How Lovesac continues growth after a pandemic boom

Retail Gets Real episode 289: Lovesac founder and CEO Shawn Nelson on building a sustainable business
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor

Lovesac’s founder and CEO Shawn Nelson doesn’t mind seeing his washable, changeable upholstered seating products resold on the internet.

Shawn Nelson, Founder and CEO of Lovesac
Shawn Nelson, founder and CEO of Lovesac

“I’m very happy to see them sometimes on eBay or Craigslist or whatever, because it shows how long our products last,” Nelson says on this week’s episode of Retail Gets Real. “There’s value in them selling at almost full price sometimes because our stuff is really, really good. It’s built to last a lifetime, designed to evolve.”

Indeed, the company’s “Designed for Life” philosophy emphasizes sustainable products that do not end up discarded in landfills. “The way that we design things is very different and it doesn’t follow this whole cyclical nature,” he says. “The real sustainability comes from a product that can sustain.”

Many home goods and furniture retailers saw a boom during the pandemic, but that has since slowed. But Lovesac continues to grow. Nelson says Lovesac now reports more than half a billion dollars in annual sales, with a four-year compound annual growth rate of 48%.

Nelson created the original “Lovesac” in the basement of his parents’ Utah home when he was just out of high school. “This was honestly a side hustle,” he says. “This was just this thing that just wouldn’t let me go, everyone wants another one. I was reluctantly following it because it just wouldn’t quit.”

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Nearly 25 years later, Lovesac is a public company with a unique sales model that pairs ecommerce sales with low-pressure physical showrooms. “We pivoted to a direct consumer model where we don’t sell anything in our showrooms. We don’t even call them stores. We don’t carry inventory. These are, as we view them, showrooms for the Internet and everything ships to you essentially like a web sale,” Nelson says. “You could sit in there and buy this thing on your phone while in our showroom, we don’t care. We’ve created a whole system that encourages that.”

Listen to the full podcast to hear more about Nelson’s entrepreneurial journey from college student to CEO, the company’s ups and downs over its 25-year-history (including an investment by Richard Branson and bankruptcy a year later) and how Lovesac weathered the pandemic with sustained momentum.

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Episode transcript, edited for clarity

Bill Thorne:    Welcome to Retail Gets Real, where we hear from retail's most fascinating leaders about the industry that impacts everyone everywhere, every day. I'm Bill Thorne from the National Retail Federation, and on today's episode we're talking to Shawn Nelson, founder and CEO of Lovesac. It's a specialty furniture retailer known for its modular furniture system called Sactionals. We're going to talk to Shawn about the inspiration behind Lovesac, his biggest accomplishment as an entrepreneur and the future of his company and the retail industry. Shawn Nelson, welcome to Retail Gets Real.

Shawn Nelson:    Thanks for having me. Great to be with you.

Bill Thorne:    Before we get to your success, let's talk about how you got here. You created Lovesac in your parents' basement. Why does everybody create things in their parents' basement? It always seems to be the place, or garage. You were only 18 years old. How did you take your idea from a vision to execution?

Shawn Nelson:    Well, based on everything I'm reading about this up-and-coming generation, we're going to have a lot more basement inventions.

Bill Thorne:    Isn’t that the truth.

Shawn Nelson:    Yeah, right. I was 10 days out of high school sitting on my parents' couch watching ‘The Price is Right,’ bored out my mind and it just popped into my head — how funny would it be to have a bean bag this big, like me to the TV, the whole floor. I got off the couch right then, drove down to my local Joanne's fabrics, bought some closeout vinyl in black and tan, began cutting it out, sewing it up like a baseball, and couldn't finish it. My girlfriend's mom finished sewing it up for me, put a zipper in it, and then spent the next three weeks trying to stuff the thing. Originally with bean bag beads, I couldn't possibly find enough, of course. 

Bill Thorne:     Right. 

Shawn Nelson:     So, I tried the packing peanuts out of the boxes nearby, old blankets. But I found my parents’ camping mattresses, a piece of yellow foam with a bungee cord around them. I cut them up on a paper cutter, chopped those up into squares, put those in and that made this thing kind of magical. Like a giant pillow you'd sink into instead of a crunchy bean bag, and it would fill the back of a truck. It was huge.
Everywhere we took it, everyone wanted one. It would be three years of using it out and about. Took a break, served a mission for my church and came back at age 21. Took the thing out again from the garage, started using it, going to drive-in movies, camping everywhere during college, and everyone wanted one. So, my neighbors convinced me to make them one. I needed a business to sell them one. I needed a name that was [like] hippie bean bag, seventies, love, peace, hate, war bag, love bag, Lovesac — that's cool. Paid 25 bucks to register the business in the state of Utah in 1998.

