it became apart of my daily life. However, I studied and didn’t plan on going to into the business and then one day after I finished studying, I decided I wanted to go into it, I suppose it’s part of my DNA. I then started a store in Cape Town, South Africa, which was on a big scale like this (The Melbourne Store), that was in ’99. It was a destination store, multi-level and very grand. Walking through the space you really experience a whole new range of products and they take you on a journey, a journey through the store and different looks basically, with a restaurant in there and a play area for kids also. It was a great kind of new shopping experience in our market.
Emma: Well in ’99 that would have been very ahead of its time, creating that ‘ unique shopping’ experience?
Chris: Yeah it was. It was also very successful from day one, and then it kind of grew from that into now the seven stores and we’re opening another one in two months’ time.
Emma: And where are all of the others?
Chris: We’ve got two in Cape Town, two in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban on the coast, Melbourne and we’re opening one close to Mozambique.
Emma: How exciting. So, I guess having seven stores you know a thing or two about Visual Merchandising. What are some of your secrets to creating this great visual experience?
Chris: I think, well, firstly … Good curators, pre-selecting amazing products from so many parts of the world. Curating the products in great spaces, giving it space, giving it volume and natural light, it’s the curation and then creating that customer experience that when they walk in it’s kind of a ‘wow effect’. It’s kind of, okay….this journey begins, there’s so much to take in, people are inspired when they come in, the ideas that flow … The intrigue with some of the really crazy pieces, and then there’s also a range of functional pieces too from beautiful marble chopping boards, cheese boards, that are fifty dollars and then you can buy some crazy kind of piece of furniture for thirty thousand dollars. You can have a piece of this brand for very accessible price points.
Emma: How did you choose this space and why Melbourne?
Chris: It was Sydney or Melbourne. We came to Australia, well Sydney and Melbourne quite often to look at the lifestyles, what’s happening in the markets, competitors and so forth. We knew Australia would be a good market with the homes, the relaxed living, the quality of life is great here, appreciation for design; and obviously it was between either Sydney or Melbourne. And then it was just finding the right location. For us the space is very important.
Emma: So, this space really dictated the decision between Melbourne and Sydney?
Chris: Yeah, we had one in Sydney and it fell through and then we managed to find this space.
Emma: Well the space is fantastic. What are some of the biggest trends that you’re seeing right now? Or given that there is such a good mix of pieces here, are you not typically trend based with your buying?
Chris: No. I think we’re influenced a lot by I suppose lifestyles. Lifestyles, a way of living, inspiration through travels, and everyday kind of life. I think the big thing that we’ve been doing for many years is very much choosing the natural organic look. If you look at a lot of our materials that we use, they are all timbers, unfinished timbers, the leathers. Also, handmade, the handmade product with the providence behind it, and limited quantities, if it’s authentic and real products with soul. That’s the important thing for us. The materials we choose, the handmade product, authenticity, if it’s got character, a soul, and then curating it …
Emma: What’s the first thing people should consider when decorating their own space?
Chris: Well I think choose your core pieces. Start off with your core pieces, whether it’s just a great sofa. I think everyone has their own style in a way, because I suppose as a consumer these days they get exposed to a lot through magazines and online. Do your research; know your handwriting and your key piece/style and then it’s building your pieces around that core piece and then you just build on, layer it over time.
Emma: So it’s finding that one key piece that really speaks to you that you might spend quite a bit on that will last a lifetime and really building around that?
Chris: Yeah, a great piece that’s well made, great design, it’s got longevity and then you build on that. It’s kind of your key, I suppose, the anchor in your space.
Emma: How do you choose your furniture and from where?
Chris: It has to fit into our kind of handwriting, I think once you go through the space, you will see we’ve got a very distinct handwriting, so it has to sit well with us, if it doesn’t fit into the look that we’re doing, and the kind of values that we have it wont work. We also look at the material that it’s made of, the skill of the craftsmanship and the design. It’s kind of … It’s feel good effect, it’s got to feel right. We tend to generally deal with a lot of manufacturers that are smaller, it’s good to know them, build a relationship. From the sourcing, it’s all over Asia, and a lot from India, Indonesia, Thailand, also China, those are the key areas, Africa, South Africa, especially the African contemporary pieces are beautiful, just to mix that with modern spaces are amazing.
Emma: Who or what inspires you?
Chris: The traveling. If I go back to inspiration, from a designer it’s like Terence Conran, he inspired me, but now it’s just the traveling. Going to Europe, going to Asia, in Africa going back to basic markets, the scratching around finding pieces, and nature obviously, that’s a huge influence.
Emma: The most enjoyable part of your job?
Chris: The traveling, and fortunately I travel with my partner so we work together to. She does more of the home ware buying, but we buy all the product together and we travel, like six or seven months out of the year, so being able to travel together it makes it fun. Otherwise I would never … It couldn’t be possible to.
Emma: Where is your favourite place?
Chris: India at the moment. It’s just the excitement, just the energy, it’s the creative, it’s just the buzz and it’s chaos.
Chris: It’s a beautiful chaos.
Emma: What have been your one or two defining moments in your career so far?
Chris: I think one of the most recent ones is opening the store in Melbourne. It’s quite a thing to be in private business, and quite a thing to open up in a new market, and especially if you look at the scale of the store, obviously it was a massive investment and kind of a, I’d say a risk and it was an unknown territory. That was quite a challenge and a journey to do that. I suppose another one in my career was the first store we opened in Cape Town, just the instant success of it was amazing, just to see the response from the customers, and having it.
Emma: What kind of dream project would you like to work on one day or what’s next?
Chris: We’d love to do our own hotel. We live outside of Cape Town, Franschhoek, which is a stunning area. We’ve got a farm there and kind of bought a restaurant and it’d just be just a natural extension on what we’re doing already to do a hotel, a small hotel kind of concept.
Emma: That sounds amazing, make sure you keep us in the loop. Thanks so much for having a coffee with me and letting us into your world.
Chris: My pleasure.
200 Gipps Street, Abbotsford