Meet Amanda Weisiger Cornelson, CEO of House Account. She shared with us how her company was born out of a common retailer frustration and where it’s headed. (We also speculate about the future of luxury fashion and chat about who she’s wearing lately.) We hope you enjoy reading this latest conversation from Behind the Counter as much as we did having it.
"When you walk into a boutique, if it’s run well, they take care of you, and they make it their business to know everything about you. [...] I think that level of care creates loyalty in a customer that’s difficult to replicate strictly with the convenience of overnight shipping that these other companies offer."
Dor: Let’s start with a pitch of House Account to a store owner who’s never heard of you.
Amanda: We’re a relationship commerce platform that covers multi-brand and mono-brand independent retailers. We combine several services that are similar to Shopify, Mailchimp, Salesforce, Hootsuite and Intercom, all together under one roof—all proprietary tech that we’ve built which brings all digital sales and marketing efforts together into one easy-to-use, easy-to-understand tool. Retailers sign up with us to create their custom e-commerce websites, utilize all of the integrated marketing tools we offer, and sell through our marketplace. We offer different levels of service based on the specific needs of the retailer.
That’s very cool — so many similar SaaS solutions seem like they’re about picking an arbitrary tier based on cost, and then you’re on your own.
Yes! It took us a while to figure out that retailers would need such different levels of service. Many of the retailers we work with are just an owner and one or two associates. They don’t have time to manage a digital presence, or marketing in general. So with those stores, we’re very hands-on. We become an integral part of their internal team by offering House Account as a managed service — we design and send their emails for them, we post their product photos and integrate those with their inventory systems, we make updates to their websites, we keep their customer lists up to date, we provide personal shopping support via live chat and more.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are stores that have 20+ employees, and they can operate all the tech House Account provides on their own. So there’s a wide range of retailers we work with, which is great.
I think having a diverse customer base speaks to the strength of your product, which excites us, since we serve a lot of the same retailers. I’m interested in the birth of House Account. How did it come to life?
The original idea for House Account came from a boutique owner. Laura Vinroot Poole owns Capitol, a celebrated boutique in Charlotte, NC (plus two others, Poole Shop and Tabor). During the recession, she first realized she needed to get her store online. She didn’t have a website and it was crucial to get eyeballs on her inventory outside of Charlotte.
She actually tried to create her own e-commerce site first, which proved to be a daunting and expensive task for someone who is inherently not tech-y. She couldn’t manage it on her own, so she eventually shut it down.
At that point she turned to her longtime friend Travis Parsons, the CEO of Castle Digital Partners, to develop an app that eventually became a marketplace for boutiques and boutique shoppers to connect. In the beginning, it was a simple iOS app similar to Instagram. Boutiques would join for a small fee, they could post their inventory and chat with shoppers. Over time, we added more and more features at the request of our retail partners.
Today, we’ve taken that feedback and developed what started as our simple app into a whole suite of sales and marketing tools on web and mobile.
It’s great to hear that the idea came from an actual boutique owner — a retailer solving a retailer’s problem.
That’s actually a huge benefit to running the business. Once we’re able to start the conversation with prospective clients and explain our retail background, how we understand firsthand all the struggles of running a boutique, it’s a lot easier to get a hold of the owner’s ear.
"It was a no-brainer. I quit my job in New York and started working on House Account the next day. Easiest decision I ever made."
So how were you brought on board?
I got connected to the gig originally through Laura, who’s an old family friend. She’s always been a mentor and role model to me. I totally jumped at the opportunity to work with her when she asked. It was a no-brainer. I quit my job in New York and started working on House Account the next day. Easiest decision I ever made.
That’s awesome! Speaking of role models: you work with tons of boutique owners. Who comes to mind when you think of a rockstar client? Anyone inspiring you lately?
That’s an easy question to answer. I’m a huge fan of this gal named Katherine Buxton, who runs Gretta Sloane in Oklahoma City. She’s full of life and she just lives her brand. She manages every aspect of her business — all the buying, inventory, even some of the modeling for product pictures.