Bill Thorne: Wow. 

Shawn Nelson:     And it was a side hustle all the way through college.

Bill Thorne:    That's phenomenal. Watching ‘The Price is Right,’ now, that's good. 

Shawn Nelson:    Bob Barker, ‘The Price is Right.’

Bill Thorne:    Wow, that's dating yourself. So, did you ever consider yourself an entrepreneur? Were you always coming up with ideas or was this just something that hit like a bolt of lightning? You were like, ‘This could work’? Or was it just for me, I mean, ‘I'm just doing this for me.’

Shawn Nelson:    I think my creativity was channeled in a hundred directions all through elementary, junior high, high school, university and this was honestly a side hustle. I was waiting tables at night. I was doing all sorts of other creative things, playing music. I played in bands. This was just this thing that wouldn't let me go. Every one I sold, everyone wants another one.

I was reluctantly following it because it just wouldn't quit. Finally, I chose to shut it down and take a real job right after graduation. Everyone was complaining, ‘I love my Lovesac, you can't close this thing.’ So I took it on a last ditch effort to a trade show in Chicago to see if we could get big orders. At least I could say I died trying. And sure enough, didn't get any, came back home, 15, 20 grand in debt, but at least I had tried.

My phone rings while I'm down using this grain grinder, like a woodchipper shredder that we used in the back of this furniture factory that let us use it, because they thought we were funny <laugh>, all the way through college. I turn off the shredder, brush the foam out of my hair, answer it, ‘Lovesac corporation’ and it's one of the biggest retailers in the United States. They want 12,000 little Lovesacs for Christmas and they need it at this price.

Bill Thorne:     Wow. 

Shawn Nelson:     They don't know it's me, a buddy and this woodchipper. I said, ‘Of course, no problem.’ <laugh>

Bill Thorne:    <laugh> You should have said, ‘Let talk to the owner. I'll get back to you.’ 

Shawn Nelson:    That comes later. That was my line when we were asked to franchise. So, we built this order, we sourced it out of China, we built a factory out of farm equipment and then on the heels of that, having cash flow to a quarter of a million dollars right out of college for this thing — never made money from it. Because 9/11 happens while we're in the factory, the price of foam goes up, the price of transport goes up, but I have all these workers that want to keep working.

None of the furniture companies would take the bait. They weren’t interested in giant oversized not-bean bags, called Lovesac, in people’s living rooms. So, we opened our own store on a wing and a prayer in Salt Lake City, Utah. After most malls rejected us, one finally let us in just for Christmas, temporary, to get through the Winter Olympics.

That was the birth of Lovesac store number one and 10 days into it — we made it look good. We carpeted, painted, neon sign, tried to make it look totally legitimate, hoping that people — what do you do in a giant not-beanbag store? You come in and flop down. We had movies playing.

It's very strange looking back, of course, We've been at it for 20 years, almost 25 years. Looks obvious but at the time we were just hoping people wouldn't laugh at us. I was working around the clock, open to close, through the holidays and as it turns out, people flopped down, had a great time and wanted to take a piece of that vibe home with them.

Ten days into it we had people asking us about franchising. I ran outside while my cousin gave him my business card. Said, ‘Here, call this guy.’

Bill Thorne:     <Laugh>

Shawn Nelson:     I said, ‘Lovesac corporation.’ <laugh> ‘You franchise?’ ‘Yeah, of course we franchise. What location are you in? Oh, we're in your Salt Lake store. Oh, that's a good one, yeah.’ We hustled together a franchise document beyond that. We had every up and down, we ended up having to raise venture capital a few years into it. Their move was to actually chapter 11 the company, get out of all the bad locations we'd open, keep the good ones, get out of franchising, start over in 2006. So, ups and downs and crazy — a bunch of 20-somethings trying to build a retail chain national. 

Bill Thorne:     Yeah.

Shawn Nelson:     And had a lot of success mixed with all kinds of failure but survived it. It's been a crazy ride.

