Slope Interview Series: Billy Shaw, Grafiti Home

Billy Shaw, Grafiti Home

Billy Shaw is the Founder and CEO of Grafiti Home, a home decor brand offering premium, sustainable, thoughtfully designed products produced by artists from around the world.

In this interview with Billy, we explore how brand strategy has been a crucial part of Grafiti’s growth, what design/branding challenges they've faced, and what the future holds.

We’ve had the pleasure of working directly with Billy on Grafiti’s brand strategy and design, and we’re excited to watch them continue to grow!

For people that don’t know you, talk briefly about your background. What inspired you to start Grafiti?

I’ve worked in consumer startups for the past several years. Before Grafiti, I founded Pundit, a media tech startup in the social/apps space. We produced mobile apps that reached 1M+ downloads, and we received investment from companies like The Walt Disney Company and others. 

After Pundit, I decided to shift from the social app space into the consumer goods space—a space that I’m incredibly familiar with due to my family background. I was raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and our family is a multi-generational furniture and home decor manufacturer; we export our products around the world. We’ve built a really strong presence, and growing up in that world led me to think more critically about the home decor market in the United States.

RIght now, that market is highly segmented. 

On the one hand, you have mom-and-pop furniture stores. Those businesses are suffering as manufacturing leaves the US for China and other overseas countries. On the other hand, you have a few really large, centralized upper-tier brands; in reality, there’s only two or three of them, like Williams Sonoma or Crate and Barrel Group, that are conquering that segment of the market.  

All of this seemed odd to me—why were home decor companies clustered around these two very different, polarized parts of the market? Why wasn’t there anything in between? 

One reason, I discovered, is that goods are expensive and you need capital to start these sorts of companies. The intrinsic nature of the business requires a good deal of initial capital to get up and running—high logistics costs, high transport costs, and other costs associated with home decor. 

I realized that the segmentation of the market provided an opportunity—there’s no business or brand that sits in between super expensive brands such as Restoration Hardware, or very inexpensive, entry-level brands like IKEA. 

So I wanted to create a home decor brand that provides superior quality, values sustainability, and centers around an accessible-yet-luxurious price point. People shouldn’t have to break the bank just to decorate their home with quality, sustainable items.

That was the inception of Grafiti. 

In our first product, we really went after “the wall”—walls really make the room. You can put great furniture in your room, but if your walls are empty, your room feels empty. At my previous company we had experience dealing with artists, so, at Grafiti, we source wall art from gallery artists from around the world. We bring this amazing art to people at an affordable price. 

How did you work through Grafiti’s brand positioning and identity? 

We started our brand work with Slope, and Karine and Jeffrey did an amazing job! 

Initially, we wanted to differentiate Grafiti from luxury home decor brands by really involving people. Other brands focus on images, concepts, and the room as a whole (“vignettes," as interior designers call it), as opposed to the character and personalities of the people who inhabit those spaces.

In theory this idea sounds great; however, as we worked with Slope, we realized that brands constantly evolve based on how customers react to them, and based on what positioning works well. 

Our work with Slope helped us gain this insight, and our brand positioning began to shift from what it was. 

We realized, wow, those home decor luxury companies all use pictures of rooms because those are actually the brand concepts that perform best. We found that people are not necessarily interested in other people and their homes; instead, people are interested in the actual products and the stories behind the artwork. Who designed or created it? What’s the story or inspiration behind it? Why is this such an amazing piece of artwork? 

In essence, Grafiti’s positioning has shifted from people and customers to designers and artists. For each product line we develop, we focus on this theme by partnering with a unique designer or artist. We tell their story and the inspiration behind their artwork. 

That’s led us to become a very designer-first brand. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered when thinking about Grafiti as a brand?

Our challenge is unique to us—people see us as an art brand, but we want to be known as more than that. 

Our brand roadmap, really, revolves around home decor as a whole, not just “art.” So our challenge right now centers around finding the best ways to convey the fact that we’re more than just art. We’re really about all the facets of home decor.

I see this challenge as an opportunity, because the market for people interested in a home decor brand is much larger than people who are simply interested in art.

The customers attracted to an “art” brand are different than those attracted to a “home decor” brand: while art-focused people tend to search for the newest, trendiest things, home decor people look for art with an aesthetic that specifically fits them and their home. 

How we’ve positioned ourselves in the market can definitely impact how we communicate with our customers; this is something we’ve constantly refined, and it’s a challenge that’s presented an opportunity for Grafiti to speak more effectively to its target audience. 

How did you think about the imagery used on the Grafiti site? 

We really wanted the site to be “people-focused,” to allow our audience to inject themselves into the scenes and images on our website.  

We also wanted Grafiti’s site to be bold. Our name conveys a combination of strength and rebelliousness that we wanted to shine through on our site. 

Image tone was a huge way for us to achieve this feel; instead of the light, airy feel of other home decor websites, we went for strong, high-contrast, eclectic images and colors that really reflect our brand ethos.

Where do you see the future of Grafiti going?

Our future is incredibly exciting! 

Right now, we have tons of designers who want to collaborate with us and create new product lines; our goal is to become one of the most recognizable brands in home decor, especially because many brands out there don’t speak well to millennial or younger Gen X consumers. These demographics are both digitally-native, and just getting ready to settle down into their more permanent homes. 

We see ourselves as creating a unique, designer-centric brand that’s well-positioned to take over that “middle space” in the home decor market. Premium-quality. Designer-centric. Sustainable. Those are the main ideas we really want to emphasize to our audience. 

Additionally, we’ve seen how designer-centric brands like Etsy, for instance, are on the rise; think of Grafiti as, in a way, the B2C version of Etsy. People love connecting with the actual designers/creators and hearing their stories. We facilitate that connection at Grafiti, and we’re excited to keep growing! 

What was the inspiration behind the name Grafiti?

We thought about the name for a while, and, because our first product was wall art, we wanted to do something that’s very strong and powerful. I actually live close to Venice Beach, California, and every time I’d walk by the beach I’d see tons of graffiti art. Eventually I thought, “wow, that’s a really strong name….” And that’s how we landed on “Grafiti.”

We also realized that many people can’t spell graffiti, so we decided to make it a misspelled brand name; I think the name itself is definitely emblematic of our Los Angeles roots, and it shows our brand's bold character. 

How do you see the brand evolving over time?

We’re definitely going to keep listening to our customers and paying attention to what they want. 

We also believe our online presence is an incredibly important part of our business, and we believe that’s where we can flourish.

We want to be known as a designer-centric brand that creates a unique, detailed experience for our customers. We want people to not only see and experience our furniture and home-goods, but to also really find a place where they can socialize, eat dinner, share coffee, and things like that. Honestly, I think that’s the future in our market: experiential retail.

As a home decor brand, we’re in a great place to pave the way for that shift.

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