She’s a joy to work with — she’s incredibly hands-on, and somebody who truly embodies the boutique owner and everything they’re meant to do. We feel so lucky to have her as a partner. We’re constantly learning from owners like Katherine who have been with us since the beginning, taking their advice to shape our product.
Tell me about House Account’s trajectory over the next few years. How are you planning to grow?
We want to add value to our current partners with new features, so we’re getting that ball rolling right now. We’re looking to do more custom work for our boutiques. House Account has these plug-and-play templates, where you can get a website up and running in five minutes. We want to be able to offer more custom work — white-label services on top of our platform. We’re excited to roll that out as an added value.
Finally, we want to offer our SaaS tools to users outside of the luxury fashion space — taking the tools we’ve built and separating them from our marketplace to an extent, to be able to offer them to any retailer.
Sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Definitely. But a clear path.
"Shopping at a boutique is a personalized experience that makes you want to come back for more. It all comes down to those relationships that the boutique can create with their customers and how they make them feel."
So, we like asking this question because everyone in our space has a unique answer: Why do you think brick and mortar is still a viable shopping experience juxtaposed against fast fashion brands like Topshop and ASOS? In light of this so-called retail apocalypse the media’s always yelling about.
The way we see this brick-and-mortar experience is that it’s all about relationships and the high-touch experience you get. You mention Topshop. They’re certainly efficient and offer benefits like overnight shipping, but there’s nothing that makes you feel special about shopping there, whereas shopping at a boutique is a personalized experience that makes you want to come back for more.
When you walk into a boutique, if it’s run well, they take care of you, and they make it their business to know everything about you — your style, what’s missing from your wardrobe, events coming up that you need outfits for. They make it their business to do anything for you, from hand-delivering alterations, to gifts, pre-ordering sizes you need.
I think that level of care creates loyalty in a customer that’s difficult to replicate strictly with the convenience of overnight shipping that these other companies offer. [...] It all comes down to those relationships that the boutique can create with their customers and how they make them feel.
"I think the women in Charlotte are better dressed than the women in New York. Rather than a sea of black, you actually see color here."
So you’re here in NC and have your finger to the pulse on what’s happening in fashion. What’s going on in Charlotte?
Laura totally built the fashion scene here. She created her businesses because she saw a hole in the market. Before she opened the doors to Capitol, she remembers everyone having to drive to Atlanta or fly to New York to shop. From the get-go, she developed relationships with designers and brought them to Charlotte, then she developed relationships with her clients, which is the foundation of her business. And there are a million exceptions to this, but I think — primarily because of Laura! — the women in Charlotte are better dressed than the women in New York.
Absolutely! Rather than a sea of black, you actually see color here. Women will get dressed for anything. It’s the well-mannered thing to do in the South. You get dressed to go to the grocery, or drop your kids off at a carpool. You never see people walking around in sweats here. It just doesn’t happen. Although you can definitely catch me sometimes!
Speaking of how to dress, who are you wearing lately?
Right now, I’m very obsessed with Gucci. I love the sportiness and color, the animal-inspired designs. I waited forever to get a pair of the Princetown fur leather slippers and, no joke, I have not taken them off since the day I bought them. Totally obsessed.
"Invest in photography. It is, hands down, the most important thing about your brand."
Last question. I imagine you spend all day thinking about boutique owners, their challenges and needs. If you could get a room of them together and give them advice, what would you say?
My number one thing: Invest in photography. It is, hands down, the most important thing about your brand. House Account is different in that we want boutiques to market their own authentic brand, which is why we choose not to control their product shots, which is a complaint we hear about other marketplaces. Hire a photographer to take photos the way you want, styled the way you want, and you will easily be able to sell your product. But if you’re sitting there taking photos with your iPhone that are dark, lazy and unstyled, no one will ever be compelled to click on it. That’s a huge job and we encourage our boutique owners to get help.
Thanks so much for your time!
Thank you for writing us up and telling our story.
To learn more about House Account or browse the marketplace, visit houseacct.com or follow them on Instagram.