Bill Thorne:    Yeah. I always tell people that there's only one constant in retail and that's change. You could be successful one day and be stressed the next, but you have a choice. You can either fight it, resist it, get angry about it, get others to take your position or you can embrace it. You can learn from it, you can move forward, you can succeed and you can bring others along in your success. I think that successful retailers are the ones that embrace, move forward, bring others along and that's where you find the real success. You've got to be able to absorb change. Some people can’t and they don't belong in retail.

Shawn Nelson:     I think with that, we've learned, you said it correctly, you have to be able to embrace change, but you have to really be able to sincerely embrace it. I think there are lots of concepts that begin with good ideas, but are you bold enough? It's like a root canal, you know? Are you bold enough to go that deep? In our case, it was a full chapter 11 rework back in 2006 — by the way, right on the heels of me winning a million dollars investment on TV with Richard Branson. 

Bill Thorne:     Wow. 

Shawn Nelson:     The most embarrassing scenario you could imagine, the height of fame, national fame, on Fox Network having just been made Branson's poster child, to bankruptcy a year later. Fast forward now, what's crazy is through all these pivots, we'll come back to the middle, but now you have Lovesac going into 2023 as maybe the most successful survivor of the whole direct-consumer revolution.

Bill Thorne:     Mm-hmm. <affirmative>

Shawn Nelson:     Which was something we pivoted into. We began as this specialty retailer. In fact, we were introduced that way on this podcast. In reality, we pivoted to a direct-to-consumer model where we don't sell anything in our showrooms. We don't even call them stores. We don't carry inventory. These are, as we view them, showrooms for the internet.

Bill Thorne:     Right. 

Shawn Nelson:     Everything ships to you essentially like a web-sale and people go there to — dirty word in retail — showroom. There you have again, embracing in a most sincere way, the most violent changes. Showrooming was this dirty word in retail, let's say five, seven years ago. People walking the aisles of Best Buy or Walmart and then buying on Amazon or something. Instead, we fully embrace that these are showrooms, not stores. You could sit in there and buy this thing on your phone while in our showroom, we don't care. Our people, by the way, won't fight you. There's no friction because they'll get paid no matter what. 

Bill Thorne:     Right. 

Shawn Nelson:     We've created a whole system that encourages that. Once again, there are a hundred pivots in between the one that I just jumped to. Now we have Lovesac, well north of half a billion in sales, certainly the fastest-growing furniture company for the last decade. A four-year CAGR of 48% growth and it's not stopped. It's because not only do we have a great product, but we've also been very agile. 

Bill Thorne:     Yeah. 

Shawn Nelson:     I’m proud of the team for that.

Bill Thorne:    So, you think back to the start of the pandemic, people staying home, forced to stay home, did you see sales really tick up from that? Was there more interest in the product? Were you prepared? Nobody was prepared but kind of like, ‘Whoa, we need to up the game a bit.’

Shawn Nelson:    Yeah. Well, first of all, having been born in 2001 on the heels of the dot-com crash, in fact, that's where that word cocooning first emerged.

Bill Thorne:     Really?

Shawn Nelson:  In my knowledge. I remember at the time it’s this big buzzword in business and people wondering what effect that was going to have on things. And lived through that cycle, 2000, 2008, 2009, 2010 cycle, grew through all these different moments. But also observed and learned through all these different moments. As 2020 hit, we were battening down the hatches, stopping all spending, gearing up for the worst-case scenarios. We were then essentially forced to close every location.

Imagine being a retailer, if you want to call us that, with a hundred-plus locations. Driving, by the way, 70% of our business, so 70% of our business at the time was at least transacted in a showroom. Even though I explained how our point of view — we still transact there. And because this product is so experiential, you have to see it to believe it, the way that Sactionals work, the way a Sac sits, 70% of our business had to close. That is a terrifying moment. 

Bill Thorne: Yep. 

Shawn Nelson:     In hindsight, it's easy to be like, ‘People are going to stay at home and buy all these home goods.’ No one knew that. Nobody knew that. Our stock instantly went from, I don't know what it was at the time, 50 bucks to four. Four dollars, we were worth, at one point, the company was valued during that moment in 2020 equal to the cash we had in the bank. Which means essentially this company had no value in people's eyes at that moment. Sure enough, people stayed home and contemplated the state of their sorry couch and bought lots of ours.

