Starter Story: Suzan Allen On Building A Business Around Her Passion For Interior Design
Nov 20, 2020
November 18, 2020
My name is Suzan Allen and I am the founder and CEO of French Italian LLC, an online boutique importing French, Italian and French-Italian inspired Portuguese furniture with a mission to bring the quality and craftsmanship of European design stateside in a seamless and first-class shopping experience. These classic European designs will be available to both the general public and interior designers.
Launching in late fall, you can find more information about the launch and product offerings on Instagram.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I began my career in sales and marketing and after helping to grow and expand sales for several companies, I decided to start my own business. I launched BlueMarble Recruiting LLC in 2017. BlueMarble focuses on recruiting top-tier talent in a multitude of industrial markets. I’ve enjoyed seeing my business grow and am still recruiting for top companies in many industrial industries.
Always remember, your plan might change from time to time but the end game will always remain the same.
About a year ago, I decided to follow a passion of mine - interior design. I’ve always loved design and appreciated the beauty of European design. From that passion and appreciation, I’ve developed French Italian LLC. Coming from a large Italian family and being around the culture, food, language, art, textiles, and furniture, developed my love and passion for traditional European design melded with my appreciation for modern and contemporary pieces. This passion continued to grow throughout my life and can be seen in the products that I’m hoping to bring to the U.S. consumer market.
The concept of French and Italian is simply this, when you look at modern and contemporary furniture from Italy and France, today, and compare it to the designs of Italy and France from the past, it’s very similar. Today’s French Italian designs are the perfect combination of traditional and old-world esthetic that continues to feel relevant and modern today. The generation that appreciated old-world esthetics has not come and gone. It is alive and well and French Italian will revitalize the appreciation for traditional home furnishings.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
When I decided to launch French Italian, I knew that I would first have to invest time in building relationships with manufacturers that I felt best conveyed the French Italian aesthetic. The first and most important aspect I looked at when hand-selecting these manufacturers are the quality of their product offerings. The clientele that I hope to be serving is one that is looking for pieces that will last them a lifetime and that is why it was important for me to analyze the materials and craftsmanship in the pieces of each of the manufacturers I was considering. Once I was able to check off that qualification, I took into account the quality of the customer service they provide and the partnership opportunities they offered. After all, these aspects of a business are crucial. I wanted to ensure that they were both responsive to consumers and partners because, at the end of the day, if a brand doesn’t have good customer service, the product suffers.
Through that process, I chose some fabulous manufacturers. Thus, I identified two vendors that meet my criteria and who have never shipped to the US previously. Finding these manufacturers was a win on both sides and the beginning of an authentic partnership. They’ve never shipped to the U.S. previously so they look at me as the partner that will open this new opportunity for them and, for me, they’re providing a quality product.
The most arduous parts of this process have been the creation of our website and shipping. I’ve been able to learn so much through both processes and they are both so close to being finalized. I’m working to make the website both consumer-friendly and intuitive for interior designers. It’s taking a lot of finessing but when it’s complete, consumers will be able to easily navigate our offerings, speak to one of our design assistants to answer any questions, and place their orders. Even better is that interior designers will have a separate portal to work through and have access to our interiors team to answer their questions.
Shipping is another major aspect of French Italian that I’m currently working out. I’m proud to say that I’m partnering with UPS Global Freight to ship our products to consumers using a white glove delivery service. This will ensure that the customer’s first-class shopping experience doesn’t end on our site but continues through delivery. The white-glove service is owned by UPS which means it protects consumers from being delivered damaged goods and any damages to the property upon delivery.
With all of these moving parts coming together, we’re getting closer and closer to our launch and I’m excited to see it finally live. It’s been months and months of working overtime to make this dream a reality and once it’s out there, I have no doubt consumers will be receptive.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re excited to launch! The road to get where we are and to get everything ready has definitely been paved with bumps and turns but we’re so excited to be sharing French Italian with the world very soon. We’ve seen an increase in engagement and follow on Instagram in preparation for the launch as well as a lot of really great press coverage.
French Italian is looking forward to shaping a new era in the way consumers look at their homes and design within those homes. The worldwide pandemic has turned our homes into places we sleep, entertain, work, and learn. Since March, we’ve seen an uptick in furniture sales as consumers shop for items that they now need. As such, our homes and the way we view our homes are evolving. We want to be a part of the new way that consumers are living and accommodate consumers’ needs safely and healthily.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned so much from launching each of my businesses. Importing is extremely complex and there are so many details to work out but, in the end, it will be worth it. We don’t see furniture like this stateside and to be able to bring it into the U.S. market is an incredible thing. Over the past 20 years, we’ve increasingly seen inferior products being pushed on consumers at a low cost, but, in the end, the consumer ends up spending twice the amount of money because the quality of the products is so low that items need to be replaced more often.
Purchasing quality furniture is worth the expense. Pieces like this really do last a lifetime both in quality and in design. They turn into family heirlooms that can be passed down from generation to generation and become a part of the fabric of a family’s story. Some* *of these pieces of furniture that we will be offering has a story of their own and can become conversation starters, helping create meaningful conversations within a home about their own family history and where their ancestors came from.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a variety of different products, the main one being Shopify for our eCommerce site. We’ve decided to use PLCL Ocean Freight for importing the items we’ll be selling since air freight is volatile and very expensive. This will hopefully cut down on delivery time and costs to the consumer. As mentioned, we’ll be using UPS Global Freight Forwarding for our shipping needs. We’ll also be using AT&T’s Office at Hand for our customer service needs.
Most influential right now is our Instagram account which continues to grow daily in anticipation of our launch. We’ve been able to grow a diverse follower base that includes influencers in design and media. This will be an important platform for us as we continue our growth.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Between my two businesses, I don’t have much time to read but I’ve enjoyed the thought-provoking tips from Russell Brunson’s Traffic Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Filling Your Websites and Funnels with Your Dream Customers. It’s been extremely helpful to look to as I create our website.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Give it your all but know that when you feel like things aren’t going your way and everything is going wrong, it’s ok to take a break. Close up your computer, put your phone down and step away for a few hours, a few days. The problems will still be there when you get back but you’ll be energized and have a different perspective.
If it’s a passion do your research but also don’t be afraid to jump in feet first. Success comes from this: whatever is put in front of you, work hard because you never know where it’s going to take you. Always remember, your plan might change from time to time but the end game will always remain the same.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can follow French Italian on Instagram to learn more about our launch and product offerings.