Bill Thorne:  <laugh> 

Shawn Nelson: We've been advertising for a long time and doing really well. Our growth was strong before the pandemic, early in the pandemic, late in the pandemic and since the pandemic. By the way, if you want to call us a furniture company, which I kind of bristle to because we're not — all of our competitors that we sell couches against are full-blown furniture companies. From nightstand to window dressings to curtain rods to flatware, we don't do any of that. We're something very different.
But if you want to think of us as a furniture company, we're the only one that boasts those kinds of growth results before, early, late and after the pandemic. It's because not only were we very agile going in and very careful with our choices in how we ran the business, what we did with our employees — we kept all of our full-time employees. It was very scary. We didn't do these mass layoffs, at least at the full-time level. Our managers, et cetera, they're working from home. We kept them employed, working remotely on their iPads, doing demos for people in their own living rooms. All this agility.

Bill Thorne: Right.

Shawn Nelson:  It worked and it paid off. Look, I think it looks very obvious and probably a little bit smart now, but at the time we were just trying to do the right things and trying to be very bold in our choices. Here's another one. We went fully remote. I'm working right here from my home. We didn't do it reluctantly. We didn't do it slowly. We tried to read the bones, we saw where we thought it was going, and we just went for it.
What that's allowed us to do now and after the fact, let's say the corporate level if you want, is to hire the best people. We're hiring people from the biggest brands in the world to work at little Lovesac. Not just because we're remote, but you combine our growth, you combine our success, you combine the type of environment we've created, and it all adds up to being successful.

I think the team deserves a lot of credit for their agility, but their strong bones as business managers. Because a lot of these DTC brands — I believe that we also get compared to. There you have furniture if you want to, you have retailer if you want to, and you have DTC if you want to. I don't think they have the kind of bones that we have, the kind of management that has managed through these kinds of cycles and been willing to make the hard decisions rapidly. Take pay cuts and do all the things that we did in order to not just survive but thrive.

Bill Thorne:    You know, to hear that, it just takes you back. I remember talking to, he was the chairman of the board for our foundation, Jeff Gennette, who's the CEO of Macy's Inc., and them having to close every single one of their stores for an indeterminate amount of time. All the stores, cash registers off, doors locked, employees — I can't fathom being a leader of an organization that says ‘Our business is shut down, now we're going to have to figure something out.’ I mean, nobody contemplated that.

Shawn Nelson:    But the expenses keep rolling, you know? 

Bill Thorne:    Yeah, for sure. 

Shawn Nelson:     That's the scary part. 

Bill Thorne:     We have rent, you got to pay rent. If you make the decision, we're going forward. We're going to keep people employed. We know this is going to change, we just don't know which way and we can't rebuild. We want to sustain what we've got and now we're just going to have to dig deep and figure out how we're going to make that work. That has to be terrifying. Who prepares for that?
So, Lovesac’s strategy, you have digital and physical experiences. How do those actually work together? I, as I told you before we started, was at your location in the Pentagon City Mall. I was able to sit in your sectionals. Very nice. I have a Lovesac. It is at my home in Florida. I would like to call it mine, but it actually has been overtaken by Roscoe, my hound shepherd mix who growls when you sit on his Lovesac. Anyway, so you have the digital, you have the physical, how do you bring them together?

Shawn Nelson:    That is the question I think most retailers have been asking for the last decade or two. Once again, I have to credit the team with being very forward-looking, very persistent. It took us years to bring our organization to the place it's at now, where we, I hope, look really smart. <laugh>
It's not because we're really smart necessarily, we've just tried to be really persistent. It's been hard because when — I think every organization that's growing is faced with resource constraints. There's only so much money. There's only so much cash. Meanwhile, pandemics are happening and crises and you're trying to build something, you're trying to wean yourself off of some legacy ERP or POS or system — it starts with a vision.
Our vision was, exactly what I articulated to you, someone should be able to just buy our products wherever they are, and we shouldn't care. But in reality, that's easy to say but the way that businesses are structured, particularly over the last couple decades, typically you have a point-of-sale system in stores.

Bill Thorne:     Right

Shawn Nelson: That doesn't necessarily talk seamlessly with your point-of-sale system online because of the time that they came up, because of legacy. In our case, we worked really hard to unify those and more importantly than the systems, that's easy enough. But the policies, programs, compensation, where employees in our showrooms — we want them to help you fall in love with our products, but we want to create an environment where you buy them because you're in love with them. Not because you've been pressured into buying a $5,000, $10,000 couch.

Of course, we need to motivate them and incent them to make those sales, to pursue these customer relationships. We don't want them being weird about, ‘Oh, don't go home, buy it from me. I can give you a better discount.’ You get all this channel conflict. That's very common in retail. We've eliminated all that for the most part by building incentive programs that allow these associates to shrug and just help you love the product. If you want to go home and buy online, no problem. As long as they've interacted with you, we have ways of tracking it back to them so that they can get credit for it and they can feel really good about helping you fall in love with the product in a low pressure environment.
It also comes back to our core strategies of, for instance, we're one of the few brands you don't find on Amazon. Outside of luxury, you won't find our products there. I'm very happy to see them sometimes on eBay or Craigslist because it shows how long our products last. People—

Bill Thorne: <laugh>

Shawn Nelson:     There's value in them selling at almost full price sometimes because our stuff is really good. It's built to last a lifetime, designed to evolve. We'll get to that in a minute. That's our product strategy. But it all folds into the same batter of a really great product, really great story and great brand built around it.
Then the programs, policies and systems all married in a way that creates an environment where people can fall in love with our products. It's all harmonious. There's very little, hopefully, friction in that.
Couple that with the way our product packs for shipping and all these advantages, back to manufacturing all the way upstream to where we never ran out of stock, all the way through COVID, the whole process, the whole time, all these supply chain issues. It's not that we didn't have them. We experienced them on the inside, the customer never felt them. We were never out of stock. Not for a minute in almost anything. 

Bill Thorne:     That’s impressive.

Shawn Nelson: I'm very proud of that but it comes back to not just the core strategies of our business, but also our core strategy behind how we innovate and how we design product at Lovesac. That it can be manufactured redundantly, and we can get into that if you want, but all these things, it's not any one thing and that's what makes it so overwhelming. It's all of these systems, aspects of the business working in sync to a vision that looks something like what I vaguely articulated to you that rolls up into the success. Then there are numbers and the results that we have put up, they're just an outcome. They're an outcome of all that strategy rolled up in into a result.

Bill Thorne:    Pretty amazing. So I did want to go to Lovesac, because I did go to your store, I did meet some of the associates and I was curious about the culture working for Lovesac. I have to tell you that was pretty impressive. The people that I talked to, the two women that I talked to, loved working there. They loved the product, they were excited to know that I was going to be talking to you. I can see that culture. Is that Shawn’s vision? How has that evolved?

Shawn Nelson:    I hate to say it's Shawn’s vision. I think I play a role and I believe, I've come to believe the longer I'm at this, and it's not just out of wealth seeking or fame seeking. I believe that founders of businesses, if the business gets to keep a founder, and the behavior doesn't find them to the exit door, that is its own evolution we can get into, but can play a very important role. That's how I view it. I play a role here that's important.
I take it really seriously articulating the vision that I vaguely referenced a minute ago and I didn't get into the specifics. It's a lot to cover, we could dig in if you want on any aspect. Being really clear on what that vision is and not just the grand vision but all the components of it, all the policies, programs, principles, values and purpose that rolls up into what I call our strategic guide. Honestly that's my territory. 

Bill Thorne:     Mm-hmm 

Shawn Nelson:     I've got a 12-page document, it's like our Magna Carta, our constitution, our Bible and it's just 12 slides, but it captures all these elements and it answers these 12 fundamental questions. It's something that I've developed myself out of all the greatest books, the Jim Collins, the Simon Sineks, the A.G. Lafleys and the Patrick Lencionis. I've taken the best pieces from all those and rolled them up into this 12-question matrix that shapes our strategy and articulates all these things.
Then I am relentlessly finding ways to infiltrate the organization with these concepts, whether it be our weekly all-hands meetings and the kind of little, even just like simple passing weekly awards, that peer-to-peer stuff, the way they're articulated. How it's not just, ‘Hey, I want to recognize this person,’ but specifically calling out them for these values. Working this language and strategy into the actual meeting cadence, our leadership meetings, we take the time out to celebrate these again, our core values and principles. They're not just words on the wall. 

Bill Thorne: Right.

Shawn Nelson: As silly as that may sound, I believe it is the single — other than our people and just their hard work and grit — which is one of our only three core values at Lovesac, — grit. Other than that, I believe that this idea of a strategic guide that is not only well-articulated but well-infiltrated throughout the organization is our number one reason for the success. Not only that we've achieved, but we will keep achieving and it's a living document. Now, we are very surgical with it. It's kind of a holy document in the sense it doesn't change every year.

Bill Thorne:     Right.

Shawn Nelson: Very much. But it does change every year very slightly. When those changes are made, we try to do a good job articulating why these changes are made and what they mean. What's amazing is that when all of the leaders in the organization, and not just the leaders but all of the people in the organization, are able to understand these concepts and hopefully try to live up to them, understand the vision and hopefully try to do their part, understand their part within that vision, even if it's a grand one, a far-reaching one and a multi-decade one like ours is. Then when you take the time to bring them along — I meet every new employee and then a few months in, I do this orientation with them. I spend three hours articulating this to them, breaking it down in great detail.

When that's the case, less management is needed because they can use these principles to lead with and they are smart, they can make their own interpretations of what their role is in that. It comes out hopefully, if it's done right, all the way to the front lines where you get to interact with our brand, hopefully not have a terrible experience, and in fact fall in love with our products for all the reasons that they're worthy of that. That is the key, I know I'm being a little bit vague because there's so much to unpack there, but it has been a very successful exercise for us.

Bill Thorne:    I think that you've hit on it is critical. You express them, that you live by them, that you talk about them, and that you invest people in them. If you invest them and they feel like they have a stake in pushing forward with these principles, it's going to happen. They're going to get excited about it and they're going to look forward to bringing others to it and expressing it. How can you not be successful if you have that kind of conviction, among your employees especially.

Shawn Nelson:    Yeah, that's been our experience and we're grateful for it.

Bill Thorne:    Yep. So, what do you find exciting about the future of not just Lovesac but retail as a whole?

Shawn Nelson:    I want to believe that this unlikely brand called Lovesac, that many people probably like yourself have kind of watched grow up at retail is — we began as the little bean bag under the escalator on a temporary lease to fast forward to today, we have to our knowledge the highest sales per square foot at retail, aside from maybe Apple. This unlikely little bean bag brand that couldn't even find a room in the inn. They didn't want to let us in, but they had some empty spaces to fill.

It took two decades. I want to believe now that because we've paid attention and it's not just been an exercise to make a bunch of money or to sell a bunch of giant bean bags or even just to sell a bunch of amazing couches that are washable and changeable in stock. It's been an exercise to build something that's lasting.
From that we've mined from observing why people resonate with our products, which obviously they do, just given our growth rate and adoption rate at scale. Remember we're not like a little $100 million, $200 million brand. We're growing at this pace at scale. Why is that? Because we have these great products that resonate with people.

What did we observe? We observed that they love our products because they're built to last a lifetime, designed to evolve. That's given us this whole design point of view and that's what excites me the most, that we have this philosophy called design for life. The way that we design things that is very different and it doesn't follow this whole cyclical nature. In fact, let me give you the best living example of this. Out here on the other side of this wall is my own sofa, my own Sactionals. Many of the pieces in that Sactional setup are 15 years old. 

Bill Thorne:     Wow.

Shawn Nelson:     They're older than all of my children. They've seen my kids grow up, learn to walk, four dogs, two cats, six moves, different configurations and different setups. They've lived in some of the kids' rooms, they've come together in our living room, different spots, tent set of covers, that is the payoff from a design philosophy that isn't just about the next season, next collection, next launch. When we launched stealth tech, this is our immersive surround sound system. 

Bill Thorne:     Right. I saw that. 

Shawn Nelson:     Which was a huge leap to go into high-tech home audio from bean bags. <laugh> Think about it. 

Bill Thorne:     Yep. 

Shawn Nelson: The hardware says Lovesac on the side of it. These are subwoofers speakers, soundbars all invisible, all embedded in the couch, but they say Lovesac on the side. When we made that leap, ‘Oh my, how is that possible?’ What's cool is the people that own their Sactionals were like, ‘Oh crap, I should have waited’. No, no, no, no. It's reverse-compatible with the stuff we made because that is the payoff for this truly sustainable design philosophy.

Bill Thorne:     Yep

Shawn Nelson:     Not just because we make stuff out of plastic bottles, which we do. We recycle more plastic than anyone in the United States right now to home [décor] fabric — anyone that we are aware of. We don't lead with that as our story because the real sustainability comes from a product that can sustain.
So, what am I excited about? I'm excited about that people are starting to actually care about this stuff. It's small, we don't lead with it because it's so small. But the generation after the generation that follows us, they care tremendously. Our point of view, Lovesac's point of view, on it is totally different than most because it's not just about recycling, it's about making products that can sustain.

What I'm excited about is, I think that retail is waking up to this idea that frankly where we've skated to, partly just by the unfolding of history, partly by luck, happenstance and hopefully partly by good strategy, is this very tight, small footprint, efficient physical sales model paired with digital, which is ubiquitous, that is good for everyone. We get to employ a thousand people, but it's still only five or six people per location selling these high-ticket long-lasting items.

You come back in five years, and you want to add to your couch, will the fabric be in stock? Of course it will. Now who does that? I just met you, Bill, but I don't know what couch you have in your life. You have a — you don’t have our couch yet. But if I challenge you just to go get a new cushion for it because you know your big dog is always, like you say, sitting on the corner smashing this one down. Could you? What brand is it? Where did you get it? What model is it? Do they make it anymore? What about the fabric? How would you deal with that?
All of those things are possible through our sustainable solution called Design for Life and our commitment to it, not just at the product level but at the business level, to never drop that fabric for instance. That is a wholly different way of doing business than everything happening at retail.

So, what am I excited about? I'm excited about others adopting this strategy frankly because it's better for the earth. We've all been conned into buying too much crap by the retail machine. I'm sorry, I'm serious. It's not that it's bad or evil, we have just fallen into it from the 1930s recovering from the Great Depression. These endless cycles of consumerism driven by new season, new collection, newness all the time. I think that the newness can come now in a digital format for the — I'm talking about newness, novelty for people's lives, that more of our core objects and stuff, we can just buy less and buy better.

What's our big hairy audacious goal at Lovesac? To inspire humankind to buy less stuff but buy better stuff. Which is a weird thing for a company that sells stuff to say.

Bill Thorne:     <laugh>

Shawn Nelson: But this is what we believe, man. 

Bill Thorne:     Yeah.

Shawn Nelson: This is why people, I think, want to work here and be a part of it. And it's working.

Bill Thorne:    Yep. Well, the other thing I always tell people is you can't be a successful retailer unless you're passionate about it. You, Shawn, are obviously very passionate about it and I think it's awesome. I really hate to end it. This has been a great conversation and I feel like we could go on for a lot longer, but the train has come to the station according to our producers. Let me end with this question and I'm sure you've got a really good one. The best piece of career advice that you could give to young professionals just starting out.

Shawn Nelson:    Yeah. Be awesome. I'm a living example of this. I lost my majority share of Lovesac years ago through every venture capital, private equity, fundraise I had to do to take a public, whatever. If you think about it there's always this, in business — I know I'm going to the macro, like, entrepreneur, how do you maintain control? — I believe this for years and years and years. It's like the Chicago Bulls, you could say the owner was in control. You could say the coach was in control. Michael Jordan was in control <laugh> because he was awesome.
What I’m saying is getting ahead, building a career, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, I mean this really sincerely, just be awesome. You know, if you get the chance to be a waiter, be awesome. Before you know it, you’ll probably be running the place. It’s crazy how I think that is just overlooked. You know, everyone wants to get rich quick. Everyone wants to hack and jump three levels up. You’ll get three, four, five levels up. You’ll get to the top if whatever you’re engaged in, you’re just awesome at. I think that is an overlooked concept today, believe it or not.

Bill Thorne:    I think it definitely is. We have a program that we do every January, it is called the Big Show. But before the Big Show, we do a program for the students, about a thousand students from around the country, different majors, and it’s a Friday/Saturday event and they need to hear that, 110000% correct. That should be something that's ingrained in young minds as opposed to the get-rich-quick.

Shawn Nelson:    It will never fail. If exercised over any amount of real time, it is a foolproof plan for success. I'm convinced of it.

Bill Thorne:    I believe it like the sun's going to rise. Shawn Nelson, it has been a distinct pleasure talking with you. It's been fun. I've learned a lot. You are incredibly awesome at what you do and I think a lot of that awesomeness comes from the experiences that you've had, the passion you bring to the work that you do, and the people that you do it with. So, thank you for joining us today.

Shawn Nelson:    It’s an honor, thanks for having me.

Bill Thorne:    And thank you all for listening to another episode of Retail Gets Real. You can find more information about this episode at I'm Bill Thorne, this is Retail Gets Real. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.


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